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White Horse Pub, London

August, 1998

By Bobby Bush

Sunday morning in London, the day after a wonderful afternoon spent carousing the aisles of the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) and we were ready for more adventure. The day before, at the fest, we had briefly chatted with James McCrorie, a coordinator of the Craft Brewing Association, Englandís version of the American Homebrewers Association. Without our even asking, he recommended a London area pub, which I promptly scribbled into my notepad.

So after parading past Buckingham Palace and the House of Parliament, we hopped back on the underground and headed southwest in search of the White Horse Pub. Arriving about noon, we settled down at a nearby table pulling on pints of real cask-conditioned ales. I chose an Adnam-Southwold ESB, which proved to be smooth, finishing with a bitter bite, while my traveling companion, a Budweiser drinker of some repute, found pleasure and solace with Staropramen, a pilsner lager brewed in Prague.

McCrorieís suggestion that we visit this friendly, large pub in Parsons Green was spot on. From its beginning in 1795, the corner-situated White Horse was obviously the hub of the neighborhood. Choosing from about 20 Real Ales and 15 bottled Trappist Ales (Chimay, Westmalle, Westvleteren), while Bob stayed with the lagers, we had a satisfying lunch and continued the occupation of our bar-side table.

Outside, the pubís patio was filling with hungry, thirsty patrons. A wood-burning grill, heavy with chicken, burgers and sausage, wafted an appetizing aroma. Inside, on this warm Sabbath afternoon, not a television was seen or heard. A dried hops arrangement provide decoration on the wall above the bar. There were no stools, but a brass foot rail served well as the floor in front of this long, curving bar continued to fill as the day progressed. By mid-day, seven bartenders were working hard to keep up with demand.

The city park across the street was hosting a jazz festival that day, we discovered, and for many the White Horse was their oasis for refreshment and relief. As I sampled nearly all of their ales- Wychwood Special, Highgated Walsall Dark Mild, Harveyís Sussex Best Bitter, Outlaw Scorcher, to name a few -literally hundreds of folks passed by our table. At times it was as hectic as a tube station at rush hour. We invited many weary jazz-festers to sit for a spell and took the opportunity to inquire of their interest in the pub and its variety of beers. Most were quite knowledgeable and happy to see two smiling Americans sharing their favorite brews. We even bumped into McCrorie amongst the crowd and complimented his recommendation.

Cellarmaster Mark Dorber, a most respected man at the White Horse, keeps an ever rotating selection of beers on tap. He changed out four casks while we were visiting. Not one bad ale was served. All were fresh, smooth and decidedly delicious. Most memorable were Rooster Cream, a deep-orange cream ale much hoppier than found in the US; Wadworths Farmers Glory, a dry lowly hopped brew with a winey, raisiny flavor; and Robert Cainís Formidable Ale, a lager-esque malty, sour finishing strong ale, served in a sweaty wine glass.

We watched as entire families joined the pubís noisy atmosphere. Backpacked lads and high high-heeled lasses waited in queue for their turn in the WC, but all were smiling in a festive mood. Pushing through the patio masses, I purchased hot grilled chicken sandwiches for ourselves and a guest, a man who had used his vacation to serve ales at the GBBF for the past four days and was on a mission to visit every great real ale pub in the country. What stories he told.

The significance of this ale-invested afternoon didnít hit me until later. For over six hours we rested our butts at a White Horse table, watching the activity, talking with the locals. The authentic cask-conditioned ales, known in the UK as Real Ales, were just part of the experience. This was quality time spent as many regular English folks do, in their favorite pub whiling away the hours with friends. And, it was the first time ever that I had eaten lunch and dinner in one session at the same bar.

The White Horse Pub is one of Londonís unknown landmarks. Letís keep it that way.

This article first appeared in Focus, a weekly paper published in Hickory, North Carolina.

© Bobby Bush

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