Looking Back At The Putney Ale Trail

Local real ale aficionado Peter Jackson took on the challenge of seven pubs!

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The Campaign for Real Ale’s National Cask Ale Week ran from 1st to 9th October and was celebrated by seven pubs in Putney, ending in triumph with a free pint glass if you had a half or more at each.

The aims of Cask Ale Week are pretty straightforward: to encourage trial of real ale from new drinkers, engage drinkers in new styles of beer, improve bar staff awareness of the range of beers available and to promote the idea of Try Before You Buy: a safe way of persuading people to sample before risking their hard-earned cash on a pint at £3 or so.

Me and Tony Bennett (no, not that one), a long standing ale aficionado from Putney, set out on the trail starting from Wetherspoon’s The Railway at the highest point on our journey, with the aim of going slowly downhill from there over the course of the evening.

People may criticise Wetherspoon’s for all sorts of reasons, but on Saturday night the range was amazing (10 hand pumped ales and two hand pumped ciders) featuring ale from the USA (Stone San Diego Session IPA) and from Leicester by way of New Zealand hops (Everards Whakatu). We had a pint each of Bateman’s Good Honest XB from Wainfleet in Lincolnshire. Great beer in good condition.

Then to the Spotted Horse, a large noisy high street Young’s pub for a pint of that great standby, Young’s Bitter, now brewed at Bedford by Charles Wells, but drinking wonderfully well for all that. We narrowly avoided the guest beer, 4.5% Rucking Mole from Wiltshire and Young’s 1831 Anniversary Ale, reckoning that we’d never make the finishing line if we had two pints per pub.

The Whistle & Flute came next as we descended the vertiginous slopes of Putney High Street in time to grab a fantastic pint of Fuller’s world famous London Pride and take it down into the cellar for a tour led by the unfeasibly young and enthusiastic manager, John Pybus. We now know that a cellar is not dark, damp and boring, but a cathedral for the awed worship of proper beer. We were taught how to brew, store and dispense beer and were indirectly introduced to John’s uncle and his new tractor, all in 20 minutes (no diploma, however).

Pressing on and crossing over the road we entered The Rocket down by the river, a ‘posh’ Wetherspoon’s outlet with another outstanding range from their ‘World’s Biggest Real Ale & Cider Festival’. A pint of Shepherd Neame’s Organic Whitstable Bay with its orange flavours went down very well. Wetherspoon’s is not just about cheap ale, but about range and value and generally decent quality. And CAMRA members get the bonus of discounted beer vouchers too.

Now we were re-crossing the road to the Star & Garter, a pub we’d not been to since goodness only knows. It’s what they call a YPV in the trade (Young Persons’ Venue) so we raised the average age by a good 20 years. Everyone, hundreds of them, was having a great time and ten deep at the bar. Just one ale on tap which is a bit disappointing for an ale trail pub. So a quick half of Abbot Ale and onwards to the . . . .
Duke’s Head
an architectural gem, beautiful and a traditional Young’s house on the river with the usual impeccable pint of their Best Bitter, followed by a half of Greenwich Meantime’s IPA on hand pump. In case you haven’t noticed Meantime beers, you soon will. Great innovation, great range and though sacrilege to say it, often carbonated and dispensed from keg fonts rather than hand pumps. Our advice is just try it. Unfortunately the Otter Ale from Devon, had run out when we got in the Duke’s Head, otherwise this old favourite would have been too tempting to miss out. Next time perhaps?

Finally (almost) to the Coat & Badge another younger and noisy pub, but with a really jolly atmosphere made even better by a party of rowers dressed in vintage golf gear (search me!). A pint of Sambrook’s Wandle went down a treat and they also offered another very interesting ale in Cornish Coaster from the Sharp’s brewery at Rock (Cornwall’s equivalent of SW15?).


Peter with John Pybus the licensee of the Whistle & Flute – John organised the trail and got the glasses made with the 7 pubs listed.

Although we now had our seven stamps to earn our free pint glasses we decided to have a last pint back at the Whistle & Flute just to make sure that John’s London Pride was as good as we’d thought earlier. Reaching the bottom of the glass I noticed the etched message that might be a testimony to John and his fellow licensees on the ale trail: Proud of your pride.com.

None of these seven pubs even gets a listing in the Good Beer Guide, which goes to show how much very excellent real ale can be found all over SW15: as Michael Jackson the great beer hunter (not the bloke standing on the plinth at Craven Cottage) always said “the search for the perfect pint is never over”.

Fortunately for us there’ll be an ale trail next year and we’ve vowed to go up hill next time provided we remember our bus passes, that is..........

Peter Jackson

October 23, 2011