It is no secret that us English love a good pub crawl, and hiding under the railway arches in south east London one of the finest in our capital has emerged. Four of the best new craft brewers are now based in Bermondsey in close proximity to each other, with taprooms open on a Saturday afternoon offering a truly delectable range of beers in almost any style you can ask for. Welcome to the Bermondsey Beer Mile.
The first stop really has to be The Kernel, due to the slight inconvenience that they close at 2pm. These guys have been a favourite of mine ever since I discovered craft beer, and once again they don't disappoint. Famed for their pale ales and the variety they produce, all three on tap today show off their diversity and ability to have something for everyone. Away from these, the barrel-aged saison is a hugely pleasent surprise, whilst the Export Stout is a delight for those favouring darker beers as the rich roasted coffee notes hit all the right spots.
I have never been overly impressed by stop number two, Brew By Numbers, and this visit hasn't dramatically changed my mind. Saisons are their stock, and there is no denying they do them well – with a wonderful sense of adventure too – but it doesn't quite elicit the eulogies others here can conjure. The Juniper & Cucumber Saison is the perfect example, managing to extract a greater cucumber flavour than from the real thing, but lacking the juniper flavour to create the perfect balance. At the darker end, the coffee porter is gloriously smooth, but this too is eclipsed by better examples.
Next up is Partizan, complete with their brilliant but utterly illegible labels. Very quick to turn their hands to any style going, unlike their neighbours they have yet to build up a reputation for anything beyond their labels. This has led to some variable results in the past, but judging by today's findings, that is where the negatives will remain. The Lemongrass Saison is a beautiful summer ale that is dangerously refreshing, though this was quickly out-shone by two rather special beers.
First is the Barrel Aged Foreign Export Stout, the oak and bourbon tones adding a delicious sweetness to the stout; I can see this being far too much for pure hop-heads, but for those with a sweet tooth, there are few better examples around. The second is their barley wine; a style few attempt, especially tiny new breweries, but what a monster Partizan have come out with! A magnificent balance between the acidic bitterness and massive maltiness, this is simply a huge dose of citrusy caramel.
I will admit now that, due to the excellence of that last brewery, we never made it to Fourpure at the end, so I made a special trip a week later to finish the odyssey – and am very glad I did. They have spent the last year concentrating on getting their core half dozen beers as good as possible, with the Amber Ale and Oatmeal Stout in particular standing out as leaders. But there are a couple of taps at the end of the bar seeing increased use, and the Roux Brew currently available is a bit tasty. Picked by Michel Roux Jr to be served in his Michelin-starred restaurant as the house beer, this is a Belgian wit with coriander seeds and orange & grapefruit zest; incredibly refreshing with the fruity top notes, it still has a rich depth and spicy flavour that lasts long after swallowing.
It might mean getting lost around the back streets of East London, but for any beer lover there are few better things to occupy a Saturday afternoon than taking a stroll down the Bermondsey Beer Mile and finding a few rare delights. And just this week a fifth brewery, Anspach & Hobday, have taken delivery of a new kit too that will hopefully see them become a regular addition to the stretch in the near future.