Having lived in London for three years, it’s just long enough for me to understand I’ll never get to everying, and there are no more secrets to discover. Everything has been marked and claimed and remarked and I will present little new light. This is the case with the famous Dove pub in Hammersmith, the oldest riverside pub in London, where James Thomson composed Rule Britannia and William Morris got pissed.
It was purchased by Fuller, who still owns the pub, in 1796, but it existed as a pub for at least 100 years prior. I had walked past it many times while strolling by the Thames there, and it looked so cozy but I never went in until yesterday. One of my American brewer friends is attempting to replicate Michael Jackson’s favourite drink, Fuller’s Mild, and has been prompting me to do field research because I live close to the brewery. I thought it being the “Month of Mild” for real ale drinkers they were bound to have it on tap at this Fullers pub.
It was one of those hot days where Londoners are a bit miserable but won’t admit it, and everyone is forcing themselves to have fun, wearing things that don’t come naturally to the English, like plastic sandals and board shorts. The Dove was packed with people in this mode, all drinking Pimms and Lemonade or bottled cider. On ice. Why is it this is the only time you can find ice here, in this atrocious manifestation? Anyway, the promise A FRIENDLY WELCOME SERVED ALL DAY, outside on a chalk board, gave me a twinge of trepidation. In my experience any pub which claims this will offer you nothing less than tepid animosity inside. But one lives in hope.
Upon entering, another chalkboard sign offered a new way to drink Fuller’s honey beer– “TRY HONEYDEW ON ICE” I cringed. I cringed some more while scanning the taps: all bog-standard fair– Guinness, Carling, Fosters, save four Fullers taps– no mild. I went for my usual choice of Discovery, which is one of despair. I’m not that keen on Fullers ESB or Chiswick Bitter. I’ve had many a crap pint of Discovery, too. The only thing is, when I tried to order at the bar, the bartender took the order from Mr. Malting. He then asked if he wanted anything else and I piped in, “One pint of Discovery,” and the bartender mysteriously walked away to wait on some guy in affected apres-surf gear next to me. (This is a rather common occurrence in pubs– where I am passed over for a man next to me– but I digress). Plus, there was no loo roll in the ladies. Warm welcome, my ass.
So M and I split the pint, crowded into a corner. Of course it was beautiful inside with low ceilings and wooden rafters, and I imagine it would be cozy on a winter’s night but today I had to wonder, sweatily, why had all these people come here to drink the same thing they always do, with the same people? With the countless pubs in London, why suffer one that is coasting on its atmosphere and history? M and I used the time to plot our next move. Inspired by Knut Albert’s beer blog, we decided to check out the Magpie and Crown in Brentford, a steamy bus ride away.
Both of us had been by this pub many times and even asked friends about it who wrinkled their noses at the idea, no doubt put off by the fact that it is a local boozer and also caters to the “Beardy Weirdies”, or real ale lovers, as Stonch so affectionately puts it. I knew as soon as I walked in that this was the place. Despite the ugly, worn out carpet and footie blaring on the wall, I could see countless taps gleaming before me, all with beer I haven’t tried yet. I noticed they even had Fentimans, my favourite non-alcoholic drink.
I started with Crouch Vale Blackwater Mild, a total winner– it was, well, the blackest of blacks and beautifully balanced. Unable to resist an Essex beer named after a place in Texas, I tried Crouch Vale’s Amarillo next. Holy cow! This beer had an aggressively estery nose– yellow roses, you could say. And the hops seemed actually spicy, a bit like lemon pickle if you’ve ever had it. I shouldn’t have liked this beer. Maybe it was because I was sitting next to my own Texas sweetheart, but you know, I was so into it. I tasted a couple others but it was the Amarillo that merited a second pint.
As I sat sipping, the crowd of chunky men watching the footie started in on a rather ugly conversation about the government taxing white Englishmen while Muslims just get away tax-free. I thought, yeah, this is why beer culture is not considered cool in this country– there is all this racist nationalism tied up with “real ale”– a false sense of authenticity. But this is a topic for another post.
Meanwhile, as the men had at it, a tiny woman with a sensible bob and Liberty handbag came in and ordered a pint of mild, and sat across from us, drinking it quietly. I overheard one of the men yell, “I’M NOT A WOMAN, I CAN’T DO TWO THINGS AT ONCE.” The mild-drinker wrote something down and checked her makeup in a little brown compact. At the bar, the only other woman in the place sat hunched in her dirty winter coat, carefully raising her glass to her face with one violently trembling hand. I took notes and drank, noting the model ships, freshly dusted, on shelves all around. One was actually made of Shweppes cans. The governor (named Steve– thanks, interwebs) in a shirt that said THE LIVER IS EVIL AND MUST BE PUNISHED, was busy filling a stein with a German beer with a head as voluminous and dense as mousse. Try that next time, I promised myself. In fact he told us that if we came back in three days all guest taps would be changed again. I think I can wait that long.
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