Doing Two Things at Once

dove pub

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.

Magpie and Crown Pub

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.

EDIT: Comments are closed for this post, which has been distorted out of context on another site. I am receiving comments that are not relevant to this post. If you want to talk to me about beer, great! Please do.

16 Responses

  1. You know what? I’ve lived in London all my life and [whispers] I’ve never been to the Dove either. Doesn’t sound like I’m missing much, then?

    Interesting you’ve picked up on the nationalist / racist element of real ale drinking. This is also evidenced by some of the alarming t-shirts you can buy at beer festivals. However, I would say that I’ve met just as many hard-core lefties in the ale world – truly, real ale is a broad church.

  2. Hi Boak– thanks for reading the blog!

    I would consider trying the Dove again in winter had the service not been so bad.

    I like the idea of real ale as a church! ha. I was a bit shocked seeing the racist tees that you mention at the GBBF, etc.– In America microbrewing has less historical tradition to pin any reactionary identity to. Also, I associate that kind of ignorance with lager-drinking, at least in America. And as you say, though I’ve never seen an ale lover musing over a copy of Socialist Worker, it wouldn’t surprise me!

  3. 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.

    Can’t wait for that one. I know exactly what you mean, and will be interested to see your take on this.

    Your blog is great btw. But you don’t need me to tell you that!

  4. Sigh. It’s unfortunate to see such an unfortunate culture in the bars there-especially where there are places where beer is interesting and challenging to the average palate. Women, I’ve been told, have different sensitivities when it comes to flavors, and can pick up on things many men miss–they’re invaluable to helping people pick up on nuances that could be ignored.

    Even in Portland, where the beer culture is more welcoming, the ratio of women involved is sadly low. (But they’re welcomed and treated kindly–dumbasses aside, of course)

    However, this might be of some interest-I certainly am glad to see it.

    “Women brewers can be proud of the World Class Champion among them. Tonya Cornett, Head Brewmaster of Bend Brewing Company in Bend, Oregon, USA is the first woman to win as the Brewers Association World Beer Cup 2008 Champion Brewery in the Small Brewpub Category. In 2001, Tonya graduated with an International Diploma in Brewing Technology from the World Brewing Academy, a partnership between Siebel Institute of Chicago and Doemens Academy of Munich, Germany. ”

    Taken from BellaOnline, here

  5. For socialism and real ale, check out Roger Protz’s entry on Wikipedia…

  6. Just don’t get into an argument with him on the motorway.

  7. Thanks for the link, Boak. Reading that– it’s like cadre hopscotch!

    Reading this though makes me realize that here in the UK there is a wider spectrum of political discourse– in the US being a Trotskyist would mean you were beyond the pale, even in some activist circles. I think that limb of the American political continuum was lost to frostbite during the Cold War.

    Yet another reason why I am happy to be here right now.

  8. Hi Stonch– (note to self– don’t thumb a ride with Protz)– is there a road-rage anecdote I’m missing?

  9. Hi Dan, Thanks for chiming in. I’ve heard that about women being able to taste different things but I am still skeptical. Any essentialist notion makes me ill-at-ease.

    I did notice when we were going around tasting beer in Portland the women working in the brewpubs were knowledgeable and passionate about the beer they were serving. They obviously drank it themselves and took the time to know what was what. Sadly this is not the case with people serving beer in most pubs in the UK, be they women or men! Often I’ve inquired about taps here and I just get an impatient shrug. The more helpful people will offer a taste but they know little about the beer themselves, often relying on patrons to tell them if the beer has gone off…but that is another post also.

  10. Nice post. Very neatly observed and good tasting notes too. I think you are way off the mark with real ale and racism though. In my thirty plus years drinking real ale, that’s a new one on me, as real ale drinking, especially in the North and especially these days, tends to be a more middle class thing and while there is every possiblity of middle class people being racist, that’s another subject.

    I’d certainly like to know what the racist tee shirts at the GBBF were, though GBBF is a social as well as a real ale event and you get all types – good and bad – so the real ale connection there may be incidental.

    Cheap British lager and racism? That’s a better possibility in my experience.

  11. “I’ve heard that about women being able to taste different things but I am still skeptical. Any essentialist notion makes me ill-at-ease.”

    I phrased that poorly. It’s more like, different people will pick up on different flavors, and certain things tend to appeal more to men than women and vice versa. As a result, you’ll point out flavors I’d overlook, but probably notice once you’d said something, and back and forth.

    I’ve done a little poking about and while the data points toward a gender trend here, it doesn’t seem to be an established theory. But I did some reading here:

  12. Nice post.

    The Amarillo was probably named for the hops used, instead of the town in Texas.

    If you can remember what you liked about the flavour in the beer, you might be able to impress people with having a beer you’ve never had before and saying something like.

    “Does this have Amarillo hops in it? It’s got the spicy peppery and lemony flavour that I love so much”

    Say something like that, and people’s jaws will drop.


  13. Hi Virgil! Thanks for checking out my blog. You know this clears up a few things for me about the hops. I recently saw another Brit beer called Amarillo, by a totally different brewery and I just had this moment like– is there something about English microbrew and Texas that I’m missing??? Haha.

    I have a lot to learn. But hey, if I can build up an impressive armory of lines like that maybe I can fool a few people!

  14. I look forward to the post about: – “there is all this racist nationalism tied up with “real ale”– a false sense of authenticity.”

    So far I haven’t noticed the connection.

    I am also curious about “This is also evidenced by some of the alarming t-shirts you can buy at beer festivals.” Are these also racist or just in poor taste? I have not experienced too many festivals.

    I am beginning to think I lead a sheltered existence.

  15. Oh they’re clever. They’re never outright racist (that would be illegal), but they just use racist symbols and BNP slogans. The bulldog ones, or that old “British by birth, English by grace of god”. Seemingly innocent? but it’s a line that BNP sympathisers use. (Google it and see. Actually, don’t, it’s depressing)

    Fortunately, there do seem to be less and less of them. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone wear one. It’s just that I’ve never seen them for sale anywhere else, so why at a beer festival? They’ve got nothing to do with beer.

  16. Hello Tandleman! Thank you for reading the blog.

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