The other Sunday, son Matthew and I took a train ride up to London for a look round, and also to sample a few of the capital's beery delights. There were a few places we wanted to visit, so I mapped out a rough itinerary beforehand, which seemed to work quite well.
First stop was London Bridge, where we changed platforms and caught a more local train out to Blackheath. Neither of us had been there before, although I had driven across the top end of the heath, at Shooter's Hill, several times in the past. There was a farmer's market in full swing when we stepped outside the station, but ignoring the festive goodies that were on offer we headed straight into Blackheath village for the first port of call on our programme. This was Zero Degrees, a brew-pub with a long and impressive pedigree. We had actually walked right past the place at first, admittedly on the opposite side of the road, but with the sun in our eyes, this was perhaps excusable.
I had been wanting to visit Zero Degrees for some time, so was pleased to have finally made it. The pub wasn't quite what I'd expected, being modern, minimalist and very functional. Nevertheless we both found it very much to our taste, with pleasant knowledgeable staff and, most importantly, good and keenly priced beer. I tried the Pilsner and the Black Lager, and enjoyed them both. My son, being a lager drinker normally, stuck to the Pilsner. Perhaps because I had enquired earlier about the pub's seasonal brew, one of the staff came over and gave us, a half pint taster of their current 6.5% seasonal ale. I didn't make a note of the name, but it was obviously a Christmas beer, as the word Rudolph featured in its name. Being a yuletide ale it was spiced with cinnamon, which meant it wasn't to my taste (cinnamon is best reserved for cakes, not ale!). It was a nice gesture though, and we were sorry in a way to be leaving. However, we had a busy itinerary to get through and a long walk to our next stop.
Before moving on, a word or two about Zero Degrees' stylish and modern setup. The company brews its beers using a 9 barrel semi-automated German-built plant, housed at the rear of the pub. All the beer is delivered fresh from polythene-lined serving tanks by an air pressure system that operates without the use of any additional gas. As the beers are all unfiltered and unpasteurised, they are, in effect real ales; something which is not immediately apparent to drinkers used to seeing their beer dispensed from a traditional hand pump. As well as the aforementioned Pilsner and Black Lager, the company produces a Pale Ale and a Wheat Ale, plus seasonal brews, as appropriate.
Leaving the pub we crossed the common followed by the busy Shooters Hill Road, and made our way into Greenwich Park. Although it was a cold day the sun was shining which made for a pleasant walk. There were also some spectacular views of the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, just across the Thames. The sunshine had brought lots of people out into the park, enjoying the fresh air and a bit of exercise. After skirting the Royal Observatory, perched up on its hill, we made our way down towards the river, and our next port of call - the Old Brewery, belonging to Meantime of Greenwich. This is housed in the precincts of the Old Royal Naval College, overlooking the Thames. I was reading in Des de Moor's excellent CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer, Pubs and Bars that Meantime are now the capital's second largest independent brewer, after Fullers. They've certainly come a long way since starting up back in 2000, and deservedly so, as founder, owner and head brewer Alastair Hook has not been afraid to plough his own furrow.
Inside the impressive Old Naval College, Meantime operate a restaurant and a bar. The former seemed a bit too modern and functional for our liking, so we made our way into the adjoining, but much smaller bar. As one would expect, there was a wide selection of Meantime beers on offer from a bank of keg taps, plus Dark Star Hophead dispensed from a traditional hand pump. I opted for the Oktoberfest, a proper, traditional Maerzen-style beer, whilst Matthew went for the London Lager.
As it was rather crowded in the bar, we decided to brave the elements and join the handful of hardy souls sitting out in the adjoining beer garden. Wrapped up against the cold it was quite pleasant being out in the fresh air, enjoying a bit of winter sunshine, but as the sun started to sink slowly behind the line of the buildings the temperature really started to drop.
It was time to move on, this time for a spot of shopping and a bite to eat. leaving Meantime we continued down to the bank of the Thames, passing the newly restored Cutty Sark on the way. After a look at the river we then descended the spiral staircase that leads to the pedestrian tunnel under the river. Built in Victorian times the tunnel serves as a useful short cut across to the Isle of Dogs, and for us easy access to the Docklands Light Railway at Island Gardens. A short train ride saw us alighting at Canary Wharf where Matthew assured me there was a substantial shopping complex that included one of the largest branches of Waitrose around.
He was right; deep in the bowels below the tower blocks of Canary Wharf there certainly is a fair-sized shopping centre, consisting of several inter-linked areas on a number of different levels. Also, it was surprisingly busy, but then when one looks at the surrounding area there are now a significant number of dwellings (ok posh apartments) in this former dockland area. We limited our purchases to a sandwich and a drink from the large Waitrose at one end of the complex, before jumping onto the Underground into Central London.
We had one final pub to visit, a German-owned pub which trades under the name of Zeitgeist.The pub itself is signed outside as the Jolly Gardeners, its former name, and is situated a short hop from Vauxhall Station on the south bank of the Thames. It was therefore Jubilee Line to Waterloo and then one stop overground to Vauxhall. After a walk along the Albert Embankment, followed by a right turn under the railway viaduct, we arrived at our destination, glad to get out of the cold.
Unlike some German-themed establishments in London, Zeitgeist leaves aside the Bavarian cliches of Dirndl's, Lederhosen and Mass Krugs, and instead concentrates on serving a wide range of German beers (draught as well as bottled) to an appreciative clientele of expats and students, in stylish surroundings. A Bundesliga football match was being screened on the large-screen TV, but with the sound turned down it was not at all intrusive. Beer-wise we noticed taps for the likes of Loewenbraeu, Paulaner, Weihenstephan and Krombacher, but I think there were a couple more. I went for a Helles from Krombacher, whilst Matthew opted for the same from Loewenbraeu.
We up sat at one of the tall tables, enjoying the atmosphere and watching the pub start to fill. The German food selection looked good, but we didn't give in to temptation as we knew there would be a dinner waiting for us at home. Not wanting to be too late back for our grub was the deciding factor in not staying for another beer either, so after drinking up, we made our way back, on foot, to Charing Cross and the train home.
Despite my being a CAMRA member of many years standing, no cask beer was drunk on this trip This wasn't a deliberate decision, but just the way things worked out. If readers will pardon my take on a particularly over-used cliche, "sometimes it pays to DRINK outside the box"! And as for the pubs we visited, I will certainly be call back at Zeitgeist and Zero Degrees the next time I am in the area.