London Pride Ale is London in a bottle
Some things are just perfect representations of their city. Stadium mustard in old Cleveland Municipal Stadium; a slice of pizza from Ray's in New York; Brennan's gumbo in New Orleans -- things like these just taste like their environment. They may not be the best examples of their type, but they exude the essence of the place they are from. Forget the fish and chips, tea and crumpets, and even the beans on toast. Fuller's London Pride is as close as you'll get to London without a passport.
It's all in there. Rain. Smoke. Grass. Most of the non-tourist pubs in the capital seem to reek of this stuff. Popping the cap off a bottle here instantly transports me back. I'm suddenly standing at the bar in the corner of a pub, in one of the mews off a main road. It's cold and wet, but there's a fire going in the center of the place. On one side, a couple endlessly debate the quickest route to Islington, while on the other, an Arsenal supporter is lording it over a Hammer.
London Pride still isn't readily available outside England. It used to be hard enough to find outside of London, but I've finally found a six-pack of their pale ale on a local import shelf. Fuller's has many varieties of beer, but this one is roughly equivalent to the bitter from the pub. I grab it eagerly, more for the nostalgic trip it'll take me on than for the taste. It's not long before I'm again debating the benefits of the A12 with the couple, and helping the West Ham fan to drown his many sorrows.
The truth is, I never was crazy about the stuff. It's thin and a little sharp, but it goes deeper than that for me. There in a pub, I usually wanted to get away from London for a second, not beaten over the head with it. The pint there somehow reinforced the tired and soggy feeling I had walking along outside, rather than alleviating it and bolstering the mind and body. That is, until after several slip down the throat. And they do, easily enough. These aren't particularly potent, registering in at less than 5 percent alcohol, and they are easy to drink.
The beer is a dark amber that's just short of being brown. The color matches the old wood and the tobacco-stained lighting in the pub. The aroma is malty, but you can feel the sharp tang of the hops in your nose even before the first sip. There's some nuts, some toffee, but it's grass and smoke that stand out for me. There is no head to speak of, so you'll get a whole certified pint of this stuff -- right to the brim every time.
The flavor is only slightly sweet, not nearly enough to balance all the hops. There is a citrus tinge to it all, but it's of the bitter peel rather than of the sweet orange itself. It's a good thing the carbonation is light, or the bite would be overpowering. Again, the grass, the smoke — the whole of “England” turns up in the flavor. There must be some tea in there if you look for it, and there's definitely a little butterscotch. Even though it's a very dry, bitter beer, it reminds me of a cold, dark rain. The whole effect is on the soft side, though, and over the course of a couple of dart matches, many will have been dispatched without notice.
Aptly, coming from the curry capital of the world, this beer goes down as a treat with Indian food. I can't even imagine having anything else. To say it complements curry is an understatement. It's more like a vital ingredient that can take a bog standard curry and make it sublime. Don't bother trying to pair it with anything else. Either have the curry with this beer, or nothing at all. Fortunately, it also goes well with nothing at all.
London Pride is not my favorite English beer, even though I've probably had as much of it as any other kind, I don't go out of my way for it. It finds me in England. Here, it just takes me back. If I'm going to pay import prices anyway, there is always something a little better on the shelf, but it is much cheaper than a plane ticket. London Pride is very much a session beer in England. You drink it as you order the curry. While you eat the curry. You drink it until the pub closes and you stumble into the street. Here, I'd only really want it during the meal — or for a quick trip back to Blighty.