“Did you ever taste beer?’
‘I had a sip of it once,’ said the small servant.
‘Here’s a state of things!’ cried Mr Swiveller, raising his eyes to the ceiling. ‘She never tasted it—it can’t be tasted in a sip!”Charles Dickens. “The Old Curiosity Shop.” Chapter LVII
- Little Creatures Brewing
- Battersea Brewery
- Breweries from Southwark to South Bermondsey
- The Bermondsey Bierkeller
- Other Cool Looking Pubs
- Craft Beer Bars
- Final Words
When I started out that first evening in London heading to The Boot, I was in the mindset that Beer and Dickens London were two mutually exclusive ideals that I was going to attempt to cleverly link together. Five days later, as my Eurostar train zipped under the English Channel back to Belgium, I was pretty certain I had enough material to make a passing go at it. In retrospect, I feel a bit foolish. If I had had even a fraction of an understanding of what The Pickwick Papers was all about in advance, I would have realized that the two are invariably already linked. Beer is as much a part of the mystique of Dickens London as drinking a beer in a London pub can be classified as a Dickensian activity.
One of the quirkiest books I have purchased since I came home is one written by Dickens’ great-grandson called Drinking With Dickens. There he mentions that Dickens stored barrels of beer in his Gads Hill home (his final home) which mysteriously disappeared between his death and the estate sale. What didn’t disappear were hundreds upon hundreds of bottles of wine, champagne, and all sorts of liquors and whiskies stored in his wine cellar. While I was completely naive in the beginning of this trip, I can very confidently state that associating Dickens with alcoholic pursuits is neither trying to fit a square peg into a round hole or exaggerating. Beer & Dickens London are of the same DNA.
However, Dickens London is not all there is to London, and during the days which I have gleefully shared in my previous posts, I also came across other brewtiful experiences which didn’t quite fit into the Dickens mold. These by no means scratch the surface of what London has to offer, but there is only so much beer one can drink in a day and still recollect one’s purpose and surroundings. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the un-Dickens Dickens London. Breweries, a German-style beerhall, and other beer drinking establishments.
Little Creatures Brewing
A craft brewery and restaurant located in the modernized Coal Drops Yard just behind Kings Cross station where coal used to be delivered into London. I tried a flight of their various IPA’s and lagers.
Brewery and taproom located in a trendy neighborhood around the iconic Battersea Power Station and housed below the train tracks crossing over Grosvenor Railway Bridge.
Breweries from Southwark to South Bermondsey
Along more than a mile of elevated rail tracks coming from London Bridge Station are several craft breweries. Be careful about planning your visit as most are only sporadically open from Monday to Wednesday. Thursday to Sunday is the best time to visit this area. It is quite unbelievable how many different breweries are here. I was visiting on a Tuesday so I was a bit out of luck. Below are merely two examples.
Southwark Brewing Company
Seems like quite a popular local craft beer as I saw their beer as a featured tap around London.
Moor Beer Vaults
A craft brewery after you cross under the tracks at Abbey Street. They were not open but you get the idea.
The Bermondsey Bierkeller
This oddity is located not far from the Oliver Twist steps from my Day 4 walk. The attempt here is a kind of cross between the underground atmosphere of a German bierkeller with the wooden table spread of an Oktoberfest tent. Honestly, these inspire two different sets of feelings. One is of a medieval musky candlelit drinking place and the other a colorful bright open party vibe. The result, if I may stray into rarely offered criticism on this blog, is a failure to capture the best characteristics of either — in fact, there is a cancelling effect, and the interior feels like a brightly lit crypt. I completely acknowledge that enjoyment can depend on timing. Perhaps a Tuesday late afternoon was not the best time of the week to visit. But I feel compelled to go with my gut here. I’d ramp up the medieval charm and cool off the lighting. Or run with the Oktoberfest style and replace the bleak, black-painted walls with colorful murals like you see all over Bavarian villages. Nevertheless, having a German-style pilsner to counter all of the ales and IPA’s I’d been drinking up til now was a refreshing break, and Bermondsey Bierkeller offers there own house beer, the Bermondsey Bravo.
Other Cool Looking Pubs
There are so many traditional pubs in London that scanning Google Maps trying to pick out all the ones with cool names is an impossible task. The below pubs caught my eye as I was exploring the city. I didn’t stop at any of these but I am sure that they would fit right in to any proper London pub crawl. One thing you will notice about many of these pubs is that they belong to pub companies such as Nicholson, Fullers, Young, and Wetherspoon. Pubs belonging to the same pub company sometimes have a common food menu, so despite the unique name and character of the pub, the variety of food options might be lacking from pub to pub. I found this especially true for the Fuller brand. It is also best to take the historical significance of many of these pubs with a grain of salt, but nevertheless, these companies are keeping the London pub tradition alive and well.
Craft Beer Bars
I didn’t research craft beer bars in London. There are several Brewdogs scattered around the city. This Mikkeller bar is located in the Clerkenwell neighborhood and I passed by it on Day 5.
Reaching the end of my Beer & Dickens London series, I would guess that anyone who has read these might question You told us a lot about Dickens but not so much about the beer. When I think of beer in London, naturally it is the English bitter which comes to mind. English bitter is typically an amber colored pale ale with a low alcohol content of 3-5% and served at cellar temperature. Generally speaking, I find them mood and atmosphere beers. They are essential beers when you are in the right setting. But outside their natural habitat, I only find them palatable from the bottle and ice cold. Because of this, it would be difficult to pick out which is my favorite. Without even considering taste, I would lean towards bitters whose names and labels I like the most. Ghost Ship and Abbot Ale, for instance, have a perpetual charm over me.
While the beer of London may not rival that of Munich or Prague, London certainly deserves its place in the higher echelon of great beer cities. Where else but London would the beer culture have tried to take down the coffee culture by means of political action? According to Henry Shelley’s Inns and Taverns of Old London from 1909, Shelley informs us of one politician who had a plan to deal with the scourge of coffee houses located all over London. “In a series of proposals offered for the consideration of Parliament, this patriot pleaded for the suppression of coffee-houses on the ground that if less coffee were drunk there would be a larger demand for beer, and a larger demand for beer meant the growing of more English grain.” Thankfully and for whatever reason, the coffee houses eventually died out and the beer and pub culture survived. If the reverse had been true, I doubt these posts would ever have been written. Coffee & Dickens London doesn’t have the same ring to it. But this is also not the end of the story. Aside from sites in London that I missed, there are Dickens pilgrimages outside of London. And for this Pennsylvanian native who lived in the Philadelphia suburbs for several years, a particular blurb in the biographical sketch of Dickens’ great-grandson on the inner flap of Drinking With Dickens brought a worthy cliffhanger ending to this adventure.
He is now a director of The Dickens Inn by the Tower of London and its sister Inn in Philadelphia, a city with a statue of Charles Dickens – the only one in the world.Drinking with Dickens by Cedric Dickens (1980)