Caught by the River

Pint by the River – Hog's Back Brewery TEA 4.2%

11th March 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.

Hog’s Back Brewery TEA 4.2% by Ben McCormick

To paraphrase record-breaking and controversial cyclist Lance Armstrong, it’s not about the beer. Not always, anyway, and certainly not in this instance. Glowing like a welcome campfire in the cold, harsh forest of Southwark, The Lord Clyde is a pub of such undeniable charm and good nature that I’ve never seen fit to question its rather unimaginitive selection of beers. That there are always five on offer and all excellently kept seems more important and is highly appropriate for an inn that gets all the basics absolutely right.

Housed on one of the shortest streets in London, it’s the pub I always want to spend the longest time in. And with good reason.

“Unrivalled mild ales and double stout,” proclaims the mirror, a seven-by-five art deco monster that dominates one wall. It keeps the pub in check. Red velour drapes guard the entrances, a throwback to the blackout no doubt, and these are matched by modesty half-pane blinds perched on brass curtain rails that sheild the interior from external curiosity. If the beautifully crafted frosted windows haven’t already seen off the nosier passers-by, that is. Oak panels clad the walls while red vinyl sprung-foam banquettes skirt the room. You’re well cocooned in here. A pub bang in the middle of Little Dorrit country is poles apart from the decay and ruin chronicled by Dickens. In contrast to the place where William Dorrit spent most of his life – The Marshalsea, which shares its name with a street right next to the pub – The Lord Clyde, on Clennam Street, wants for nothing, in what is a lovely bit of literary symmetry, I think. There is everything you could need for drinking, eating, seeing, hearing, feeling and living. It would come as no surprise if they did rooms too. There is so much here that I’m amazed to have only just this evening spotted the fire flickering away under the mantelpiece. Almost all is bathed in a mandarin hue that adds to the sense of warmth and comfort. And of another more sepia-tinged era.

Clocks and archaic finery adorn the walls. It’s real heritage stuff, this. None of your faux aulde-worlde frippery; instead posters that have moved only to be encased in glass for their own preservation. A posteral history of the pub through the ages. It’s the kind of thing that would be impossible to install after a hefty refurbishment, which means there’s a real feel of something having evolved over years of good times. And it’s an amazing array of images too. Old men on even older forms of transport, pictures of rotund gentlemen doing nothing. Actual photographic evidence of what looks like a hotly contested hat box carrying competition. There’s even a woman who looks like David Icke.

It’s difficult to think of another seemingly standard boozer that offers five hand-pulled ales as if it were only natural to do so. Quite brilliantly understated, as is the rest. Unassuming. Uncomplicated. And yes, unrivalled.

So from a bitterly cold winter evening after a long week at work, I wend my way through the winding tributaries of Southwark to the wide, open bosom of the slow-moving Clyde. I’m armed with nothing but a cryptic crossword, a pen and a few pounds sterling, but immediately am feted like a returning knight by the landlady and landlord, who are a reassuringly long-serving presence in this place. They’ve broadened the range of offered ales since my last visit several months ago, but having been made to feel at home, I go for an old favourite of Young’s light and bitter. Or rather, that’s what’s poured for me, knowingly and generously, by the landlady. The service comes from a time uninhibited by targets, profitability and large-scale, commercially brewed ice lager.

And it’s a generosity of spirit that spills over into the measures. Nowhere have I encountered a more handsome helping of light and bitter than in the Lord Clyde. Half a bitter? Give over. It almost slops over the top. How you’d fit a bottle of light ale in there afterwards is anyone’s guess. I don’t complain; nor do I ever.

A new addition to the range catches my eye, so I decide on that for a swift second. Hog’s Back Brewery TEA (Traditional English Ale) is 4.2% by volume and has a nip of whisky in its opening. It looks like a cross between tea and whisky when poured too, with nothing but the merest hint of a head. So far, so traditional. It has a long, smooth centre with a dash of fruit gums and a faint taste of apple. But the anticipation built by this promising start is dashed. You keep waiting for something else to happen with the taste, but it doesn’t. It’s actually rather too mellow for my liking, right up until the finish, which is when you’re given a short, sharp tang. Not unlike a wasp farting on your tongue. And that’s it.

But as I said, it’s not always about the beer.