Welcome to our ongoing mission to explore what London has to offer the discerning lover of excellent beer - from pubs and retailers that take pride in the quality of their hoppy offerings, to local breweries and beer events. In this instalment we celebrate Independence Day with a surfeit of American beer...
Last weekend The White Horse on Parson's Green hosted their third annual American Beer Festival, hoping to spread the message that not all transatlantically-sourced beer is the “bland, mass-produced and fizzy” rubbish that we so often associate with American beer in the UK. We visited on US Independence Day itself, to assess the effectiveness of their American ale evangelism.
On our arrival we were presented with a substantial booklet listing the range of beers on offer. No less than 68 American cask and keg beers and 48 American bottled beers were promised, from brewers such as Sierra Nevada, Anchor, Dogfish Head, Flying Dog, Left Hand, Great Divide, Odell, Brooklyn, Goose Island, Saranac, Blue Moon and Yards. As if that wasn't enough, the American beers were supplemented with 20 English cask ales brewed with American hops, from Ascot, Dark Star, Otley, Crouch Vale and other small English brewers. Not all of the beers were available when we visited, but we still had a choice of many more beers than we could possibly sample in a single session. Not for want of trying, of course.
As we got stuck in, we realised that this would be a costly afternoon. Most of the American beers' prices were pitched somewhere between 'steep' and 'alarming', possibly representing their imported nature. Nonetheless, for the alcoholically-motivated, there was some 'bang-for-buck' justification, as most of the beers boasted rather high ABV levels. The booklet's description of one 5.1% ABV beer, costing £6 for a pint, as a “light” ale, made it clear that the afternoon was set to be bruising for both the wallet and the liver.
Unsurprisingly, the dominant flavour of our visit was to be the distinctively aromatic and sometimes rather sharp taste of American hops. Some beers (such as the IPAs from Brooklyn and Sierra Nevada) seemed to be competing to deliver the most absurd amounts of hop flavour possible, leaving an almost savage (yet not unpleasant) aftertaste. Others (such as Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA, or Odell's St Lupilin) were more balanced, while still imparting all of the floral bitter excellence that American hops can provide.
And it wasn't just about the pale ales. Numerous darker brews delivered curious or even astonishing flavours. Dogfish Head's Palo Santo Marron imparted vegetal woody flavours with little hint of its atomic 12% ABV, while Brooklyn's Dark Matter was a curious hybrid of styles - smooth and chocolatey, yet fruity, strong and whiskey-like on the nose. Most astonishing of all was Goose Island's 13% ABV Bourbon Country Stout - absurdly intense, with layered hits of chocolate and coffee (of course), as well as smoky, woody bourbon. If there is any beer that is worth £6 for half a pint, this might just be it. Maybe.
Food was needed to soak up all of this beery goodness. Again, the main menu was not cheap, but a hog roast from the barbecue was reasonably priced and decent enough, and the buffalo wings were hot, juicy and perfectly spiced. To further the American theme, a rather good ragtime and rhythm 'n' blues band, 'The Spikedrivers', played a couple of excellent sets during the course of the afternoon.
The pub itself is a decently set-up venue, able to serve a vast array of beers to a large crowd. Dark wood and dark-painted walls are lightened up by high ceilings and big windows looking out to a decently sized outdoor seating area, which was often shrouded in smoke from the popular barbecue. The clientèle, on our visit at least, were not nearly as irritating as the pub's old nickname - 'The Sloaney Pony' - might suggest, possibly due to alternative attractions such as the Wimbledon men's final on that date.
After several hours of enjoyable Americana, we left the pub mildly befuddled and decidedly impoverished. Here's hoping that the festival returns next year.
The White Horse, 1-3 Parson's Green, SW6 4UL.