On a Quixotic quest to find out if Fuller’s ESB had been marmalised by the recent-ish takeover of Fuller’s brewery by Asahi Europe Ltd. who are a wholly owned subsidiary of Asahi Group Holdings who are a Japanese mega-corporation, I had travelled into London to a pub, The Dove in Hammersmith, that when visited back in the day, never failed to serve ESB (and other ales) in tip-top condition.
My local Fuller’s pub here in Chesham, The Queen’s Head had also, pre pandemic, served a top-notch pint of ESB but of late the ale that they are serving and calling ESB had been devoid of all that makes ESB the champion ale that it is, or at least was…
I had feared some sort of commercial ‘downgrade’ of the brewing process in the corporate search for profit above all else, so I had set out to discover if ESB elsewhere was still any good.
It must have been a good ten years or more since I’d last set foot in The Dove in Hammersmith but, and the vagaries of memory notwithstanding, as I walked through the door it looked just as I remembered it. Somewhat dim, ever so slightly grubby, in need of a lick of paint here and there. Just what a good pub should be.
There is a short hallway as you walk in through the front door with a door to the right which leads into a tiny snug bar, immediately you enter the main room, the bar is to your right with seating to the left, ahead is a short flight of steps leading up to another seating area with windows looking out across the Thames and steps down to an exterior riverside terrace.
I surveyed the handpumps set diagonally across the corner of the bar between the main room and the snug, the pump clips turned to face the main room. There it was, ESB.
A personable young man appeared and after exchanging greetings I asked for, “A pint of ESB, please.” The young man took a glass, filled it from the pump and placed it on the bar in front of me.
“Five pounds sixty please.” he said.
Without batting an eyelid, I proffered my bank card and touched it to the card reader that was held out towards me.
Ouch! Five pounds and twelve shillings?
If I hadn’t already guessed it, I was now certain that I was in the big city, up the smoke, in That London.
I took my pint from the bar and walked round into the snug bar, a curious little room with a window on one side and the bar on the other, two bar stools and a wooden bench affixed to the end wall. This room holds the Guinness record for being the smallest public bar room in the UK, measuring 4’2″ by 7’10” (1270 mm by 2387 mm in the modern style). Those measurements are though I think at floor level; the large, frosted window is inset a good few inches, enough to squat your bot on the windowsill at any rate, so the overall feeling is a little more spacious than its record holding dimensions might suggest.
I sat on the wooden bench, lifted the ESB to my lips and cautiously sipped.
I sipped again, swallowed, and then took a good mouthful.
ESB. It was unmistakably ESB. Good ESB.
There was the mellow bitterness, the soft malt toffee, the peppery notes with hints of citrus and all that other good stuff so lovingly described by Fuller’s marketing department. As I wrote in part one of this, ESB is a cracking ale with hoppy bitterness, malt, fruit and a hint of sweetness and all those things were there in that pint I was holding, in the pint I was drinking, and all those flavours had for some time been absent from the ale being sold as ESB in Chesham’s Queens’s Head.
I make no apology for banging on about this. In London, the ESB was £5.60 a pint and everything it should be even if the price was a tad steep for a Bucks yokel. In Chesham ESB is “only” £5.00 a pint but for your fiver is it unreasonable to expect your ale to be what it’s advertised as? At the time of writing, ESB as served at The Queen’s Head in Chesham is, as I noted in part one, a pale imitation of some other less interesting beer. I have supped of other ales on offer in The Queen’s Head and they all seem fine, it’s just the ESB that is not how it should be.
I sat there in Hammersmith, sipping at my ESB and savouring every drop.
At about the two thirds of a pint mark, the young man who had served me appeared holding a pint of Guinness, he walked over to the bar where I was sitting and holding up the Guinness, he asked me if I’d like the pint. I looked at him sideways and smiled quizzically. He said that there had been a mistake in an order and now the Guinness was surplus to requirements, and it was mine if I’d like it, free of charge. I thanked him but said that ESB and Guinness were two different animals and that I’d stick to the ESB. I was, after a long absence, beginning to really like this pub.
I seriously considered having a second pint of ESB, but I was after all on a quest, and I had to move on to ascertain if the general state of ESB was in good fettle or if I had just been lucky.
I left The Dove and walked back into Furnival Gardens then up to a subway going under the A4, Great West Road. As I mention in part one, the road I would have normally taken to get up to King Street was a colossal building site, so I had to make a detour going up Macbeth Street and then back along King Street to get to Ravenscourt Park tube station.
When I got to the station, I caught a westbound train one stop along the line to Stamford Brook station where I alighted and headed for another Fuller’s pub called The Cross Keys in Black Lion Lane. I’d done a little research and pinpointed a few Fuller’s pubs that I liked the look of.
The Cross Keys is a lovely pub, nestling down a side road off of King Street, the only fault I could level at it was that they didn’t serve ESB in there. There were four hand pulls on the bar, two with Fuller’s London Pride badges and two with Dark Star Hophead badges. Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges…
I had a half pint of Hophead, it’s a good ale, I quite like it but it’s not ESB. As for the London Pride, well, you see, I have a problem with London Pride. It’s not actually bad, as ales go, but it’s not really good. To my mind it’s adequate, nothing to write home about, rather like Sharp’s Doombar and that other one that was suddenly all over the place, can’t bring it to mind at the moment but that’s because it was nothing special. It was all right but… anyway, you get the picture.
Back outside it was a lovely warm and sunny afternoon, I retraced my footsteps to Stamford Brook station and continued west to Turnham Green where I detrained and headed for a pub called The George IV which is right on Chiswick High Road. I surveyed the hand pumps, and relieved to spot ESB amongst them, asked the young woman who served me, for a pint of ESB.
I took my pint to a table, settled in and surveyed my surroundings. The George IV was by far the biggest of the three pubs I had visited and had, by the look of things, been refurbished not that long ago. It was clean and tidy, not a bad thing in itself I suppose but it somehow lacked the gentle patina of The Dove.
I sipped my ESB. Further relief, it was again good ESB, I sat back and sipped with impunity.
After a while and nearing the bottom of my glass, I consulted my TfL Go app… Don’t laugh, I can do apps, but my goodness how I hate calling them that. Once upon a time I had programs on my computer, now I have apps on my device.
Anyhoo, TfL Go informed me that if I caught the such and such departure westbound from Turnham Green and went via Acton Town, Rayners Lane and Harrow, I’d be back in dear old Chesh before 19:00. The app, cognisant of my location, even allowed me 10 minutes to walk to the station! It must have known about the bloomin’ awful traffic lights and associated pedestrian crossings at the staggered junction of Turnham Green Terrace, Annandale Road and Chiswick High Road that I had encountered on the way to the pub. Honestly, at one point all the lights were red, pedestrians and traffic alike all stood there like lemons waiting for something to happen!
I had ventured forth and found good ESB. I rejoiced in the knowledge that there was, that there IS ESB out there that is still as good as it always was, but just not in Chesham. I have written to Fuller’s and informed them of the state of the ESB being served hereabouts, I must go down to The Queen’s Head again soon and see if anything has changed.
Now I’m left wondering why we go on a Quixotic quest and not a Kee-hoe-tik one…