So why should the writer of a Birmingham beer blog, bother to trouble his readers with an account of a visit to London? Well, when you are concerned that your city is lagging behind in the beer stakes, you need to know what you are aspiring to. You also need to whet that appetite and remind yourself exactly what beer experiences you are seeking to reproduce in the city of thousand trades. Q. Are there really things in the London pub scene which don't exist in Brum? A. Yes.
After a great deal of painstaking research involving Twitter and the Transport for London website, my long anticipated London pub crawl finally happened yesterday.
Using this proposed route, three lifelong Leicester chums and I arrived just after lunch, with them waiting for me in the Euston Tap. I can certainly think of worse places to kill time - in fact if this place were in Birmingham, I would go there and stay all day.
First stop was the Southampton Arms, somewhere I previously visited in June. We trudged through slushy snow from Tufnell Park tube and on arrival made short work of some dimpled mug encased halves. My Brodies Dalston Black IPA was outstanding and I believe Dave's pork pie looked equally stunning, I say that I believe this to be the case, because it was scoffed so quickly, my recollection is based on only a fleeting glimpse.
Reluctantly we left this crowded, rustic and charming location, to get the bus to Brewdog's Camden outlet. By contrast, this bar was light, industrial and had plenty of breathing space. The beer choice was tantalising and hop drenched. I swigged 2/3 of a pint (in a 2/3 glass no less) of the latest IPA is Dead issue, this time showcasing the Simcoe hop. It was very good, as was Martin's 2/3 of Hops Kill Nazis. This bar is a winner in my book, with [duh] a big range of Brewdog beers (keg only), plus their bottles and the bottles of well chosen guests. Equally well chosen were the guest taps, with a clear leaning towards hoppy US craft brewers such as Lagunitas and Ballast Point. A really enjoyable stop off and a venue which needs a sister in Birmingham - STAT!
As the bus whizzed us into throbbing heart of London's shopping district, we hopped from Regents Street to Beak Street, and into the Old Coffee House, a proper trad London boozer, except for it's range of Brodies beers. Between the 4 of us we sampled each of the Brodies beers on show: Summer Saison, Bethnal Green Pale Ale, West End Best and Amarilla. The 8% Saison was bold and silky, but the West Best was probably, the err, best. Sorry about that gag. The Old Coffee House meanwhile was a good Soho stop off and atypical on the crawl, in that it was not a new generation beer bar.
Unlike the wonderful CASK Pub and Kitchen, which really set new standards when it popped up. The problem with the CASK (along with others on the route) was there was just TOO MUCH choice. Not just a bunch of good cask beers. Not just great foreign beers on tap. Not just top quality international bottles. Not just (is this getting boring yet?). In the end, three of the party, (including me) swooped for a 12% Mikkeller/Cigar City collaboration, entitled Swinging Harry. This Belgian style Quad was fruity, sweet and perilously easy to swig, given it's abv. The CASK really is fabulous and worth the detour to Pimlico, even though the tube station was shut and we actually had to walk. Could a CASK survive in Brum? My heart says yes....
By this point my beautiful timings for the day had disappeared down a rabbit hole, so we reluctantly skipped the Rake and instead made the walk down Tooley Street to the Draft House at Tower Bridge, all the time admiring the ever growing Shard, with its top portion enveloped by mist. Spooky.
The Draft House is another lovely bar - so clean, so well presented and with a wide range of foreign beers on tap and some good bottles. Real ale too. Two of our party sampled Camden Town Pale Ale, one had St Feuillen (can't remember which one) and I grabbed a half of Milk Stout from new Brighton microbrewery Pin-Up.
After a beautiful walk across Tower Bridge, we just about had time to get to the Craft Beer Co in Farringdon, which really is like something from another beer planet. 39 beers on tap (keg and cask), with a small army of bottles also. Mind blowing. Genuinely mind blowing. Not only were the beers only from good* breweries, but the range of styles on offer was tear-jerkingly vast. Dare I dream that one day I may walk into a Birmingham pub and order a half of Double Imperial Ale, followed by a Saison or a bottle of Barley Wine? I just about had time to guzzle portions of Southern Tier IPA, Cigar City Jai Alai and Magic Rock Curious. Jon meanwhile, positively gurgled over his Rothaus Weisse. On another day I probably should have come here first.
As it was I had to bolt for a cab, which dropped me outside the Euston Tap 15 mins before my train left, giving me just enough time to grab a 1/2 of Nogne Imperial Stout, which was ruddy marvellous. I also bought a Kernel to take home - you can never have too many Kernels.
So that was London. Depressing in a way, that this sort of beer experience is 90 minutes away by train, rather than 10 mins by bus. Here was a wide range of pubs offering top World beers, cask and keg dispense, different glass sizes and more hops than you can shake a stick at. Just think, London drinkers have access to Mikkeller, Kernel, Nogne and Brewdog whenever they like. Not really fair is it?