The Blackhorse Beer Mile at Twixmas

Between Christmas and New Year we finally had chance to do most of the craft beer crawl that has emerged in my home town of Walthamstow, East London.

I say ‘finally’ because one of the last blog posts we published before the COVID lockdowns was about the number of breweries in Waltham Forest. Four years is a long time to leave something like that unexplored.

Before diving in, though, I just want to reflect a bit on how weird it was for me personally to be exploring this part of Walthamstow.

The illuminated sign for Signature Brew against a grey sky.

The overlooked island

I grew up in E17 and felt I knew it pretty well but I only came to Blackhorse Lane for the first time on a work trip a year or so ago.

At the time, I found it astounding that I had never walked this way before on foot, or explored the wider Higham Hill area at all.

The landscape and architecture are rather striking, with some huge Art Deco factory buildings and acres of post-war housing, alongside the occasional row of pretty Georgian cottages.

It’s an endangered landscape, too, with many 20th century buildings slowly disappearing to be replaced by vast new high-rise housing developments.

But when you look at the geography, it makes sense that I had overlooked it.

The area is bordered by reservoirs on two sides and you don’t go through it on the way to anywhere else. It’s almost an island.

Nor were there any ‘Walthamstow Wetlands’ to visit when I was a kid – only the Marshes, with a few paths, and lots of brambles.

Old industrial buildings plus new residential developments might be the perfect recipe for a beer mile, though.

Just think of all those young professionals itching for something to do at the weekend, and property developers keen to establish that this is A Place rather than a dead end.

A tumbler of clear golden IPA with the Hackney Brewery logo.

The crawl

Our exploratory walk took place on a grey Saturday before New Year, which is always a weird time for hospitality. But there was a surprising amount of life to be found.

We began our crawl at the top with a visit to the Tavern on the Hill rather than the Wildcard Brewery. We do, in theory, prefer pubs after all.

It was quiet but welcoming and we found both cask ales decent enough. (Ray was more critical than me, though.)

We’d be interested to come back when it is a bit busier; it felt like an inviting community space, only without much evidence of the community.

At the Hackney Brewery we had our standout beer of the entire crawl. Millions of Melba (4%) was a wonderful peach-raspberry sour that tasted like a Fruit Salad chewy sweet with a dry champagne-like finish.

The space was small but not busy, and overlooks a much bigger room crammed with brewing equipment.

It’s also a handy place to get a pizza delivered from round the corner – but do remember to use the free delivery discount code in the small print on the menu.

Exale was closed, which seems fair enough.

Beerblefish felt quietest of all – we were the only visitors for most of our mini session, but enjoyed their Rauchbier.  It’s cool that lots of breweries seem to be able to turn out decent versions of this style now, which is fun and show-stopping in a different way to pastry stout or super-hoppy IPA.

At the Pretty Decent Beer Company we were charmed by No Not the Buttons, a 5.5% Gingerbread Stout which smelled like a German bakery and tasted like liquid Printen biscuits, even down to a subtle herbal note. It had a proper cake-like finish which felt warming on a miserable day in a fridge-like tap room. You could almost sense crumbs on your tongue. I could Get Better at Tesco – what a great passive-aggressive name! – was a decent standard 4.5% session IPA. 

The space had a few more punters than previously, although this was mostly a couple of large families meeting up to coo over each others’ babies, so it felt a bit like we’d crashed a private party. (That’s on us, not the families.)

The Big Penny Social Club (formerly the Truman Social Club) is a hell of a space. It looks as if it ought to have X-Wing fighters parked about getting ready for an assault on the Death Star. But we struggled to work out who actually brewed the beer we were drinking, and where, without Googling. There was a very impressive Table Beer, branded Big Penny, which was a mere 2% and had a zingy sherbet flavour.

This was the busiest venue yet, with exhausted parents trying to entertain their kids with ping pong, arcade machines and various other games. The space is big enough to handle all this and still handle groups of drinkers of various sizes and ages.

Finally, we visited Signature Brew, which is another location where the actual brewing is segregated from the tap room. The latter sits in a temporary-looking cube. It was warm and cleverly lit with fairy lights, and felt the most like a pub of any of the taproom venues.

Black Vinyl Nitro Stout (4.5%) by Signature is clearly designed to fill a Guinness shaped hole in a hipster East London bar and, actually, does that very well – much more so than Camden Stout.

We will be back

The problem with doing a crawl is that you can really only do a couple in each place, and most had pretty lengthy beer lists, so we definitely need to come back.

Ideally in spring when it’s lighter and warmer, and we can enjoy walking around the area rather than rushing with heads down through the drizzle to the next covered space.

3 replies on “The Blackhorse Beer Mile at Twixmas”

If you want it more lively, i accidentally visited Wild Card and Hackney breweries in mid July (2022) when there was a block party being held in Lockwood Way (their industrial estate cup-de-sac). Lots of music and food stalls. Maybe it will be repeated this year?

Like you, I found Signature Brew the most pub like although there was only one of the breweries that disappointed on my visit. Also, most of the breweries seemed better able to handle larger numbers of visitors than when I did Bermondsey (admittedly a while ago).

A shame that Exale was closed as for my money they brew the best beer on the Blackhorse Mile, have the most fun (but small) space and the best late night action (Steve Davis a recent DJ appearance).

The good thing about the Blackhorse Mile is they all fulfill different functions and needs to make it a diverse experience that works for locals and visitors – Big Penny is vast and can cope with mega events (eg live sport) without getting too ‘lads, lads, lads’; signature leans into the music connection with interesting gigs and had good burgers; pretty decent has the biggest beer range; Exale is cool and funky, with a bit of attitude; beerblefish is trad but experimental with it and super inclusive (and also has shuffle board); and Wildcard and Hackney are mature offerings, with the latter making use of their space for story telling and film on quieter nights.

I guess non of them are world beating in the craft beer stakes (although do recommend Exale), but you aren’t going to have a bad time with the beer in a way you might visiting mediocre pubs in say shoreditch.

And second the earlier comment – visit on sunny spring/summer day or evening (depending if you want to avoid it being too childtastic) and it’s super lively.

Good read. I was the only customer at Beerblefish, though the Aussie chap was great company. As others have said Exale was heaving and I enjoyed their beer. It’s not an area I knew at all 3 years ago.

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