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A craft beer pilgrimage in the heart of London

Travel

London’s Bermondsey Beer Mile is a popular spot for beer drinkers keen to sample an array of craft brews, and as South Australian writer Cass Selwood discovered, it’s also home to some tasty little food shops.

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It’s been said that there are three sure signs that you’re a hipster: 1) Denying that you’re a hipster (so basically you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t), 2) claiming to have done all the cool stuff before it became cool, and 3) having a beard.

Now, I have a beard – I grew it years before all those would-be-lumberjack, sculpted-facial-hair-and-excessive-tattoo-sporting inner-urban fashionistas made it cool, and I’m definitely not a hipster. But I don’t mind a bit of craft beer…

Which is why I found myself, one weekend in August, meandering along an alleyway in Sarf Lundun with a group of fearless companions on the trail of the Bermondsey Beer Mile.

The accepted wisdom is that you start the Mile from the southern end, near South Bermondsey Railway Station, and work your way in a vaguely northward direction, sampling the diverse array of beer styles and varieties available from the microbreweries found along this informal but increasingly popular trail.

From fruity, hops-laden IPAs, to rusty malt-heavy porters or dense whole-meal-in-a-glass stouts, there is something to suit the taste of anyone who’s ever enjoyed a quiet ale.

Fourpure Brewing Co.

We started our odyssey not far from South Bermondsey Station at Fourpure Brewing Co. It’s worth noting that this area is the heartland of one of England’s most notorious football clubs – Millwall – and Fourpure is just around the corner from the club’s home ground.

Over several decades, Millwall fans have built a reputation for brute violence and general hoodlum-ery. We were advised by our intrepid guide to tread carefully while in the area because it was a match day at The Den. The local pubs were overflowing and most patrons had the club coat of arms permanently inked onto their bodies somewhere.

I have to admit to having a bit of a soft spot for Millwalleans, despite their thuggish reputation, ever since one of their number confronted three knife-wielding terrorists with only his fists during the Borough Market attack in June this year, with a cry of “Eff you, I’m effing Millwall!” (censored for the benefit of sensitive readers). But that didn’t mean that our host’s advice went unheeded as we tip-toed our way past The Blue Anchor under the watchful eyes of 50 or more Lines loyalists getting lagered up before the big game.

But I digress…

Over the course of the next five hours our journey took us on a circuitous route shadowing the elevated rail line through the light industrial laneways of London’s inner-south. I won’t bore you with detailed descriptions of the premises, or wax lyrical with tasting notes, but suffice to say I didn’t taste a bad lager, ale or stout during the whole adventure.

Apart from Fourpure, which was a great start that really set a positive tone for the day, highlights from an afternoon dedicated to the appreciation of the brewer’s art included:

Brew by Numbers, whose unique method of categorising its brews through a combination of numbered codes to designate the individual batches – eg 08(style)|05 (recipe) = Stout|Oyster – was rendered incomprehensible by the preceding alcohol consumption. Their coffee porter, however, was probably my favourite beer of the whole outing.

EeBria – Not actually a brewery, but rather a distributor of fine ales, etc. Its taproom is definitely worth a visit, both for the friendly experts manning the taps and the table games.

Anspach & Hobday – By the time we arrived at A&H the Beer Mile was in full swing and there were folk spilling out onto the street. Luckily we were able to snag a table inside and thoroughly enjoyed both the atmosphere and the booze on offer.

We finished our run across the road at the Marquis of Wellington, where we filled our bellies with pizza and delicious Greek street food and tapped our feet along to the seriously talented duo playing inside. Live music was just what we needed to wind up what was a genuinely entertaining trek.

We came seeking beer, and this we found by the gallon, but the thing that struck me most during our excursion was how effectively the small businesses of London have taken up residence in this corridor and many others like it across inner-city London. A zone that in other cities would remain a sterile, under-utilised transport corridor has been turned by a growing community of entrepreneurs into a thriving artery of commercial and creative enterprise.

I’m guessing that the rents for these spaces are relatively low compared to other areas of London, given the wide array of small, independent, outside-the-box outfits that inhabit them.

Apart from the various micro-breweries, we also discovered a number of awesome little food producers, distributors and/or importers that made our day on the Beer Mile a fully-fledged culinary experience.

Our favourites among these were:

Crown & Queue cured meats, whose Hoghton Loin and consummately prepared scotch eggs were the perfect complement to a liquid diet.

Käse Swiss – their well-stocked counter of odiferous imported Swiss cheeses drew us to them on wing-ed feet from half a block away.

The Little Bread Pedlar, where we were able to grab a couple of incredibly crusty and delicious baguettes just before they closed up for the day, enabling us to both line our stomachs and reinforce our collective belief that life’s just too short to eat mediocre bread.

The Ice Cream Union – seriously delicious, small-batch frozen delights that had the sweet-toothed among us groaning with satisfaction.

All up it was a fun day out: good company, great beer and some excellent little surprise finds that made it the perfect way to spend a warm sunny English summer afternoon … one of three that we experienced in the six weeks we spent in the UK.

SA freelance writer Cass Selwood has been travelling in Europe with his family for about eight months and blogging about their adventures at towardsthehorizon.com.

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