breweries london pubs

One of each before my train leaves, please!

Fuller's pub sign in central London.

Pubs and bars worth visiting are cropping up in some odd places these days.

Last year, Tap East opened in the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, East London; and in 2009, the Sheffield Tap opened on the platform at that city’s main station, followed by similar station ‘taps’ at Euston and York. These places aren’t exactly pubs as we know them, but, as Knut Albert points out, that’s probably to be expected. (In fact, are we going to end up calling them ‘taps’?)

The latest news is that Fuller’s are getting in on the act by opening a flagship pub (tap…) at King’s Cross — one which will apparently sell every beer they produce, including all available vintages of, er, Vintage Ale.

Imagine — no more tramping around London to try the latest Fuller’s seasonal, and no more lukewarm pints of Wandle at the John Betjeman while waiting for a train. Let’s hope its as good as the publicity makes it sound.

Now other big brewers need to get their acts together and do the same: we still want to see pubs in our major cities selling the full range of breweries such as Wells and Young’s and Greene King in tip-top condition. The twin defences of “you haven’t tried the good stuff” and “when you’ve tried it, it hasn’t been kept well” are wearing thin.

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Mid-morning crowds at the bar

It was 11:45 in the morning at the Sheffield Tap and we couldn’t get served.

Two harassed bar staff — one of whom was a woman with a moustache (Movember) — were trying to deal with a four-deep crowd of football fans and beer geeks at the bar. One bloke wanted to taste a few things. The bar staff were patient about it but the punters behind him weren’t. A couple of low-key rows broke out: “Don’t let that bloke push in front of you! You were there first!”; “No I wasn’t, you nobhead. Shut up!”

Eventually, squeezed into a corner with our Thornbridge Pivni (“Possibly the best breakfast beer in the world” — Reluctant Scooper), we wondered whether, when this pub first opened a couple of years ago, anyone ever expected it to be this busy at any time, let alone before midday.

The market for craft beer bars isn’t saturated yet. If there’d been another one a few doors down, we reckon that would have been full, too.

Tasting notes (all Thornbridge): Pivni (3.7%3.2%) was delicious — how we falsely remember Summer Lightning tasting; Black Harry (3.9%) was one of those milds that’s coy about it, pleasant enough, but lacking oomph; Sequoia (4.5%) was our favourite, light-bodied and exotic-tasting — what Ewoks would drink; and Versa (5%) was a Schneider-alike with big banana aromas and lots of toffee flavour.