We couldn’t resist following an official-looking brown tourist information sign pointing to ‘Brewery & Distillery’.
Having set out with no particular plan in mind other than to find (a) beer we can’t get in Penzance and (b) somewhere to enjoy lunch with baby-laden friends we trusted Clapham, in south west London, to provide. The sign actually directed just across the border into Battersea, to the Four Thieves.
This pub occupies a huge building — a former music hall — with decorative tiling throughout, high ceilings, dark corners, a jungle-like ‘gin garden’, a back room with breakfast buffet, a games room with arcade machines and ‘interactive experiences’, and, of course, a substantial glass-fronted brewhouse.
It’s got a touch of the 2005 about it — that curlicued boutique-hotel styling that was all the rage before the industrial look took over — which, frankly, made rather a pleasant change. (Or maybe we’re just getting old.)
On our visit, the crowd appeared to be primarily hungover young professionals devouring proper-looking fry-ups, middle class families with one or more babies, and students lured by the ‘bottomless Bloody Marys’ in the all-you-can-eat breakfast deal.
There were seven cask ales on offer, two keg beers all brewed either at the Four Thieves or at brewpubs elsewhere in the chain (Laine’s), and ‘Tank Fresh Lager’ which we assumed was produced on site but the provenance of which we’re now a bit confused about — Des de Moor suggests it is, or was, brewed at Hepworth’s in Sussex.
The first beer we tried, cask Light Ale at 3.5%, impressed us hugely offering a substantial portion of tropical fruit (mango) and citrus (lemon) along with white-bread-crust maltiness. It reminded us of Thornbridge beers — clean, bright, candyish, with a bit of chew to it despite the low strength.
Sadly, none of the other beers was quite as successful. The lager was flat and rather messy (fruity and sickly). Keg Pale Ale and IPA both tasted unfortunately stale and smoky. Of the other cask ales, the only one we’d rush to order again is Black IPA which was a good example of the style, if you like that kind of thing, combining fresh-mown grass with treacle. The problem was primarily, we think, one of freshness and condition — perhaps there are too many beers on offer for a crowd more interested (based on what we saw) in drinking coffee, wine and cocktails?
Ultimately, though, we liked the Four Thieves a lot. The atmosphere was lively without being claustrophobic or shrill, and cosy without being soporific. Quality aside (our judgement is based on a single visit) there’s plenty for tickers to get stuck into, from fruit beer to barrel-aged red ale. Light Ale alone was worth the detour. And we appreciated the reminder of just how London has changed in the years since we started blogging: we used to have to schlep to Meantime turf in Greenwich for this kind of thing but now we can just stumble upon it.
If we’d wanted advice rather than the fun of playing it by ear we’d have found The Four Thieves is listed in Des De Moor’s book, in the Craft Beer London app, and noticed that it was recently declared the best pub in Battersea by Time Out.