The White Horse in Parson’s Green is one of those pubs that everyone seems to know; they regularly have special events running and even when they don’t, their beer selection is bordering on the legendary.
Until now, I’ve not managed to get down there (largely because it’s on the far side of London and there are a lot of excellent pubs in a direct line between them and my house), but I got to visit for last night’s preview of their 30th Annual Old Ale Festival.
Considering that it’s only one (albeit fairly large) pub, the beer list for this year’s festival is nothing short of breathtaking – over 60 beers, including a number that are seriously special or even exclusive to the Festival.
Sadly it wasn’t possible to try all 60+ beers on the preview evening, but we were taken through six of them which gave a good impression of the theme of the Festival.
We started with Coniston No. 9 Barley Wine, which was crowned as Best Beer in Britain at this years Great British Beer Festival.
In many ways, this is a classic barley wine; it’s rich and sweet, and almost sherry-like in fruitiness. Apart from a slight alcoholic warmth on the finish, it really doesn’t taste anything close to it’s 8.5% ABV strength.
It’s delicious, but considering the Best Beer crown, I’m slightly surprised by it’s lack of complexity – it doesn’t have that depth of layered flavours that you often get with big, powerful beers.
We then moved on to a collaboration between Darkstar and Magic Rock appropriately named Rockstar, an American Brown Ale. As you might be able to see from the picture, it’s a little murky although I don’t know if that’s by design, or just because we were drinking it before it had fully settled.
Brewed by both partners, this is the version from Darkstar – slightly lighter at 6.0% ABV against the 7.0% ABV of the Magic Rock version. It’s got a big nose full of citrus flower hops as you’d expect and in the mouth there’s a nice caramel sweetness, countered but not overwhelmed by the hop bitterness.
It’s slightly reminiscent of one of the endless IPA variations from The Kernel, right down to the murk.
Next was Marble Dubbel Chocolate, another big 8.5% ABV beer. Dark, sweet with a wonderfully tempting chocolate malt aroma – so tempting that as you can see, I drank half of it before I remembered to take a picture.
The sweet chocolate is nicely tempered in the mouth by a slightly sour yeasty tang, and the alcohol really sneaks up on you – not really noticeable in the mouth, but a delicious spreading warmth all the way down your throat and into your belly. A dangerously reserved monster.
On to Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Special Reserve, which is a magnificent whisky-aged beer at 8.0% ABV. I suspect that this is also known as Ola Dubh, and I’ve enjoyed it in bottle form before.
It’s just as huge and magnificent on draft; thick and oily, with a sweet and slightly woody, spirit soaked nose and a mouth full of dark dried fruits, molasses and a big enough whisky character to make you wonder if it’s got a whole measure of spirit in it.
Bingham’s Old Ale was next, a much gentler 4.5% ABV beer. I’ve only recently encountered this brewery, having stumbled across their magnificent Vanilla Stout at the North Pole, and their Old Ale just confirms to me that I need to try the rest of their range!
It had an unusual, fruit filled nose with an aroma from my childhood that I can’t quite put my finger on. It’s mild in the mouth, lightly bitter with more red fruit and gentle sweetness dancing all around. It’s not as spectacular as the bigger beers we’ve had, but it’s deeply intriguing and different.
We finished the evening with a Bath Festivity, a 5.0% ABV seasonal delight that I’ve enthused about before. Better on draught than from the bottle, the carbonation is more gentle, the flavours sweeter and more rounded, and the glass emptied far too quickly to take a photograph.
The rest of the Old Ale Festival beer list frankly reads like “What Pete Needs To Drink”; barley wines from the likes of Sharps and Fullers, the first Wild Beer Co I’ve seen on draft, and even a keg of Brewdog’s magnificent Paradox Jura.
The whole collection is what I can only describe as ‘wintery’; if your passion is for delicate, hop-laced pale ales this isn’t the weekend to visit the White Horse. If, on the other hand, you like your beer to be big, bold and warming I suggest you get down there right away. The Festival lasts all weekend, although I suspect several of the beers may have run out if you leave it until Sunday evening!
Pete Drinks was a guest of the White Horse, for which we are hugely grateful.