I’ve kind of been putting off writing about my beer experience in London. To be honest, I simply went with the flow. Of course I took plenty of mental notes, but I guess I didn’t want to seem uncouth sitting in the pub scribbling. I did sniff, I did swirl, I did look at the pint, but I opted to do it a bit more covertly. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself, I did indeed, I guess I simply wanted to allow the beer and pub culture to wash over me instead of aggressively attacking it as I am apt to do. Ultimately, I think I may have had a better time because of it.
My flight from Boston had a brief layover in Shannon, Ireland, just enough time for me to have a Guinness. I’ve heard from almost everyone who has ever had a Guinness in Ireland that it is a thousand times better than the Guinness we get in the US, so I was eager to test it out. It was morning in Ireland, but it was still quite late in Boston, so I justified my purchase by considering that somewhere in Boston a pint of Guinness was being poured at the same time as mine.
I’ve always been a firm believer that the enjoyment of something is directly related to where, when and how, so when I tell you that I thought the Guinness I had at the Shannon Airport DID taste better than anything I’ve had in the states, please understand that my anticipation, the fact that I was on vacation and the fact that I was in Ireland are all direct contributors to my enjoyment of the beer. It was a perfectly poured pint with just enough creamy foam on top. I savored it while I waited for my connecting flight to Heathrow.
The flight from Shannon to London was short and before I knew it I was on the train to the heart of London. I had quite a pack on my back as I hustled across Hyde Park towards Paddington and my hotel. After getting somewhat lost I finally managed to find my hotel, which was conveniently located across the street for The Mitre pub, a venue I would visit frequently over the next few days.
As excited as I was to have a pint, I was much more excited to see the city. The plan was to forgo a Tube pass the first week since I’d be travelling to Paris in a few days. I zigzagged my way across London from Wellington Arch to SoHo and back again. I was very tired, I had not slept very well on the flight and I was looking forward to an early first night. I ended up back at The Mitre, a Young’s Pub, where I got a freshly drawn pint of their Bitter and a plate of fish and chips. I enjoyed a couple other Young’s specialties including Young’s Double Chocolate Stout on nitro, smooth, creamy, chocolaty and a great end to a very long day.
I spent the next day visiting sights and popping into a pub here and there. Unfortunately, I happened to be in London at the time of the World Cup. Many pubs would become frenzied at game time (which seemed like almost all the time). Being an American, I have little interest in European football, so I sought refuge in a few “football free” pubs, a Godsend if I’m being honest. Fuller’s seemed to have a couple of these pubs scattered around the city and I had no problem popping in to get out of the sun (yes, there is sun in England), especially when I could find Fuller’s London Porter on cask—a beer I have enjoyed numerous times in bottles and on draught in the US—a revelation from a cask, however.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I headed off to Paris and that when I returned I was in classes for the good part of a week. We had a few scheduled half days and of course we had the evenings free. I made the best of these by visiting the British Museum, the National Gallery and strolling the street and along the banks of the Thames. I saw a lovely production of Macbeth as a member of the groundlings at The Globe and a stunning production of The Tempest at the Old Vic.
Near the end of the week I planned to meet up with my friend Alex for a proper British pub-crawl. I had mapped out a plan of attack, starting at what would become my favorite pub in the city. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is just off Fleet Street and a stone’s throw from St. Paul’s Cathedral. Rebuilt in 1667 after London’s Great Fire, this classic English pub is full of charm and character. With sawdust on the floor and a vaulted, whitewashed basement bar, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese serves up one of the best (and most inexpensive) pints of Samuel Smith’s Bitter in the city. Samuel Johnson was famous for having frequented Ye Cheese (and I mean frequented) as well as a host of other world-renowned literary figures. It was difficult for us not to spend the entire pub-crawl at this one location, but we moved on. After a number of notable stops, we ended up at a pub near the Houses of Parliament drinking with a group of Australians. Before too long it was time to pack it in and get some sleep, besides, the pub was closing! We said goodnight to the Australians and jumped in a cab. As I walked through South Kensington it began to drizzle slightly. The cool rain was refreshing as I made my way back to the dorms where I fell quickly to sleep.
I returned to Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese the next day after picking up some tea for Amanda at Twinings and walking around Trafalgar Square. As I sipped a wonderfully drinkable nitro-Stout from Samuel Smith, I realized that this would not be the last time I would visit London. As a fellow patron of Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese once said, “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life,” I’ll certainly drink to that.