Sunday, 15 June 2014

A Really Good Pint

It's been a while since I've had a really good pint of cask beer. In fact I've been almost consciously avoiding ordering cask with such a plethora of outstanding keg beer available in London Town. The majority of my recent pub excursions have been to Brewdog's trio of London bars where the draught selection has been as exceptional as their service. Cask just hasn't done it for me in 2014 but I can't say my enjoyment of beer has been less rich because of this.

I was contemplating a twitter discussion led by Peter 'Tandleman' Alexander about how the majority of London's boozers just don't know how best to store and serve cask. The main problem being that the beer is served too warm for carbon dioxide to remain soluble and as such is as flat as a pancake. This set the mind cogs in motion. Surely this problem isn't confined to London but is perhaps more prevalent due to its size. We do have more pubs than anywhere else in the UK and probably a worse infrastructure than most other towns. I imagine many cellars are cramped, Victorian affairs with no form of temperature control and the ambient temperature being affected buy London's vicious closeness, accentuated by it's millions of citizens and ridiculous traffic. I also imagine many pubs stock cask beer not because they choose to but because they have to. Cask beer is bloody fashionable and it's all CAMRA's fault. A pub might not have the knowledge on how best to keep it but who cares when it's selling hand over fist. The minority, that's who.

London is being used as a scapegoat, a poster boy for the badly kept cask. There is plenty of great cask beer to be found if you know where to find it. In fact it was from a most unexpected drinking jaunt that I had the best pint of cask beer I've had this year, probably in over a year in fact and it was in the pub nearest to my flat. Family had just arrived after a long, long flight from New Zealand and my partner Dianne and I took them to The Three Compasses on Hornsey High Street in North London. I've always enjoyed having a beer here, it's a decent boozer with a nice ambiance, good food and six rotating handpulls. Redemption Pale Ale from nearby Tottenham is more often than not available and on this occasion it was on blinding form.

Then I moved on to the Italian Job, a pale ale from Yorkshire's Roosters Brewery. What followed was one of those beer moments that people tell you about. In fact the moment started before I'd supped or even smelled it. It looked delicious, it was golden and bright as a button. It smelled floral and zesty, like freshly picked bushels of elderflower and lavender. That elderflower note continued right through to the taste and it was joined by a little grapefruit zest which was balanced by a some malt sweetness but only enough to make sure that the hop aroma compounds were doing most of the talking. It was cold enough to be refreshing and the finish was bitter, dry and moreish. I then paid this beer the ultimate compliment, upon finishing I went straight back to the bar and ordered another.

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Despite the failures of some pubs, London is a great place to get a really good pint of cask beer and here are, in my opinion, some of the best places to get one:

The Southampton Arms - 139 Highgate Road, Gospel Oak, NW5 1LE

Cask Pub and Kitchen - 6 Charlwood Street, Pimlico, SW1V 6EE

The Euston Tap - 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF

The Harp - 47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, WC2N 4HS

The Lyric - 37 Great Windmill Street, Soho, W1D 7LU

The Craft Beer Company - 82 Leather Lane, Clerkenwell, EC1N 7TR

The Holborn Whippet - 25-29 Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, WC1A 2QH

The Three Compasses - 62 High Street, Hornsey, N8 7NX

Tap East - 7 International Square, Westfield Stratford, E20 1EE

The Pelt Trader - Arch 3, Dowgate Hill, EC4N 6AP

The Bull - 13 North Hill, Highgate, N6 4NB

The Old Coffee House - 49 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SF

Draft House - 43 Goodge Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 1TA

The Dukes Head - 16 Highgate High Street, N6 5JG

The King William IV - 816 High Road, Leyton, E10 6AE

The Rake - 14 Winchester Walk, Borough, SE1 9AG

The Fox - 372 Kingsland Road, Haggerston, E8 4DA


Of course there are many more great pubs serving top notch cask ale in London, if you feel I've left out someone important why not let me know in the comments below.

23 comments:

  1. Might it be the case that London has a higher turnover of pub staff and a higher proportion of foreign staff, so there are fewer people around who *know* what cask is meant to be like?

    I think Tandleman knows what he's talking about when he says you're much more likely to encounter a pint of grossly over-warm cask in London. There's plenty of crap beer elsewhere too, but in my experience being much too warm is not generally a major problem.

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    1. In my opinion cask being served too warm is a problem and it's the main problem people are using London as a scapegoat for. Tandleman explains very well in this blog post why this is so which also reiterates that CO2 is not soluble in warm beer which makes your pint flat: http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/cooler-down-london-way.html

      As for foreign staff not knowing what cask is meant to be like, well I find this a bit of an unforgivable generalisation. My friend Kai, who is from Finland, used to be the cellar manager at the Euston Tap/Holborn whippet and when he was the cask beer was arguably some of the best being served in London right now.

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    2. Or, right then... I know what I meant. I think.

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    3. Ooof...pesky 'foreign' staff...have I stumbled across the Daily Mail comments page by mistake? Don't be so silly, Curmudgeon. Another good article, Matt, thanks.

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    4. classic bit of Curmudgeon there: pop up, say something demented and reactionary, then leg it at light speed so as to avoid subsequently getting his arse politely handed to him with one or two pertinent facts.

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    5. Oh, I think people have read far more into that comment than was originally intended. Is it "demented and reactionary" to suggest that people unfamiliar with something may have more to learn about it? Apparently yes.

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    6. Let's keep it friendly chaps. This is just beer we're talking about after all.

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  2. Dog and Bell, Deptford. Although the landlord (who's been there 25 years) is resisting Cask Marque's push to bring serving temperatures down to 8 degrees - he aims for 12 degrees. The selection is always great though, usually 4-5 on the pumps, a good mix of old school ales and newer London breweries like Brockley, ELB, etc, all really well kept.

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    1. Thanks for the tip! The think with temp is that once your beer has been served it's only going to get warmer. I do think that 10-12 degrees is optimal for cask though.

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  3. Interesting list but sad to say - and I know most but not all of them - that even the best of them - against the best in, say, Manchester, Lancashire, Liverpool, Leeds or most of Yorkshire -are at least 20% less well kept and compared to the best, more like 30%.

    I do wonder if some cask drinkers in London that only drink there have ever had a decent pint.

    Sorry. But that is actually how it is.

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    1. That's a very narrow minded view which I'm pleased I don't share.

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  4. Might exempt Euston Tap from the above on reflection. Though still not up to Northern standards.

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  5. I'd credit The Harlequin in Angel as being a great atmosphere/small pub that A) Served Black Sheep, always a good thing, but B), and most remarkably, served it with a sparkler. I got a pint of Sheep in The Cat and Mutton which was in decent condition but served without using a sparkler, so was flat. I asked the person behind the bar whether they did sometimes serve beers with a sparkler, the response was "What's a sparkler?"

    ಠ_ಠ

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    1. Excellent, thanks for the tip! Funnily enough after two pints of Italian Job I then had a Black Sheep Best which was also tasting great, The Three Compasses is a real diamond in the rough for cask lovers!

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  6. "That's a very narrow minded view which I'm pleased I don't share"

    That's fine then Matt but do you think I write negative things out of badness? Do I not care about cask beer? Do I not know how it should be served? Am I wrong to be concerned that my money is being wasted on sub standard beer? Etc. etc.

    I at least have the opportunity to readily compare London with the North and the experience of 35 years of drinking cask - as well as looking after thousands of casks of real ale in my time. Maybe that background causes me to be over critical, but I mention it for reasons of perspective.

    Cask ale should zing and sing out to you. If you can tell me honestly that all of these places you mention generally have beer that does, I'll be rather taken aback. Again with the likely exception of the ET where they make a much better fist of it than most.

    For the record, I just want to go into the pub and have a great pint.

    Next time you are up North, give me a call and we'll have a beer and maybe you'll see the difference.

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    1. T, I think you arguably care about cask beer more than anyone else I have had the pleasure of meeting and that's a great thing. I don't doubt your great experience but it was the wording of your comment I took issue with.

      Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on what makes a pint of cask beer great but to state that "I do wonder if some cask drinkers in London that only drink there have ever had a decent pint" and follow it up with "that's just how it is" is bordering on outright arrogance. It's your opinion yes but that doesn't make it the be all and end all.

      It was the very fact that that pint of Italian Job literally sang from the pint glass that made me want to write about it, I'm sure you know exactly how that feels. I included that list because I remember well having what I personally thought was great pint of cask ale in each and every one of them and that's good enough for me.

      I will most definitely be taking you up on your offer, I'm in Manchester for Indy Man, perhaps you can show me how cask ale should really be served in October.

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    2. The day my beer literally sings from the glass is the day I give up drinking for good

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  7. Fair enough. I had been drinking when I did my initial comment. Still stand by the sentiment though!

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  8. I think the Queen's Head on Acton St near King's Cross does a pretty good pint...and has a great bottle AND keg selection...it's pretty much my idea of a perfect pub that!

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    1. I like the Queen's Head but I've never had a pint of cask in there because every time I've been in they've had fresh Beavertown Gamma Ray on keg. Them's the breaks I suppose!

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  9. Sorry for the late reply - this has been on my 'read' list for a long time! Nice post, man. I do follow the 'bad beer in London' argument with some interest..but bad beer can happen everywhere! What's more worrying (long term) is the loss of experience around keeping cask, but hey, that's another story entirely. Ps. Don't go telling everyone about the Queen's Head - it's my quiet London oasis and I'd like to keep it that way!

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    1. Thanks mate! The only reason the QH didn't make the list is that every time I've been there I've had keg beer, so couldn't honestly comment on their cask beer but by the sounds of things I should try some the next time I pop in!

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