Thursday, July 30, 2009

A bitter man am I

I’ll be in Oxford the second week in August, participating in one of those old-folks summer courses, at Merton College, and I expect to learn a bit about British art and archetecture of the late 18th Century, meet some interesting people, and have an altogether glorious time.

We’ve got a reading list for the course, naturally, but in truth, the volume I’ll be studying most is The Good Beer Guide, because what I’m looking forward to more than anything else is good English beer.

Over the last few decades, there has been a flourishing of micro-breweries here in the States, and they almost always offer “English style” brews, but they usually turn out to be over-hopped light ales served too cold. They’re especially enamored, for some reason, of (over-hopped) India Pale Ale (served too cold). Sometimes there’s an ESB—Extra Special Bitter—which is, you guessed it, over-hopped and served too cold.

I don’t want an IPA, or an ESB, or a “Best,” or, God forbid, a Bud. I just want a comfortable seat in a pub that keeps good beer well, and a pint of ordinary Bitter—not over-hopped and not served too cold. “A pint” is, of course, a term of art. I’m sure teacher will be proud.


Alan Sloman said...

Ah - A visit from our colonial cousin! will you have time to be entertained? I am only a hop and a skip from the dreaming spires.

Drop me a line to let me know? I could rustle up Lord Elpus and a few other of your fans to educate you in the ways of proper beer (don't listen to the northerners - they have frothy heads up north)

baz carter said...

Sadly I cant drink beer but I could hop(!) up to Oxford and provide support to your bitter endeavour with a glass of merlot :)

Mark Alvarez said...

Hi, Baz. It would be lovely to see you. Mr. Sloman is attempting to make plans, so you might consult. But any time would be great. I'm probably best reached at

dmcclane said...

Hi, Mark! Have enjoyed reading your comments on our trip and like that you went AWOL from the lectures in order to SEE things. I agree with your assessment of the need to balance free time with learning time--seeing IS learning.

Pat and I are not experts, but I thought that we would share what we sampled in the pubs about town:
Chiswick at The Bear
Cumberland at the Eagle & Child
Old Hooky at the White Horse
London Pride, various places

But I think our favorite turned out to be the Oxford Gold that we had at Merton. Can we get it over here?

Mark Alvarez said...

Hi Debra. Thanks for your note.

I’m very interested to hear about the beers you and Pat drank in England. I’m not an expert either (perish the thought!), just an enthusiastic consumer. My experience is limited because I tend to stick to “session” beers -- basic bitters, so I’ve always passed on the Chiswick in favor of London Pride from the same brewer. Likewise, in the Lakes it’s plain old Jennings Bitter instead of Cumberland. With my friends at the Trout, as with my friends at the Merton Bar, I went for basic Brakspear Bitter instead of Oxford Gold. I’m sure the other stuff is terrific, but to keep my head from exploding I cut down the choices by playing the field laterally rather than vertically. Among others on this trip I enjoued Old Hooky somewhere, Donnington Bitter in Stow-on-the-Wold, and Abbey Ales Bellringer in Bath. I probably had more Brakspear than anything else. When we lived in England years ago, this was our standard quaff, and it remains a favorite, so I’m especially pleased you liked Oxford Gold.

It’s been my experience that good English bitters don’t travel well, and I’d be surprised to find Oxford Gold in the U.S. Just another good reason to travel in the U.K frequently!

I think “pub crawl” would be an excellent organizing principle for a course (deeply rigorous and academically valid, naturally, if perhaps heavily weighted to field trips), don’t you?