Somerset beer festival in central London

speaker.jpgThe venerable Speaker, on Great Peter Street, Westminster, is having a Somerset beer festival from today.

This is a great idea and bound to appeal to homesick bumpkins like me.

I’ll admit that Somerset beer isn’t amongst the most exciting in the world, on the whole, but there are tons of small breweries in Taunton, Berrow, Frome, Yeovil, Wiveliscombe, Ashcott and elsewhere. I just hope their beer travels well.

The Speaker itself is a curious place. It’s the traditional haunt of old-school civil servants with a fondness for liquid lunches, and the windows are full of passive-aggressive signs (“This is a real pub! We don’t have music…” and so on). But for all that, it’s rather charming, with surprisingly friendly staff, and a deep commitment to serving a variety of interesting real ales from around the country.


Fuller’s Golden Pride on tap

gp.jpgWe noticed with some excitement that the Jugged Hare on Vauxhall Bridge Road in London will be serving Fuller’s Golden Pride, a strong barley wine, on tap for one week only from the 3rd March.

We’ve had Golden Pride in bottles and not been terribly excited — it’s like Fuller’s other strong beers, but a bit chemical. But it’s raved about by more esteemed critics than us, and on tap..? Well, who knows. We’re definitely going to give it a go.

The Jugged Hare itself is an acquired taste — there are lots of tourists and it feels a bit like a souvenir shop at times — but the beer is always in superb condition and the staff always impress us with their continental-style professionalism.

A model beer festival

The Castle in Walthamstow has just hosted what might be the model beer festival.

The pub, which has struggled to attract the same crowds as its sister pub the Nag’s Head around the corner, was absolutely packed tonight.

The landlord was quite emotional: “I never expected it to be this popular. We’ll definitely be doing another one. And I’m going to get more real ales on the bar.

Here’s what worked:

1. Let the local CAMRA types choose the beers and run the festival bar — “leave it to the experts,” as the landlord said.

2. Keep the selection small. There were about 10 beers, which is just the right amount. We tried almost all of them and didn’t leave wondering what we’d missed.

3. Choose beers carefully. All of the beers on offer were decent, though some were better than others. We were particularly impressed by Saltaire Cascade, Kinver Edge and Dark Star Mild.

The CAMRA people running the bar were friendly and plainly delighted to be doing good trade. The rest of the pub was full of locals who were just intrigued to try something new.

If you can, pop down tomorrow (there won’t be any beer left on Sunday). Otherwise, keep your eyes peeled and come to the next Castle beer festival.

Mild is dead, long live mild?

westquay.jpg Having posted yesterday about the decline of mild, we went out to the Fountain Inn, Bridgwater, only to find… mild on tap.

The mild in question was called “Pint-sized brewery mild”, and was a mere 3.3%. The Pint-sized brewery in question turns out to be a microbrewery on Wadworth’s premises, at least according to this old press release from 2004. The idea being that they develop new products and test them on the market on a small-scale first.

Anyway, the mild itself was rather drinkable, but not particularly exciting in terms of flavour or aroma. No hops and a very subtle toasted malt flavour. Probably quite true to the original milds, or at least their incarnations by the late seventies..?

It’s strange — on the one hand, it’s nice to see the resurgence of a British style, especially one you can drink pint after pint of with no ill effects. It’s also positive to see the Camra campaign having an impact — they’ve really done a lot to promote mild and other endangered styles in the last few years, and I do think you see it around more frequently.

On the other hand, what if its sole selling point back in the day was that it was weak (therefore cheap) and inoffensive, taste-wise? Did it pave the way for keg?

There are some great milds out there — Oscar Wilde, from the Mighty Oak brewery, is a regular favourite of ours — but are these new generation milds particularly representative of the mass-produced stuff that was being downed in the post-war period? Is something like Wadworth’s pint-sized mild a more “authentic” version?

I think I’ll take flavour over authenticity.


The Fountain Inn is at 1 West Quay, Bridgwater TA6 3HL. It’s a Wadworth house, but was also serving an excellent pint of Butcombe bitter. It’s a very friendly place, but in no way “poncey”, and worth some of your time if you’re in the area.

The picture is the old logo of the Starkey, Knight and Ford brewery, which used to own the Fountain.