Organic Articles: Organic Pubs

Organic Pubs

Town Pub, Country Pub

Simon Wright O&F Consulting

Finally in 2005 the ontrade is beginning to take organics seriously even the wine list of my local Wetherspoons pub now offers a couple of organic choices. However some pioneering London pubs are going a lot further, such as The Crown in Hackney, The Duke of Cambridge in Islington and now The White Horse in Parsons Green. Of these three The White Horse is the only one that does not set out to portray itself as an organic pub. This is because landlord Mark Dorber has entered the organic field from a different angle.The process of selecting a wine or a beer for our menu follows the same route each time it has to be outstanding in its flavour profile, well made and interesting with good story to tell. I focus primarily on the purity and quality of flavour. It just so happens that from assiduous tasting of wines from our merchants Adnams and Bibendum weve ended up with around 30 wines that happen to be organic or biodynamic. My expectation now is that when new great wines are launched, more and more they are organic.

Mark admits that the well-heeled drinkers of SW6 may appreciate the quality of his wines but they dont really understand the terminology. The majority of our customers dont really understand what an organic wine is. People are intrigued by the leaf symbol on our wine list denoting that the wine is organic or biodynamic and they want to know more. It is our job now to explain this in more detail. Best sellers on the list include Leflaive Bourgogne Chardonnay, Domaine Leflaive Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru , Domaine de Limbardie Ros and Mas de Gourgonnier.

Following his success with organic wine Mark has now extended his organic offer into non-alcoholic beverages. When I judged the Organic Food Awards in 2004 I was massively impressed with the quality of the soft drinks and as a result I have now added Rocks and Heron Valley Organic Cordials and the Grove Fresh range of organic fruit and vegetable juices to our range at both pubs. Our customers have been wowed by the quality of these soft drinks.

After this you would have thought organic beer would have been a logical step, but that has not been Marks experience. Organic beer is a trickier one. It would be great if biodynamic practices could be shown to work in the hop-field because could then make a lot of Englands hop farms viable again – the current combination of diseases and the low price achieved by hops sold as commodity means they are not cost effective. There are special flavour and aroma characteristics of English hops which make it essential that we preserve them. We stock the Duchy Original range which are excellent, and we also stock organic guest beers like St Peters and Brakespear. Overall I think organic beers are lagging a long way behind organic wines at the moment. And we havent explored organic spirits yet, thats still to come.

Monty Waldin launched his book on biodynamic wine upstairs at The White Horse and this has increased Marks enthusiasm for biodynamic production. As I start to immerse myself in the work of Rudolph Steiner I am going to have many more penetrating questions for my suppliers of drinks and food.

In addition to The White Horse Mark and his wife Sophie have also taken over The Anchor in Walberswick, Suffolk. The Anchor will have a very different theme. At The Anchor we will specialise in local and seasonal food. We will grow biodynamic vegetables, leaves and herbs on our 12 x 45 yard allotment. Its marvellous to nip out during a busy shift for spinach from the allotment the freshness aspect is there. Were also developing links with local organic producers and we hope to have an organic farmers market in the Anchors carpark. Already Mark is applying biodynamic preparations to his compost heap in the expectation of full certification in due course.

Food is a major feature of the menu at both pubs but until recently offering organic menu items has been difficult because of cumbersome EU organic legislation. At the White Horse we source organic lamb from Shropshire and occasionally our menu features organic chickens. The effective deregulation of organic catering by Brussells offers a great opportunity for us to increase the amount of organic ingredients on our menu. We are very interested in the new new Soil Association Organic Catering Code, particularly for The Anchor. But for Mark organics is not to do with legislation or ideology. Organics for me is all about provenance, authenticity and taste.

Simon Wright


This article originally appeared in the October / November 2005 edition of Organic and Natural Business.