Hotter than a Match Head

Market Porter, Borough, SE1, originally uploaded by Ewan-M.

On Saturday night I found myself at one of my favourite London pubs, The Market Porter. When I first saw this pub I was meandering about Borough Market doing some cheese flirting and getting tipsy on dry New Forest cider. There on the corner was a typical looking pub, but somehow it wasn’t. Typical, I mean. Sure, it’s famous and everyone knows about it. Everyone but me and that’s OK– most of London is like that. Discoverable.

There’s something about that area around the Southwark cathedral that’s maze-like and human-scale in a way much of London isn’t. On that day I looked past the City workers in their identical black suits and saw inside the many many taps and little tables where girls with flowers in their hair sat drinking. Being a bit drunk already I made a note to return, which I have done over and over.

What I love about the pub is that despite its City banker clientèle, or the hipster-with-mortgage demographic that visits the place it seems to exist outside of this. So many pubs in London pander to these folk but not this place which is full of freaks and bohemians, tweedy flaneurs. And real ale nutters. I went to the back of the bar, where the balded, bearded real ale gargoyles guard the taps. It’s hard to see past them but I spy Harviestoun “Behind Bars” which I’m willing to try based on my devotion to their Bitter & Twisted. Plus, I like the name. As usual, I’m served immediately despite the crowds. The bar staff is always friendly and attentive.

Meanwhile Mr. Malting is on the futile search for milds. It’s his first time here and he still doesn’t believe me that it’s a decent place because he can’t find a mild. He’s even searching the pump clips displayed on the ceiling as proof this place maybe had a mild on at one time so perhaps it’s ok, but he’s still whinging on about how we could be at the Royal Oak instead drinking Harvey’s Mild.

I prompt him to try the Harvey’s Bitter which is my default choice. (I know people love TT Landlord but I’ve had a couple terrible pints of that stuff. Harvey’s was the first bitter I had that I actually “got”– where I understood why people would like this style of beer.) I admit that at this point I was wishing I had some Harvey’s Bitter because the Behind Bars was more like “Convict Fairy Burst”: metallic, detergent-like. I was happy to have only a half pint to finish.

At one point Mr. Malting and I looked longingly at the new, silver Meantime taps, specifically the Union dark lager. It was the hottest night of the year and I wanted to drink something that didn’t feel like work, something that met me halfway. At £3.50 the pint of Union was quite dear but it was cold and crisp-yet-malty, with a lovely head and bright mouth feel. As I sat there blissed with this continental style beer I thought about summer– how so much of British life is designed for rain and cold that when summer hits, as it has been doing more fervently each year, it seems most of Britain just runs out into the sun to get a bit of colour. But the heat is still on on most of the buses, everyone is still in wool suits, and the beer is still cellar temperature, even if that cellar just isn’t that cold anymore.

I’ve had enough year-long summers in Los Angeles to last me a couple lifetimes. Bring on the rain, the damp chill so I can drink my comforting bitters and stouts happily again.

13 Responses

  1. I am so glad that Mr. Malty has awoken from his Aussie-induced fizzy stupor. And milds no less! “A mild man has much to be mild about” to paraphrase. But Mr. Malty isn’t mild very often I would think! We don’t get access to many milds here in Los Angeles, which is a shame. In fact, the best mild I’ve ever had (and that’s quite the qualitative comment I’ll admit) was a homebrewed one at one of the annual Southern California Homebrewers’ Festivals held the first weekend of May. [For you Brits reading this, if you ever find yourself in this part of the world at that time of year, you really owe it to yourself to try to attend. You have absolutely NO IDEA of what we are up to here! You’ll be pleasantly surprised.] It inspired me to brew my own mild which was quite good, but didn’t have quite the magic of my fellow brewer’s. Next time I’m in England I will have to join Mr. Malty in his mild quest.

  2. Hey Bob!

    I share Mr. Malting’s love of milds but I’m not quite as obsessive about it!

    In some British beer bloggers love to diss American brewers but my guess is many of them have never even been to America, much less tasted American micro brews. It’s true most people I’ve talked to in the UK truly have no idea what is going on with brewing in America.

    There was an American Microbrew fest here in London, but when I saw it was mostly Sierra Nevada and Anchor I decided not to go. If this is the “taste of America” Brits are getting no wonder they are down on American microbreweries.

    I’m going to the Great British Beer Festival next week. I really wish you were going with me!

  3. In my experience most decent UK beer bloggers rate American micros very highly – and not just Sierra Nevada/Anchor. What’s more, UK microbreweries clearly share this view, as several American hop varieties (notably Cascade and Amarillo, but others too) are being used by a lot of UK brewers to make ‘American-style’ hoppy ales. We British beer lovers owe a lot to the American microbrewery revolution – not least the revival of porter as a living style. I could be wrong, but I think what you may have seen is exasperation with certain sections of the American homebrewing community – both the attitudes of a small minority of American homebrewers on discussion boards and the BJCP’s approach to beer styles.

    On the other hand, I suspect you’re right that most people in the UK think American beer starts and ends with flavourless lager brewed on an industrial scale. There is also a tendency among the more ill-informed CAMRA members to dismiss anything that isn’t cask conditioned – thus including the vast majority of American microbrews, not to mention countless other classic beers from all over the world. A lot of us, however, prefer to try new things before judging them – even though they may be hard to get hold of.

    If you feel a bit homesick when you’re at the GBBF next week, check out Bières Sans Frontières, the foreign beer bar, and you might be pleasantly surprised at the choice of US craft beers available (sneak preview at

  4. Hi Tom, thanks for your reasoned comments– they are refreshing.

    I have met many British beer aficionados who are familiar with rather obscure American beers and it’s moving to realize the distance really isn’t that large– especially when it comes to loving beer.

    In my rather brief time beer-blogging I have sensed a dismissive attitude towards American brewing, which could be part of a larger anti-American attitude.

    I’m very excited about checking out what American beers will be at the GBBF– thanks for the tip!

  5. […] Belgian, German or American. But British cask ales (Harviestoun Behind Bars, for example, which Ally didn’t like, but we thought was OK) are only about £2.70 a pint, so not that bad. They usually have some […]

  6. Just got the lovin’ spoonful reference

    I’ll get me coat!

  7. Hey John,

    I have to be more on top of my blog reading so I catch you next time you are in London! Drop me a line if you are coming into town.

  8. Cheers Impy – Will do, do you have an e-mail address? If so could you forward it to me via my address on the bottom of the right hand column of my blog.

    I was supposed to be in town this Wednesday however I spent the day fly fishing in Cumbria, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

    Regarding the comments on the perceived English attitude toward American craft beers I’m going to throw my lot in with Tom above. I reckon me Da says it best when he says “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”, play the bowling on it’s merits and take each beer as it comes. I enjoyed both of the American ales I tried immensely and am pleased to report that I’d gladly try any of the American beers again on the back of what I sampled at the GBBF.

    Thank god someone from across the pond told it like it is, I feel like a heretic when I state in UK beer forums that SNPA and Anchor Steam Beer do nothing for me.

  9. Hi John,

    Hmm…dealing with London or relaxing in Cumbria? It’s a hard choice!

    I will send you my email so you can drop me a line next time you are planning to come to town.

  10. Regarding The Market Porter. It too, is my favorite pub in London. My husband and I spent a rainy Sunday on our own London pub crawl. We began in Soho and made 18 pubs before stumbling (literally) into the Market Porter. It was our last stop of the day. I only wish we’d had the opportunity to return (sober) and enjoy a meal prior to our flight home. Maybe someday we will return to London, if so, The Market Porter will be our first stop!

    • Hi Peppin- 18 pubs? I’m impressed! I hope you got an early start. Were there any pubs in Soho you particularly liked?

  11. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  12. […] Belgian, German or American. But British cask ales (Harviestoun Behind Bars, for example, which Ally didn’t like, but we thought was OK) are only about £2.70 a pint, so not that bad. They usually have some […]

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