Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
"And as I walked along the supposed Golden Path, I was trembling with fear, for all the lions and wizards yet to come." Chemical Brothers - The Golden Path
I was stood in a queue at The Kernel Brewery waiting for two thirds of Gentlemen's Agreement, a blend of Kernel's London Sour Berliner Weisse and Camden Town Brewery's Gentlemen's Wit. Behind the bar stands the wizardlike owner and head brewer Evin O'Riordain, chatting, laughing and looking every bit the stereotypical craft brewer resplendent with beard and pony tail. I'd been to the Kernel before the 'Beer Mile' was even a thing, the taproom used to be crowded with oak barrels and pallets loaded with keykegs, now it's empty but for tables and chairs and an ever increasing throng of thirsty punters. By the time I reach for my second beer, a pale ale brewed with Amarillo and Chinook hops that tastes like biting into an orange still covered in pith there's barely room to move.
An hour or so previously I met with a large group of friends at nearby Brew by Numbers, some that I'd met before and some that I hadn't. It was 11am and I already had in my hand a Saison that had been infused with lime juice and Motueka hops from New Zealand which tasted as good as it sounds. We were here to walk the Bermondsey Beer Mile, consisting of five breweries with the Kernel at it's beating heart. Once we'd all gathered under our first repurposed railway arch we made our way onward but not before we all had a Mosaic hopped session IPA that was all mango and pine, a masterclass in extracting bags of hop aroma in a beer at a strength you could happily drink all day.
After we had finished our business at the Kernel we headed onward to our next destination, Partizan who cram the Kernel's original brewing kit into a minuscule space. It takes us longer than I thought it would to get there. I'm not yet three breweries in but feel that with all the ducking in and out of arches and down backstreets that I've walked at least one mile already. When we do arrive a makeshift bar lies before us in the entrance-way and a small crowd are sprawled onto the pavement outside. It's by far the most rustic of Bermondsey's quintet of brewhouses with not an inch of available space being wasted. The glass of Ahtanum and Pacific Jade IPA I plump for is bursting with new world hop flavours of citrus and passion fruit. My colleagues opt for beers at a more sensible ABV but I couldn't resist the lure of a bigger, bolder beer and halfway through a glass of beer that's so fresh it still has shreds of hop flowers floating in it I'm glad I gave into temptation.
We embark on another almighty trek to our fourth destination, leaving railway arches behind and eventually arriving at the industrial estate that houses Fourpure Brewing Co. The stark surroundings immediately remind me of another brewery but not one that's within walking distance. I'm transported to Boulder, Colorado and a similar estate that's home to Avery Brewing and the comparisons to the tap rooms of the breweries in my favourite State don't end there.
Huge gleaming chrome tanks line the back walls and a brand spanking new canning line sits in the centre of the room. Immense stacks of empty cans waiting to be filled dominate my right flank. I head to the neat brewery bar that's behind me and I'm soon enjoying a prickly, bitter session IPA which oozes the classic grapefruit and pine resin character of the beers Fourpure are trying so hard to emulate. In the middle of the brewery lies a ping pong table and the staff seem perfectly happy to let customers scramble behind the brew kit to dig out lost balls. The atmosphere is jovial and relaxed and it's in the middle of a game of table tennis that I decide that this is the best that Bermondsey has to offer me. Every beer I try is excellent and I appreciate that instead of the experimentation and alteration that their nearby competition indulge in they are concentrating on a rock solid, core range of beers. I freely admit that when I first tried Fourpure IPA several months ago I didn't enjoy it and I almost wrote them off entirely but by the time I'd left the brewery, my bag stuffed with cans of their beer I had done a complete u-turn.
Taxis are then summoned which take us back to the start of the mile and to our final brewery, Anspach and Hobday. Here I found a tap room not just aimed at the ardent beer fan like the four before but at almost everyone else who enjoys recreational drinking. Instead of the minimal surroundings of their neighbours this arch has been decorated with bunting and soft furnishings. I'm perfectly happy with my glass of table porter which packs a great deal of flavour at just 2.8% but one of our number is served a beer that should not have been on draught. A glass of beige soup that was supposed to be a pale ale tastes like it's halfway through primary fermentation, he gets it replaced but the beer remains on tap. It's a mildly disappointing end to a great brewery trail but I will say that their gin and tonics looked fantastic. I'm not sure if the best thing about a brewery should be their gin and tonics though.
As we leave the beer mile behind and head for the nearby Draft House by Tower Bridge I can't help but feel that I've just experienced something that's protozoic, something that's not quite ready yet. Bermondsey is a mish-mash of old and new, the locals look bemused as increasingly drunk beer lovers stagger down the streets they've lived on their entire lives. The Kernel was overwhelmingly busy and as it reaches its peak around 2pm for some reason they close their doors to the public. Partizan was shrouded in noisy roadworks and Fourpure is just that little bit too far away that it will undoubtedly put people off as they get lost on mazy streets. That's a shame as they'll miss out on what for me was the jewel in the crown. All the beer I drank was excellent though, there's definitely something in the Bermondsey water and the company, well that was the best thing about the afternoon by a Bermondsey mile.
Beer team assemble L-R: Michael, Steve, David, Ruth, 'The Rogue' Chris Hall, Me and my long arms, Connor, Peter, Audrey.