Thursday 22 January 2015

Fuller's to close the Harp - but only for 10 days

Last night I paid a visit to the Admiralty, Fuller's new flagship pub (ho-ho) on Trafalgar Square, just around the corner from Admiralty Arch, and what nice job they've done with it. Although how do they get permission to have white ensigns hanging up inside - I thought they were only for HM's ships and shore stations?

While I was there, I bumped into a party from West London CAMRA who were on a pub crawl, with their next destination being the Harp in Covent Garden - CAMRA's former national pub-of-the-year (that's a link to the pub's old website), which Fuller's bought last year. Also there to meet the CAMRA party was a small team from Fuller's, including Harp manager Sara Bird and the MD of Fuller's Inns Jonathon Swaine.

Jonathon and Sara were present because of the FUD following that Fuller's takeover. At the time, Fuller's said the Harp would continue to operate as a free house, though with the addition of London Pride as a regular on the bar. Not everyone believes that though, not least because similar things were said in 2005 (ale buffs have long memories!) about the acquisition of the Head of Steam free house by Euston station - that's now a Fuller's pub called the Doric Arch.

So with the Harp due to close for 10 days from February 16th, they wanted to allay fears of major change. The story is that it's just a repainting and some updates to the loos, with no more changes to the beer range planned. One of the Fuller's team told me that they have even arranged contingency measures for those drinkers who rely on the Harp for their fix of Dark Star - it's a regular outlet for the Sussex brewery - during the closure, it will be on at the nearby Lamb & Flag instead.

Talking of which, I was impressed by the range and quality at the Lamb on my last visit there - I think it was four cask guests alongside four Fuller's ales. The ale quality at the Admiralty was also excellent, with pretty much the entire current Fuller's cask range on handpump, including Bengal Lancer and Jack Frost; no guest ales that I could see though.

I also discovered that the branded glass for ESB is no longer the heavy stemmed goblet - now it's a trendily-retro straight mug. Doesn't it look gorgeous?!

London beers for London 'Spoons

I heard recently that one of my local(-ish!) Wetherspoons – the Moon on the Square, in Feltham – is having a London Breweries Beer Festival from Monday 16th February to Friday 20th. I've now learnt that this is actually a regional thing and that all 132 London-area 'Spoons are taking part.

Hopefully there will be a comprehensive beer and brewery list along soon, as there was for the similar festival run last year, but in the meantime here's the cask ale list sent over from the Moon:

By The Horns – Bison American Pale Ale 4.8%, Mick The Miller 4%, Diamond Geezer 4.9%
Clarence & Fredericks (Croydon) - Cascadian Black 5%, Golden Ale 3.8%
Cronx – Standard 3.8%, Kotchin 3.9%, Mad-Ass Entire 5.2%
East London – Foundation Bitter 4.2%, Cowcatcher American Pale 4.8%, Quadrant Oatmeal Stout 5.8%
Hop Stuff – Fusilier 4.3%, Renegade IPA 5.6%
Portobello – Chestnut Ale 4.5%, Ginger Bread Beer 4.4%, Apachi 7%
Truman’s – Eyrie 4.3%, Original Porter 4.5%, Runner 4%

And here's some others that will be on at the Kings Tun in Kingston:

Hackney Brewery – NZ Pale, Bitter
Southwark – Best, Gold
Sambrooks – Red, Chocolate Stout
Redemption – Pale Ale, Urban Dusk

Unlike last year though, the festival's not just going to be cask ale – there will be keg too. Windsor & Eton's has brewed Hurricane IPA (5%) specially for the festival, it'll be in all 132 pubs according to W&E's Facebook page. Here will be others too, for example the Kings Tun will also have Twickenham's dry-hopped Tusk keg IPA (4.7%) on tap.

I have to say I've been hugely impressed by the range and quality of the beer in recent Wetherspoons real ale festivals. I know some people have a problem with these pubs, and it's true that they are rarely as comfy and appealing as a cosy local, but they do a great job in providing a good range of well-kept cask ales and now a variety of interesting bottle and keg beers too, all at sensible prices.

I know too that there are various rumours spread about how they keep the prices down – all of which are false, as far as I can discover. Brewers have told me for instance that yes, Wetherspoons expects big discounts, but no more so than any other pub company. It also gave staff an above-inflation pay rise last year.

What's your take on it – do you drink in 'Spoons, and if not, why not?

PS. Through chatting with Andy, the head brewer at Southwark Brewery, I've realised what's going on here. The festival runs throughout February, but different areas of London focus on it in different weeks. So in south-west London the main week is from the 16th, but it'll be different in other areas. Check with your local...