Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Harvey's Old Ale 4.3%

Ben McCormick | 4th February 2010

Last year, Jeff, Andrew and myself sat out on the back stoop of the Dove doing our usual thing – drinking a few pints of foaming nut brown ale while concocting plans of what we could or should attempt next. We’ve always liked talking about beer. Liked drinking it a bit more than that if truth be told. So we thought we’d start a CBTR beer section. An ongoing conversation about ale, if you will. Hopefully it’ll be sporadic yet seasonal, informative yet slightly sozzled. It’ll be a bit like that conversation we had that day in fact.


(pic by Rob Orchard)

Harvey’s Old Ale 4.3% by Ben McCormick.

I am five or six years old and still small enough to swing short-clad, hairless legs backwards and forwards from the bench of a rained-grey wooden trestle table, occasionally kicking the dirt into tiny dust storms. Orange sepia sunlight frames the scene in the mid seventies as I clutch the shapely glass bottle of sweet, brown, fizzy cola and munch on Golden Wonder cheese and onion crisps. Hours pass in small worlds as I amuse myself picking the rotten wood from the table, which has a small brass plaque screwed into the central plank which says: Property of The Roseberry Arms, Cheddington. Sycamore leaves parachute from the surrounding trees as my father finally appears smiling from the door of the mysterious mock Tudor building. I’ve only ever peered inside once, but that’s enough for me. It’s dark and smells of stale, pungent tea leaves and rising damp.

This is what passes through my mind as I take a glug of Harvey’s Sussex Old Ale. Just one admittedly generous slurp and I’m transported back to my first ever taste of beer – an extremely brief sip of my dad’s pint of God-knows-what outside the Roseberry. At the time, I find it utterly disgusting and wonder how anyone can ever drink it for pleasure. Now, it’s as if the entire raison d’être of drinking beer is contained in this mouthful. The pint itself is delivered dark and brooding in the only Harvey’s tied pub in London, The Royal Oak in Borough, which regularly vies for the title of my own personal pub of the year. Poured in the southern style, that is, with a head that looks like the thin, wispy scum you see downriver of a weir, Harvey’s Old Ale is an instant hit of light spiciness that belies its more threatening appearance. Then there’s a rounded, full, malted biscuity sweetness that crosses swords with a nutty adversary. This is followed by a refreshing bitterness that thrashes around your mouth like an injured rabbit under a groundsheet and an almost cloying treacle taste that hangs around reminding you of its presence like a swaggering drunk. Dark fruit is also hidden away in the murky depths while a stray floating liquorice stick adds another dimension to the already complex flavour. In sum, it’s a shifting, foaming, eddying current of an ale that tips a nod to its Ouse-side birthplace. Criminally, it’s a seasonal pint that’s only available between October and April, so it’s a case of enjoy it while you can. I do.