Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Mediocre Beer Adventures Goes on Tour to London

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?  


  1. So near but....You got to the Draft House but not to the Dean Swift, just 2 minutes' stagger away. At least you've got something to go back for. Interesting/good to see Brewdog doing the 2/3 measure - must check out Nottingham at the end of this month....

  2. I popped into the Dean Swift last June, but on Sunday, as with all trips to London, there just wasn't enough time to do everything I'd have liked. Next time I must go on a Saturday, so that I can do a comprehensive Southbank route, taking in The Rake (which I love), Market Porter, Brew Wharf, Dean Swift and The Kernel. I'd really like to get to Exmouth Arms and some of the East End venues too. Phew!

  3. You picked some great pubs there, and (inevitably, given limited time) missed out a few crackers too. To me that just highlights the difference when you come back to the Midlands - London is now teeming with places that give you such fantastic variety. Great cask, keg and bottled beers, from UK and foreign brewers, side-by-side in the same venues. I'm lucky enough to spend a few days a week working in London at the moment, and that means I get to experience a good number of the places you've referred to (and over time, hopefully all of them!) especially as the Euston Tap is literally yards from my office. Getting out to all these places just reinforces for me how there isn't anything equivalent in Birmingham. There are some places to go for good quality beer, but nowhere with anything like the same variety in an individual establishment, and especially nowhere with the range of styles and formats. Hopefully though, as more people keep highlighting the lack of suitable venues, someone will eventually seize the opportunity and bring the Birmingham drinking scene more up to date...

  4. It's now impossible to do every beer event in London these days as there's just too much on. Take us back 7 years, I was drinking ale then, to 2005 and it's an entirely different story.

    The growth in a few years has been staggering and the market is finally changing all over London. It is obvious that people's tastes are changing as they experience new and better beers.

    In another ten years' time I expect this to branch out to other cities and towns as it has to. We've got some great pubs but so many crap ones which I can't understand why are open. Times are changing and fast.

  5. It is kinda depressing to see the difference between our capital and our (alleged) second city. I regularly go to the Welly or the Anchor, and now PO Vaults. That's it. Three pubs that are worth a visit regularly, with the expectation of great beers.

    I work at GBBF every year, and we always do a crawl on the Sunday and Monday pre Fest around some of the great London pubs. Each year, the variety and quality and range increases. I love those crawls (even if last year, my last half of Magic Rock Dark Arts possibly inadvertently led to me dropping to sleep on the train, and I ended up in Orpington!)

    Last year I did a crawl in Sheffield. Brilliant! Next week I am doing Manchester. I fully expect the same range and breadth of beer in all formats. That is my (and your) point. What's up with Brum??

    Cheers, Chris