While I was out on one of my Ale Trail bike rides, I stopped at one of my favourites. The Magpie and Parrot is situated just outside Shinfield at the end of what looks to be a short by-pass. It’s the kind of pub where you feel like you’re sat in someone’s living room. That’s because you kind of are. When I was there, the open fire was smouldering nicely, in stark contrast to the lashing rain outside.
Upon arrival, as one does on the Ale Trail (or any pub as far as I am concerned), I immediately inspected the pumps at the small but homely bar. I recall the feeling of disappointment to find one of the two pumps bare, and the other with a London Pride pump clip. “Oh well, not to worry” I thought, “at least the fire is going nicely”. I sat down with a fellow trailer and brought out the Chocolate Digestives I’d packed to keep me going on the bike ride. I was so damp I could only sit on one of the wooden chairs. In prime position right in front of the fire, I took my first sip of ale, and that feeling of disappointment at the initial sight of the offerings sublimed in an instant. It honestly was the best beer I’d had so far this year.
This experience got me thinking. Normally I would gloss over the likes of London Pride and Doombore in preference to something local or a beer I had not had before. Perhaps I should stop doing this, as I could be missing out on a great pint. It was then that the fellow trail-er hinted that it may not have been the pint per se that was so could, but the pint in conjunction with the environment in which we were drinking it – fire crackling as the rain continued to pour outside, carpet under foot, the gentle muttering of the punters in the bar area, and the Land Lady’s dog snoring by the doorway. To an extent, this was probably a factor. I would have been quite comfortable sat there all afternoon. Indeed, we stayed for another pint.
In reality, it is going to be somewhat of a mindset shift if I am seriously considering that I might order a pint of Doombar when there anything else available, however what I shall do is to not judge my beer before I have tasted it. To provide some balance too, it is worth noting that the real lesson is more likely that if a pub serves well-kept beer, it probably doesn’t matter too much what it is. Good beer is just as much, if not crucially, about the way it is kept than what it actually is.