They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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Mighty Oak Oscar Wilde

ABV: 3.7%
Origin: Maldon, Essex, England
Website: www.mightyoakbrewery.co.uk

Oscar Wilde

This beer won Champion Beer of Britain (CBoB) at the Great British Beer Festival in August 2011, much to the consternation of some craft beer aficianados who saw this as further evidence of CAMRA conservatism and fustiness – with all those exciting new high gravity beers out there dry hopped with massive quantities of the latest alpha acid oozer from New Zealand, here they are giving their top award to a dull old 3.7% traditional English mild.

For my part, I was more than happy with the choice. I’m a great fan of mild, which, although it’s not quite in as imminent danger of extinction as it once was, is still a minority style, and at its best a brilliant demonstration of how brewers can squeeze remarkable amounts of flavour into a low gravity beer. Admittedly the CBoB judges sometimes make eccentric choices and tend towards conservatism, but all they can do is pick what they think are the best beers that are offered to them out of a wide variety on the day.

Much as I was pleased to hear of Oscar Wilde’s win, however, the main reason it’s here is more personal. Shortly after 1800hrs on Thursday 3 February 2011, I completed my exhausting schedule of research visits to potential places to drink for inclusion in The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars by calling in at Leyton Orient Supporters Club.

Due to the irregular opening hours of the club, I’d not succeeded in visiting it on previous research itineraries, and had even considered not bothering with it, but in the end I was glad I made a special effort. It’s certainly not London’s most beautiful place to drink, but it’s an unexpectedly quirky venue with an excellent range of cask ales at bargain prices and a very warm welcome from the enthusiastic volunteers who run it. It seemed a good place to draw a line under my quest for the capital’s best beer outlets.

As had become my standard practice with places new to me, I went in unannounced as an ordinary drinker, ordered a half and took stock of both the beer and the surroundings. Then before taking more detailed notes I introduced myself to bar manager Mike Childs and explained what I was doing. We ended up chatting further, and when Mike found out his club was my last stop he insisted I stay for a pint on the house by way of celebration. I unhesitatingly chose one of their regular beers, Oscar Wilde Mild.

Its brewery, Mighty Oak in the pretty Essex town of Maldon, on the Blackwater estuary, has a firm link to east London brewing heritage. It was founded in Brentwood, just over the London boundary, in 1996 by brewer John Boyce, who had been made redundant through the closure by Carlsberg of the Ind Coope brewery in Romford, one of the great historic ale breweries of the region with a history dating back to 1709. Reaching for the aspiration of its name, the tiny brewery prospered and moved to its current, much bigger, premises in 2001.

It’s unusual these days for a brewer in southeast England to do well with a mild but Oscar Wilde is an exception. Mild may also not have been the tipple of choice for the flamboyant Irish poet, playwright and wit with whom it shares its name, but of course it’s Cockney rhyming slang – not that I’d miss the opportunity of raising a glass to Oscar himself.

The beer is a very, very dark amber brown with a light foamy beige head and a malty, sappy, slightly caramel tinged aroma of the precise sort you’d expect from a good example of the style. There’s also a bit of caramel on the malty palty, with some liquorice and a touch of ashy roast, offset by a pleasant fruity tanginess on the tongue. A nice drying and slightly roasty finish has a bit more brown bread flavour with notably bracing hops around the edges – perhaps a bit more than would be typical in more traditional examples, but not enough to overpower the firm malt character.

I’ve found Oscar Wilde delicious on several occasions and this was no exception, though perhaps with an extra boost of pleasure given the task I’d just accomplished. If this beer is in the gutter, it is certainly looking up at the stars, and I urge you to follow its gaze.

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