Failing at the Beer Mile

The Anchor Tap, Tower Bridge.

We headed for London’s Tower Bridge fully intending to tackle the now famous Bermondsey Beer Mile but got distracted by pubs on the way.

Boak had previously visited the Draft House on Tower Bridge Road on her own a few weeks ago and, despite lacklustre cask ale, appreciated an atmosphere where she didn’t feel uncomfortable or get bothered by circling creeps. This time, visiting together, we winced at the prices (anything interesting seemed to start at a fiver a pint) and scratched our heads at the selection — why have both Stiegl and Budvar lagers on offer? To cater to both Austrian and Czech tourists? The house lager at a tempting £3.95 a pint caught our eye and we asked who brews it: ‘Shepherd Neame. It’s Oranjeboom.’ At that, as they say, ‘we made our excuses and left’.

But then we noticed, a few doors up, an enticing sight — an Adnams’ pub. Because we don’t drive, Southwold might as well be on Mars, and we certainly don’t see much of their beer in Cornwall, so we couldn’t resist. The Bridge House Bar is clearly designed for tourists, though we stop short of calling it a ‘trap’. It has a pleasingly nautical atmosphere only enhanced by the aroma of lemon squeezed over hot fried fish. The range of beer was temptingly comprehensive and we got our ticking hats on. A pint of Jack Brand Mosaic Pale Ale (cask) cost the wrong side of £4 and, though it tasted fine, was rather lifeless. Ghost Ship, however, was on stunning form — a poster boy for both cask ale and the ‘pale and hoppy’ style in particular. Quite comfortable, we considered making a session of it, but tasters of Dry Hopped Lager and Fat Sprat did their job, i.e. prevented us wasting the best part of a tenner. Ticking hats came off and on we went.

Eager for a round that wouldn’t sting too much, we decided to visit the Anchor Tap, a Sam Smith’s pub in the shadow of the former Courage brewery at Horselydown. Stepping inside was like entering a cathedral — dust motes on the air, beams of light, and plenty of polished wood. In the end, though, we just didn’t fancy Old Brewery Bitter and so, taking bottled India Ale (£5.50) and Pure Brewed Lager (£4+ a pint), ended up with another expensive round. The former was excellent, once an initial flavour of 2p coins had passed, though PBL seemed distinctly bog-standard. We didn’t care — we were in love with the pub which seemed right out of Mass Observation, with piano, status symbol pot plants in the saloon, and a lounge that seemed too good for the likes of us. That and the discovery of Imperial Stout (£5.75 a bottle) served in branded snifter glasses convinced us to stay a little longer.

Finally, feeling distinctly rosy-cheeked, and with the sense that the issues of the day had yet to be quite fully explored, we left the gloom of the Anchor for the bright whitewash of the nearby Dean Swift. The stand-out beer here was Redwell Indian Pale Ale (keg, 6% ABV), which we found juicy, fresh-tasting and clean. The cask ale was in good condition (though our notes and memories fail us on the specifics), and the expensive scotch egg that accompanied it was so good (well-seasoned, slightly runny) that it almost seemed worth the money. Bar staff who smiled and made conversation rather than offering teenage shrugs and grunts were the icing on the cake.

The Beer Mile will have to wait until another time, when we’ll try to approach it from an angle which takes us past fewer invitingly ajar pub doors.

12 thoughts on “Failing at the Beer Mile”

  1. For me Southwold may as well be two solar systems over so I, too, was tempted by The Bridge Bar last time I walked across Tower Bridge. I didn’t go in, though. Both Heathrow and Gatwick usually have the answer to my Adnams needs when I visit That London.

  2. Excellent comments. Mass Observation is endlessly fascinating, the subject needs further exploring with beer and pubs a part of it of course. I can just see a great documentary film being done, a la the Up Series.

    All the beers you mentioned by the way except the Sam Smith ones are using American or other New World hops as a signature judging by the taste descriptions.

    Gary

  3. Possibly, although Adnams are fairly restrained and classicist in their use of New World hops – they’re a relatively traditional British family brewer who are mostly just experimenting by adding new tweaks to classic styles, rather than a new-wavey “craft” brewer who think that Stone and Sierra Nevada were the year zero for beer. For the most part, an Adnams pub is a very good place to be for a lover of Fuggles and Goldings.

    If only they weren’t convinced that dark beers were a winter-only thing…

    1. Broadside is a great year round dark ale, and quite different in bottle than in cask. (in good ways)

      And I really wish I could get more of their Tally-Ho.

      I also think we have Adnams to thank for doing a great job importing kegged US craft beer like Lagunitas. Regular feature in a few London pubs.

      1. Broadside is great, although I’d still put it at the dark end of “brown beer” rather than the brown end of “dark beer” in my entirely unscientific classification system.

        The basic source of my grumble is that there’s an Adnams pub five minutes from our house, and they have a line of eight cask taps (generally all in good condition) but unless it’s winter they won’t have anything darker than Broadside, and after an hour or two you end up wishing you could get a pint of their Oyster Stout or Old Ale or Tally Ho (or maybe a half in the latter case) or a guest porter or something to mix it up a bit…

        Yeah, first world problems…

  4. Try the Adnams online store: Not bad value:
    http://cellarandkitchen.adnams.co.uk/

    They also have a retail presence just off of Tottenham Court Road close to Goodge St. tube station.

    And having just done the Beer Mile this weekend, well you missed out. All the breweries are on fire, and its about the only reliable place to pick up their beers now. Also the bottle shop from canterbury have set up there, and can serve on site.

    If you want a more ‘temptation free’ entry point to the beer mile, approach from the Surrey Quays/Fourpure end. Nothing but a big tesco and a grim looking spoons to distract you.

    The good weather, and the big write ups in the papers have made the beer mile a bit popular, possibly too popular. As there is not a lot of capacity (big queues for the bar, bigger queues for the toilet) and many people are not dealing too well with the fact that those super tasty beers are not session bitters.

    1. “All the breweries are on fire” is a kind of unfortunate phrase if you also follow Ron Pattinson’s more historical blog. In the old days, one of the commonest reasons for a London brewery to be in the press was bits of it burning down…

  5. Ah you are in my London manor there. Well orbit might be a better description. Starting with the Bridge House, you were lucky indeed to find anything in good nick and at their prices, likeable though the place is, forget it. Flat and warm is usually the order of the day there and you are right too about the Draft House. Nobody in that chain can keep cask beer well at all. I have moaned about it frequently to no avail. (My offer to look at cellar practice for free still stands if you are reading Charlie.)

    We like the Anchor Tap too, but as you rightly point out, unless you drink OBB, basically it, like all Sam’s, isn’t cheap at all. I doubt that the Pure Brewed is worth the premium charged.

    The Dean Swift isn’t at all bad, but again you need your wallet with you. We have eaten there before and enjoyed it, if not the bill.

    It isn’t a bad area to drink though you have to choose wisely. And take plenty of money. Nice report.

    PS. The Pommeller’s Rest is usually not bad and a whole lot cheaper.

    1. Seconded for the Pommelers Rest – and yes, on the price front, welcome to touristville…

      For a less distracting start to the Beer Mile, take train or tube to London Bridge and from there take the local train one stop to South Bermondsey. You can then work your way back towards Tower Bridge via the breweries.

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