Our original plan had us missing London on this trip and starting our European holiday in Dublin. But fortuitously, the Dublin flights necessitated passing through London to get to the Irish capital. If we needed to stop in London, we might as well stay for a day.
When we last visited London in August 2008, there were only a few breweries left in the British capital, Fullers, Meantime, and Brew Wharf. In the subsequent 26 months, London has experienced an American-style craft brewery explosion throughout the city.
An early landing at Heathrow gave us time for a full day of beer exploring in London. Luckily, we were able to take a quick shower at our hotel before getting on the Tube for Greenwich. We met our friend and beer guide for the day, Paul, at Meantime’s brand new Old Brewery. Located in the old Royal Naval College, the Old Brewery was the first in a succession of the new breweries we were going to visit on the day.
Paul, Merideth and I took a seat in the bar area which occupies the front part of the building. Behind that separated by the short corridor, is the cafe by day, restaurant by night. It is also where the brewing plant is located. The six barrel kit is meant to be a research and development platform for Meantime, as well as experimenting with unique, limited edition brews.
The full range of Meantime brews were available for us to try. That wasn’t necessary, though, as we visited their pub on our last trip. Being in London, I started with their London Pale Ale on cask. Merideth, not being a real ale fan, was delighted to hear that the house brew they had on was a Kellerbier. She ordered it with great enthusiasm. I followed up my Pale Ale with the Kellerbier as I needed to try the house beer for the brewery to count on The List. Merideth really liked the Kellerbier, where I felt it could have had a bit more ‘keller’ feel to it. Both beers were light and very easy to drink, something that our first day, jet-lagged, minds appreciated. It was going to be a long day, so we moved on after both of us had filled the brewery list requirement.
The first of the ‘new breed’ of London breweries we visited was Kernel. Since Kernel first came on the London scene, there has been a great amount of buzz on the Interwebs about their brews. This was the one place we HAD to visit on our one day visit. A good 10 minute walk from London Bridge, Kernel was located in an industrial space below the railroad tracks. Oddly enough, the first smell that greeted us as we entered what we thought was the brewery was cheese. It turns out that Kernel shares their long and narrow space with a cheese maker and an importer. As we passed the huge wheel of Parmesan, we had to remind ourselves we were there for beer.
Brewer/owner Evin O’Riordain runs a hands on operation at Kernel, down to the “hand crafted” beer labels that adorn their bottles. We were able to try three beers during our visit. Thanks to Phil Lowery who magically appeared while we were waiting for Evin to return from a delivery, we started with a rich and powerful Imperial Stout. At 12.5% ABV, the inky dark brew, while not best for our jet lag, was the perfect antidote for the chill in the air.
When Evin returned, we made our introductions and continued with the sampling. Simcoe IPA, at 7.1% ABV, was an example of what sets this new breed of brewer apart, the marrying of English brewing traditions with American hops. The IPA was one of those ‘wow’ beers that could challenge anything the West Coast has to offer. Our last beer, an 7.8% ABV Export Stout, was based on a 1890 London recipe.
The next stop on our beer journey in London took us from south of the Thames to north London. Getting off the train at White Hart Lane, it was a another 10 minute walk to the industrial park that housed Redemption Brewing.
Owner/Brewer Andy Moffat did what a lot of us in the beer geek community talk about doing. He left an unfulfilling banking job in London to start Redemption Brewing. Another small operation, Redemption opened in January 2010 and is quickly building a good reputation in the London beer community.
The first beer we tried was still in the conditioning tanks. At 3.8% ABV, Andy was reluctant to call it an IPA but it was a hop bomb nonetheless. Dry-hopped with Cascades (if I remember correctly), this brew was a perfect example of the marriage of a low ABV English beer with American hops. The second beer we tried was at the opposite end of the scale. Someone suggested to Andy that he barrel age his Urban Dusk, thus Bourbon Dusk was born. Lacking barrels. Andy used oak chips soaked in rum. For Merideth and I, not being spirits drinkers, the result was a very hot brew. However, after a couple years of mellowing, it is easily anticipated that Bourbon Dusk will be a real gem.
Our final brewery of the day was Brodie’s in East London. The oldest of the new London breweries we visited, sibling owners Jamie and Lizzie Brodie took over the abandoned Sweet William Brewery and recreated Jamie’s homebrew recipes. The resulting brews are served conveniently next door at their pub, the William IV.
At the William IV, our group of three doubled. We were joined by Paul’s wife Eilís as well as two Marks, one of the Dredge variety and the other from Beer. Birra. Bier. The William IV looks looks like many a London pub, complete with the requisite set of lager taps. There was a fair sized crowd with many waiting for Arsenal’s Champions League match to start on the TV.
Walking up to the bar, the regular London pub image disappeared. That’s when I noticed the dizzying array of Brodie’s Beers on handpumps, sixteen in all. While I started with the more English style IPA, Merideth, true to her heritage, ordered the Californian, a 5.3% ABV, more West Coast style brew. I moved on to try the Californian, Citra, Amirilla, all delicious low ABV, highly hopped beers.
We were having a great time talking beer with Paul and the two Marks and catching up with Eilís. Unfortunately, jet lag really started to kick in and the conversations began to drift off. I kept having to stop myself from staring blankly into space. Merideth later admitted to doing the same thing.
But we still had one more stop, luckily in the direction of our hotel. Since opening a few weeks ago, Euston Tap has been getting a lot of attention for their international beer selection. The second in a maybe growing chain of train station multitaps, the pub is housed in a tiny obelisk-looking building out front of Euston Station. Walking in, I half expected this huge TARDIS-like bar area. But Euston Tap is not the TARDIS. It was as tiny on the inside as it looked on the outside.
An impressive selection of international beers, eight cask and twenty keg, confronted my fading mind. I wasn’t even going to try to contemplate some of 150 bottle choices. Mark Dredge offered advice suggesting I try the Thornbridge Wild Swan as well as the Thornbridge/Darkstar collaboration, Thornstar. Familiar with both those names, I tried both.
Despite the enjoyable company and a hoppin’ Euston Tap, I was pretty numb at this point. It was pushing midnight and we had to be on the train at 6:30am the following morning. We parted ways with our friends and returned to Paddington. A nice comfy bed was calling our names.