Today's Evening Standard carried two bad news stories for London pub lovers. Firstly, the front page story about the riot between rival hooligan firms down at The White Horse in Parson's Green. I won't dwell on it here, but it's terrible news for the pub. Second, the warning from Kevin Moran, landlord at The Nag's Head in Belgravia, about pub closures in West London. Apparently trade is down, and Kevin blames this on those buying up properties in the area, saying that "Muslims are teetotal and the Russians go to expensive hotel bars".
It wasn't all bad news though. On page 20 there was a voucher for a free pint of Guiness, redeemable at any O'Neills pub. At the end of his shift at the JT, Dave (the Long Armed Goon) and myself set off on an O'Neills crawl. Armed with a clutch of vouchers, we were determined to tear the arse out of this generous special offer.
I must stress that O'Neills pubs aren't places I'd normally set foot in without being held at gunpoint. For those that don't know, they're Irish-themed chain bars, and they're scattered across Britain. London has more than it's fair share, and the sight of bewildered tourists sitting impassively in those around the West End truly does sap the soul. Today's experiences were no better: it's reassuring to have your prejudices confirmed. In the first pub, a scary fella cheerfully explained he was on the run from the police, having stabbed a kid up in Camden. Don't worry, though - apparently the fight wasn't his fault. There were a crowd of tattooed Geordies in the next place with an enormous pile of Standards, tearing the vouchers out as they threw back the pints, claiming they'd been at it for hours. It made us feel so much better about our own behaviour.
I was keen to try out Guinness Red (4.1% abv), currently being trialled in the UK by macrobrewer Diageo. The chance to try a beer that's new to the market might have offered some consolation. I should have known better. The promotional materials told us that this is "made in the same traditional style as Guinness beer, but uses lighter roasted barley for a rich red colour and bittersweet taste".
Well first off, the beer doesn't really look red in the glass. The photo on the right of Dave's pint shows that it isn't quite as dark at the normal Guinness, but the red only shows up when held up to the light. Unsurprisingly, there's no aroma coming up from that artificial, nitrokeg head. The body is definitely thinner than the black stuff, and the flavour even weaker. There's none of the dry, roasted flavour that once characterised Guinness here. To be fair that's probably intentional. This is a bizarre beer, and for me it offers nothing at all. There isn't a kind word I can say about it. You might try a pint out of curiosity. My advice? Only do so if someone else is paying.
You can tell Diageo what you think about Guinness Red here. The beer is currently only available in selected O'Neills outlets. There's a press release on Diageo's website about the trial.