In Love with Lovibonds

Tasting Session

Last Sunday (26 Feb 2011) I visited the Lovibonds brewery and tasting room. A few days before I decided to take a trip to London to sample a few beers at BrewDog Camden and the Euston Tap but when it came time to get up on the Thursday morning I just couldn’t be arsed hauling myself to London. To make up for it, I decided that on the Saturday I’d definitely go to London and drop-in on the Kernel Brewery… ah, no… Saturday arrived and my enthusiasm-tank for doing anything constructive was at an all-time low. Then Sunday come along and it was a lovely sunny day that was more suited to early May than late February. My girlfriend announced that she planned to spend the day tinkering about in the garden and baking cakes – both noble pursuits but not ones that I care to indulge in very often (if at all). So, I knew I had to do something to pass the time and I knew it was probably best if it didn’t involve London or it most likely would not happen… but what? The day before I’d read Jeff Rosenmeier’s selections for Desert Island Beers – he chose some excellent beers and also selected Radical Brewing by the excellently named Randy Mosher as his chosen beer book. The article served to remind me just how delicious I’d found Lovibonds 69 IPA when I’d first tasted it at the excellent Port Street Beer House when I visited Manchester back in December for a Half Man Half Biscuit gig. The memory of a delicious beer served as a suitable stimulus to hop on a train and visit the Lovibonds tasting rooms.

Henley-on-Thames is about 50 miles from my current hometown of Swindon, which almost makes Lovibonds one of my local brewers. I knew that the train would be the only real option of getting there and back and a quick look at times and connections meant that it was easily doable with no expensive taxi journeys required. The first stage of the journey was a 35 minute journey from Swindon to Reading on a packed train followed by a 40 minute wait. Train number two was a 6 minute trip from Reading to Twyford followed by another 40 minute wait. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a pub anywhere Twyford station so I had to pass the time by wandering up and down the platform looking bored and lost and perhaps slightly dodgy. Another brief train journey and I arrived in the home of Lovibonds. As the train approached its destination I did wonder if I’d be allowed into such a posh and lovely town wearing a New Model Army hoodie but I’m pleased to report that I breezed through immigration control and was soon boldly strolling up Queen Street. On Duke Street I came across a pub called The Beer Tree that claimed to have over 100 beers in stock – I was tempted to step inside but decided that a visit would be better suited to the return leg of the journey. Realising I didn’t have anything to read, I ducked into an Oxfam Book Shop and after a swift perusal of the shelves I was the proud owner of Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith. Sandy is most famed for his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books, which I’ve never read. Espresso Tales is the 2nd instalment of his 44 Scotland Street series – a few years back I read and enjoyed the opening salvo from 44 Scotland Street and for almost as long I’ve had the 3rd part sitting unread on my bookshelves. I was certain that Espresso Tales would be ideal for those moments when I wasn’t lifting a Lovibonds beer to my mouth.

Up on Market Square it became apparent that the brewery and tasting room wasn’t as easy to locate as I believed it was going to be. I had it in my head that it was located behind LFO but after a couple of exploratory missions to the back door and bins it was obvious that the directions I’d stored in my head weren’t exactly 100% accurate. But not to worry, the wonderful world of mobile internet meant that a few minutes later I was over the other side of the square and behind WHS.

The 7 Wonders of Henley-on-Thames

The beer garden was a throng a families and young lovers enjoying the gorgeous unseasonal heat wave. Inside there were a couple of leather couches and a handful of tables and chairs. The bar itself was small but perfectly formed and boasted 7 taps. As it was 69 IPA that had, arguably, brought me there I decided it was the obvious starting point. It was a delightful as I remembered it being and I quietly cursed myself for only ordering a half and not a full pint. I sent a couple of tweets, read a few paragraphs of my book and felt happy and comfortable and at home. The tasting room often hosts live music on Friday evenings and I quickly found myself thinking what a fantastic venue it would be for a low-key gig by some of my favourite musical artists… ah, great beer and great music – we don’t really need much else. My reverie ended and as my glass was empty I trotted over to the bar. This time I ordered a Henley Dark (4.8%) – an interesting little porter with a good chocolate kick and an interesting smoke tinge. I then mentioned to the star behind the bar, Chris, that 69 was the only Lovibonds beer that I previously tried but as I liked it so much I decided to visit the tasting rooms and sample the brewery’s other offerings. Chris rather graciously offered to get me a sampler of each and every beer – he told me to take a seat and he’d bring them over. I returned to my seat feeling positively special but I’m quite certain that anybody who visits will be treated with the same unequivocal respect. I was given a sample of the core range Dark, Amber and Gold alongside the Reserve versions of Dark and Gold. All were excellent tasting beers although the two versions of Gold, being wheat beers, weren’t entirely to my taste buds liking. Then I was presented with 2 specials:  Dirty 69 IPA (a black IPA) and Foster’s Slayer (a lager). I’m not a huge fan of black IPAs but thankfully the Dirty 69 wasn’t a victim of the overt liquorice sweetness that so many others succumb to – I’ll certainly drink it again if I get the chance. I need to have another taste of the Foster’s Slayer before making a full assessment but it certainly didn’t have the unnatural sweet blandness that plagues the majority of the lagers that get swilled in massive quantities throughout the UK and it went satisfingly easily.

By now the regulars had a barbecue in full swing and I’d been offered a burger, which for some stupid reason I’d turned down. The sun was still happily shining, the garden was full of people smiling and laughing and a couple of cool little kids were playing hide-and-seek while munching on their burgers. It was quite obvious that for those who frequent the place, Lovibonds is an important part of their community and life – just as every good pub should. Time was ticking on but there was more than enough time to indulge in another couple of beverages and some beer-themed chat with Chris. I also ate a sausage bap that was kindly donated to me by the friendly regulars – I figured to decline one offer was polite but to decline two would be rude… and I was hungry. The 5pm closing time was upon us so I bought some takeaway treats: a bottle of the Gold and Dark Reserves and a 1 litre growler filled with delicious 69 IPA. I said my goodbyes and thank yous and departed knowing that I’ll return another day in the not too distant future.

Although, I was reasonably sozzled I couldn’t walk past the aforementioned Beer Tree. The cask and keg offering were pretty mundane but there bottled selection was one of the finest I’ve seen outside of London. I calculated that there was enough time for 2 beers and figured that one should be something I hadn’t tried before and then I’d bow out with an old favourite. My new try was Thornbridge St Peterburg (7.7%) – an exquisite stout that I’d love to pour over vanilla ice cream. For my old fav I decided to go for a bottle of La Chouffe but sadly they only had the big 750ml bottles in stock. Thankfully, although I was feeling pretty pished I wasn’t pished enough to think a 750ml bottle was a good idea when the train station was approx 5 minutes away and I had to be there in 15. So I opted for an Anchor Old Foghorn (8.8%) – a stunning barley wine that is undoubtedly one of the great beers of the world. Time restraints meant I didn’t treat the Old Foghorn with the respect that it deserves and scooped it way too fast but it tastes astounding no matter how fast or slow you drink it so it was no real disaster. I was time to go. A brief stagger later I was sitting on the train station platform having a discrete swig from 69 growler. My Lovibonds odyssey was over.

Takeaway Treasure

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~ by landells on March 4, 2012.

4 Responses to “In Love with Lovibonds”

  1. Sounds like a good day out.

    • It was a grand day out. Lovibonds do a community hop pick sometime in September – free beer and food (I think) for anyone who gets involved – I’ll definitely have to try and be there.

      • Really great post. Sounds like the best way to spend a sunny sunday. The hop pick sounds fun too, may try to make that; it can only be good to get a proper feel for what goes in beer. Haven’t tried any Lovibonds beers yet but like the sound of Henley Dark, Dirty 69 & the Dark Reserve (I like dark beers)… I’ll be looking out for them round here.

      • The hop pick does sound like a great day and I reckon it would be especially interesting if a load of bloggers turned-up and pitched in… a working twissup!

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