20 April 2012

London's brewing

No visit to London would have been complete without at least a cursory look at its growing brewing renaissance. I had expected to see more from the likes of Brodie's, London Fields, Redemption, Sambrooks and so on, but I don't think I encountered any. Maybe I was just in the wrong sorts of pubs. Camden Town I saw plenty of, and most of the beer specialists had Kernel bottles.

It was to the latter that we headed on the morning of Day 3. Kernel, in a railway arch near Bermondsey Tube station, is normally only open to the public on Saturday mornings but Evin very kindly allowed us to drop in on them during the week. Forklift training was in progress when we arrived, and the guys took it in turns to show us the shiny new kit and taste a couple of beers with us. It's an impressive set-up, and even though only two beers had made it into the new fermenters so far the potential is enormous. Hopefully we'll be seeing more taps, and bottles further afield, in due course.

Having imposed long enough we headed for the day's second brewery, to the north east in Stratford. The gargantuan Westfield Stratford City shopping centre was heaving with Easter Tuesday shoppers, though only a handful had made it as far as the distant end of the ground floor, opposite the international railway station, where Tap East nestles in its alcove.

Though the brewkit was puffing away merrily, only one house beer was available: John Edwin Bitter. It's a clear orange-amber colour with a sharp and waxy bitterness at the front plus some of the grainy flavour I've come to associate with brewpub lager on the tail. It's decent as it goes, but not a great example of small-scale brewing. Not to someone who's just come from The Kernel, anyway.

The keg selection included Brewster's Chocolate Cyn and I just had a wary taste of this. I didn't order a full pint, however. Just not enough going on in it. Instead I opted for Thornbridge's Chiron, a Lucozade-coloured pale ale of 5% ABV, simple yet very drinkable, with some lovely chewy fruit candy flavours. Last tick of the session was Brooklyn Brewery's Dry Irish Stout, a title which manages one out of three. It's very sweet, giving off rich toffee aromas and with a flavour packed full of molasses plus a matching unctuous texture. There's atin' and drinkin' in it, it's lovely, but it's pretty far from tasting like an Irish stout.

We stayed in the east for the third and final brewery of the day, taking the Docklands Light Railway down to Greenwich to visit Meantime's new facility The Old Brewery. This place really acts as the cafeteria of the Naval College Museum, with all the atmosphere and charm of modern museum catering facilities everywhere. It's brightly lit, brightly decorated and has a continuous flow of patrons in and out between the adjoining museum. I sat opposite the gleaming three-tier brewkit, and even that began to annoy. Why would you put the mashtun and kettle at the bottom and then have to force wort up into the fermenters above? I understand from James's article here that the fermenters feed serving tanks in the basement, but it still makes no sense to me.

The room next door housed a slightly more atmospheric bar, though one totally lacking in customers. From here I procured a Bohemian Amber and a Yakima Red. As usual, Meantime get full marks for their gorgeous glassware.

The Amber was made on-site and was a very hazy red-brown lager. It tastes... wholesome: lots of sweet and porridgey grain, plus some almost Belgian dark candy sugar and more than a hint of butterscotch. All seeming a bit thrown-together for something produced on such a slick and shiny brewkit.

The Yakima Red was a much better proposition: clear as a bell, crisp, light and thirst-quenching. The hops add some gentle orange overtones, the bitterness building gradually to a slightly catty peak.

The early version of our schedule had us eating here, but we weren't inspired by the menu. With some time still left to play with, we had the opportunity for a bonus round.

The Parcel Yard is a brand-new Fuller's bar in King's Cross station, just above platform 9¾ (no, really). Not so much a yard, it's more a winding series of dimly-lit rooms laid out with sparse antiqueish furniture and railway bric-a-brac. Somewhere on the twittersphere I'd been promised the full range of Fuller's beer so marched excitedly to the bar to order a Black Cab Stout and a Past Masters XX, the former being new; the latter around for a while but not sold at home. And neither were sold here, either, unfortunately. No Mighty Atom either. I could have had my pick of the Vintages, or some Past Masters Double Stout, but that's not what I wanted. I glumly opted for a protest pint of Gales HSB. It's a fairly dry brown bitter, with some raisins and a kind of salty toffee flavour. Or maybe that was just the tang of disappointment.

What wasn't a disappointment was the food -- classic English pub fare done incredibly well. It's very unusual for us to order a two-course meal in the pub, but from this menu it had to be done. One scotch duck egg with pork crackling, warm beef salad, steak and ale pie and rump steak cheese burger later we were pleasantly replete and ready to roll back to Gatwick.

I broke my new-pubs-only rule with a pint of Rooster's Cogburn (geddit?) in the airside Wetherspoon: a bitingly refreshing blonde bitter. And then the plane home.

I had really hoped to delve into the heart of London's beer scene, new and old. Yet I feel I've barely skimmed the surface. There's so much more to explore.


  1. I've enjoyed many a pint in Gatwick wetherspoon.

    Disappointing about the Parcel Yard range

  2. "The full range of Fuller's beers" was definitely in the PR blurb. (Which we uncritically swallowed and regurgitated.)

  3. Anonymous9:19 am

    Unfortunately XX is completely sold out and Black Cab is a seasonal

    Cheers John Keeling

  4. The reflux starts here!

  5. Thanks for the reply John! So how come I can buy Black Cab in lots of Dublin off licences?

    1. Anonymous9:38 am

      Our export department have the bottles as do some supermarkets. Due to an error our pubs and shops were not made aware of Black Cab in bottle.I am trying to correct this.

      Black Cab is now also available in keg form for export too

      The next Past Masters will be brewed as soon as Ron the master brewer can get to London and will be Old Burton Extra 1931
      cheers John

    2. I really hope I can get hold of that when it's available. You couldn't stick a note on the desk of the export department by any chance?

    3. Anonymous9:58 am

      I will
      If you are in London pop in and try it

  6. Because they're selling old beer?

  7. Anonymous10:44 am

    Have had a couple of pints of Yakima Red recently, gorgeous stuff. Does anyone know if it's a seasonal or in their full time range?

  8. Is the Kernel brewery in the same location, as I had heard it might move a little bit? I really need to branch out a bit, as I always go there, and there are so many good places to choose from.

    1. It moved last month. I visited the new location. You'll get details of their Saturday openings on their website.

      And London really rewards branching out. CAMRA has a list of every London brewery and brewpub here, just to get you going.

  9. Anonymous5:12 pm

    Any indication as to whether the new kit will open up to some exporting? would love to see them in Ireland

    1. Doesn't seem to be on the agenda. Local demand is understandably massive.

  10. Thanks for that list TBN, Will try and remember it the next time I go.

  11. You were definitely on the wrong side of town for the likes of Samdbrooks and Redemption. Plenty of that round the Euston Tap/Bree louise area. Brdoies has a wider spread, but the best place to catch them are in their own pubs.