The worst bit about organising a crawl around every brewpub in London is ending up with Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" stuck in one's head, except with the word "brewpubs" instead of "werewolves". I think I've just about exorcised it now though. Anyway, you can read the full article on how I got on over at IrishCraftBrewer.com; I'm only here for the beer.
I started at The Cock & Hen and moved on to The Florence, both of which brew two beers. In the former I had a pint of Bonobo, a warm copper-coloured ale with the classic light foam of hand-pumped ale. Like many of the best English bitters, it's complex yet quite light and easy-drinking. Rather than a sharp bitterness, it has a long sour finish and just a touch of a metallic tang at the end. Quality stuff, and I criticise it only for being too much like the better known quality cask bitters. I'm not sure I'd be able to pick this one out in a line-up. I'd give it a go though...
No such criticism for Weasel, the other beer from this stable. It's a dark golden and faintly carbonated ale, but all parallels with the normal summer ales end there. This gives off a heady hops aroma and follows up with zesty citrus hops on the palate. It's a beer that really keeps your attention.
One thing that really surprised me about the London's brewpubs was how similar they are to normal pubs. Just about all of them have a raft of normal beers on tap and only the brewing equipment, where visible, indicates that anything else is going on. Zero Degrees is the only exception I found, with a full set of taps of house beer only. The industrial décor and hipster soundtrack meant it's not the cosiest pub I've ever been in, but I do have a lot of time for this sort of establishment. The seasonal was a pomegranate wheat beer, which was sweet and wheaty but lacked any real fruit power. Much better was the Black Lager: a super-dark, super-thick treacly number, loaded with molasses and burnt caramel. I took my time over it.
Find of the day was another amazing summer ale, this time at Brew Wharf in Borough Market. Orange-hued Wharf Trader is a mere 3.9% ABV but absolutely packed with explosive hops flavours. Almost painfully sharp and quite quite delicious. I also had a brief taste of their Wharf Best, a citric and appley bitter, quite light and pleasant but nowhere near as much fun as its brother.
A quick thanks to Alex and Iain, the brewmeisters of Brew Wharf for taking the time to show me around and chat. Like all the best brewers, these guys love what they do.
I had about three quarters of an hour fantasising about living in Hampstead and having The Horseshoe as my local, while enjoying Hampstead Summer, made by the McLaughlin brewery based in the pub. It's a refreshing golden ale, not totally off the wall, but with definitely more character than any of the bigger brewers' summer ales.
Mash, reputedly a monstrous den of Nathan Barley types in the West End, was intended to be my last stop of the evening, but when I got there the brewpub was bare. And the doors were locked. So my last drinks were earlier in Bünker in Covent Garden, the only one of the lot I'd been to before. It was packed and loud and pretty horrible, but I was quite impressed by the beer. I had a Soho Red, which was rich malty and full-bodied, as well as a taste of the seasonal called Coppa (I think: submit a comment if you know better), a light and fruity ale, passable but a little bland.
An enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, day out. Most of these establishments are newcomers to the London pub scene, so here's hoping we'll be seeing more on-site brewing in the near future.
But London: where have all the beer mats gone? Are sticky tables some sort of fashion statement? Next time I'm bringing my own.