london pubs

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.