Seasoned followers of London’s flourishing “craft beer” scene will no doubt be well aware that the capital now boasts 50 breweries. This huge explosion in the number of breweries over the past five years has provided a massive increase in variety of different beers being brewed in London, but for people like me who have taken their eye off the ball for a while, the choice available to today’s discerning drinker can at times appear bewildering.
One way to familiarise oneself with some of these new brewing pioneers is to have a go at the famous “Bermondsey Beer Mile” (BBM). This is a crawl which takes in five brewery taps, and one newly opened bottle-shop-cum-bar The taps are only open to the public on Saturdays, as the owners are busy brewing all this delicious beer during the rest of the week. The other point to note is that most of the breweries and their taps are located in railway arches, and given the congested rail approaches to London Bridge, there are a fair number of these in this unfashionable part of London.
To those like myself, whose visits to the capital are rather infrequent, this crawl has been something I have wanted to do for some time, but have never quite got round to it. This all changed last Saturday, when son Matthew and I decided to have a crack at this legendary crawl. Our journey, by train from Tonbridge to the big city, took just over half-an-hour, so leaving reasons of time and finances aside for a while, there’s no real excuse not to visit London more often.
There are several on-line guides to the BBM, but we used the one produced by the London Beer Guide. This guide not only includes a handy map, but also gives clear and precise instructions of how to get to each brewery stop on the way. We elected to follow the guide’s advice and to start from South Bermondsey, before working our way back towards the city.
London Bridge station is undergoing a major re-build, and I hadn’t realised that trains for South Bermondsey depart from the “Surrey side” of the station, but once oriented properly we discovered there is a fairly regular service, with departures leaving roughly every 15 minutes. It’s just one stop and a five minute ride to South Bermondsey station, which itself is just a short stagger from Millwall Football Club’s ground, “The Den”.
The guide has you heading off on the opposite direction though to the first brewery tap on the crawl and the only one not situated in a railway arch. Fourpure brewing are housed in a modern industrial unit which means they have more room than the other breweries to house the many beer aficionados who take part in this crawl every week.
As I mentioned there was quite a bit of space in Fourpure’s unit, with tables and benches in front of the impressive stainless-steel brewing kit. We had only just sat down to enjoy our beers when a large crowd of what Matthew described as “The Real Ale Twats from Viz” turned up, and suddenly the place became extremely busy. Most were attired in T-shirts advertising a pub in Peterborough, and they were obviously doing the same brewery crawl as us. I had intended to buy a few of the 330ml cans that were on sale, but as the new arrivals were queueing out the door this was our cue to leave. Despite our rapid departure, this group haunted our steps as we progressed around the first half of the tour, popping up at each venue, although we fortunately managed to lose them at Kernel Brewery.
Our next port of call was Partizan Brewing, crammed into a railway arch. As the guide warned, there was precious little space here, but as the rain had stopped we stood outside. There didn’t seem to be as much choice here, so we both plumped for the 4.2% Iced Tea Saison; a pleasant enough beer, with that unmistakable “Saison” taste. However, with the “Real Ale Twats” hot on our heels, we headed off towards Kernel Brewery - the third stop on the BBM.
The Kernel took a bit of finding, and we had a couple of false turns. We bumped into another pair of enthusiasts, who seemed equally lost, despite protestations to the contrary, but after going our separate ways managed to get there before them! The guide had warned that unless one arrived very early, Kernel Brewery was likely to be extremely busy. Given the brewery’s reputation this is hardly surprising, but not having been able to heed the advice, we arrived to find the place absolutely rammed!
Kernel occupies two, inter-linked railway arches, the right hand one of which seems to be given over to storage and drinking. The queue for the latter snaked almost out the door, but there was a much shorter line of people waiting to buy bottles to take out. Grabbing some bottles to drink back at home seemed the most sensible idea, so at some stage I have a bottle of Export India Porter 6.2% and one of Citra-Amarillo India Pale 6.9% to look forward to.
A couple of points to note about Kernel, if you are planning a visit. First you are allowed to bring your own food and enjoy it over a few beers. There is an arch next door selling cheeses, meats and bread if you have come unprepared. Second, and most important to bear in mind; Kernel Brewery closes at 2pm, so it’s doubly important to try and arrive early. (It opens at 9am, should you fancy a beer with your breakfast!).
It is only a few minutes walking to the fourth brewery tap on the Beer Mile, and the one whose beers I liked the most. Brew by Numbers, at Arch 79, had a fantastic 6.5% Traditional Porter on tap. It was so good I could quite easily have had another and I’m kicking myself now for not having bought a few bottles of it. Matthew tried the 5.2% Golden Ale, but this looked a bit too yeasty for my liking. We sat outside, on some pallets enjoying the sunshine and the beer in equal measure, relieved to have finally given the “Real Ale Twats” the slip. Perhaps they are still trying to find the Kernel Brewery?
|Anspach & Hobday|
Finally, we retraced our steps to the recently opened Bottle Shop at arch No. 128. The shop is an off-shoot of Canterbury’sfamous Bottle Shop which, being housed in the Old Goods’ Shed at Canterbury West station, also has a railway connection. The Bottle Shop doesn’t brew, but does offer a small selection of differing draught beers alongside a myriad of often hard to come-by bottled beers.
Matthew and I both opted for beers from Denmark’s To Ǿl Brewery. He had a bottled 6.0% Smoked Lager, called Stalin’s Organ, whilst I had a draught Pale Ale, the strength of which escapes me. We were served by Andrew Morgan, who I recognised as the owner and founder of the original Bottle Shop in Canterbury.
It was a good place to end the BBM, and after finishing our beer, we followed the directions, and map, given in the guide and made our way to Bermondsey Underground. From here it is just one stop on the Jubilee Line to London Bridge. We ended up at Southwark’s excellent Borough Market where we grabbed a bite or two to eat. Resisting the temptation to call in to the Market Porter, we headed into central London after for a bit of shopping before catching the train home.
A word or two of advice; whilst the BBM comes highly recommended, with the large variety of beers available it is almost inevitable you will feel like a “kid in a sweet shop”. Most of the beers tend towards the strong side, and whilst it is very easy to give in to temptation and try several at each stop, be aware that you will end up more than a little the worse for wear by the time you reach the end. If you can carry the weight, and here a stout rucksack comes in handy, it is far better to supplement the beers you drink on the day by buying a few bottles, or cans, at each stop. That way you will get maximum enjoyment out of the crawl without ending up with a sore head!
Finally, I should point out, the distance between the first and the last breweries on the crawl is just under a mile and a half, but your feet may have told you this by the time you reach the end anyway. As for the name, well the “Bermondsey Beer One and a Half Miles” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, so a bit of journalistic license doesn’t go amiss!