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Real Football and Real Ale

on Sun, 12/04/2011 - 8:01pm

The English Football Hooligan is a myth, fairytale, a legend that strikes fear into the hearts of non UK’ers as they lament over attending games, for they have concern for their safety. The cost of the tickets was almost enough to scare me away, but the legendary hooligan debauchery was more potent of a deterrent. But against my better judgment and my bank account balance, I followed my deranged passion for the game of soccer, and with my side kick Brett traveled across the pond to the Land of Real Football and Real Ale.

We had two goals. The first goal was to see the best soccer in the world. The second goal was to seek out the best pubs and best Real Cask Ale.

We landed, exhausted, we had to get our bearings. A pint of the Young’s Bitter landlord. Now, for English Ale, it was right on the mark. Yet being from the states, a Head Brewer at Hardywood Park, and more curious about beers pushing the boundaries than those that fit a mold that are already established styles, the Bitter seemed a bit thin and unfulfilling. The classic Cask Ale pint which has sustained a great nation for eons left me feeling like London had more to offer. The search was on.

History is something London is not lacking, so Brett and I foraged ahead seeking our next pint in some of the most historic pubs in London. With the help of ‘Fancy a Pint’, an awesome Iphone app for pub seekers in London, we had all the ammunition we needed to get our drink on. Our targets were the most historic and significant pubs in London. Here is how it went down. We had an Old Speckled Hen of the cask with the ghost of Charles Dickens at the George Inn. We slugged down a Pint of both Fullers ESB and Porter while reciting Shakespeare at the Anchor. We were watched over by Big Brother drinking a Lotus IPA in Soho at the Dog and Duck where George Orwell predicted the future. Then a couple pints of Sam Smiths Cask Ale at Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, the oldest pub in London. And no, we weren’t finished yet, and no, we had seen nary a football match.

On to my favorite pub of the trip, and if I do say so myself a pioneer of craft beer in London, the Cask Pub and Kitchen. This pubs understands beer, and I felt like I found what I was looking for. We stepped in the Cask after a full day of pinting, and with a heavy dose of euphoria, were floored by the selection. Our beer selection and quality had escalated throughout the day only to be surpassed by the crafted ales at the Cask. London’s Craft Ale Movement begins here with Real Ale breweries such as Mighty Oak, Magic Rock, and Brodies to name a few. It continues with the bottle selection of from all over the world, including some of the American craft breweries of Goose Island, Dogfish Head, and 3 Floyds. There were a few Duck Rabbits in the cooler as well. A fantastic pub and front runner in the craft movement in London.

Don’t worry, I’ll get to the hooligan myth soon, but I have to mention the pints at Scarsdale Arms which housed Napoleon’s army officers. To be honest I don’t remember what the hell we drank there, but it was a great pub.

As I alluded to before, the hooligans of English Football have either vanished or a myth to begin with. The Chelsea v Liverpool match was fantastic; however the home squad at Stamford Bridge (Chelsea) was unable to get the win. Before the game, there was some fan fair near the stadium, singing and pint swilling. During the game there was a 10 year old boy singing a few profane lyrics of a Chelsea song meant to deter the opposition. There was a bit of golf clapping during some intelligent football play and skill. Other than that, well behaved gentleman made their way to the game, watched the game, and left silent as the home team lost. I haven’t seen better behavior apart from Prince William and Kate’s wedding at Westminster Abbey.

Tottenham v Aston Villa was a whole different story all together. I think out of the two games we saw, this was the better, and Tottenham (the home side) got the win. The difference in the experience lies in the absolute non existence of hooliganism. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fantastic game, full of action and goal scoring opportunities. Yet I felt that the ushers placed at every section to ensure everyone was sitting during the affair was a bit much. Golf clapping and singing only, while seated of course. Did I mention there was no beer in the stadium?

So, London was great! I found out things that I would have only discovered by visiting, thus dismantling stereotypical London, at least in the beer and football realm. The soccer is fantastic, as are the fans. I would not hesitate to get back to see more games. I also reinvigorated a love of Cask Ale. And in conclusion, I found that an English bar maid will apologize profusely for serving a bottled beer of Fullers Reserve cold. Only in England.