I visited London with the specific purpose of crashing a map lecture by Tom Harper at the British Library. It was not the only reason, but it was up there. I also planned to interview a globe restorer who recently wrote a lovely book called Globes. To see the Indigenous Australia exhibit at the British Museum, take the Tate-to-Tate ferry, sit in a box at the Royal Opera House to watch Falstaff. I cancelled my one beer adventure days before my departure because Meantime was purchased by SABMiller.
Yet I find beer travel to be inevitable. There I was in Tate Modern‘s top floor cafe, having just strolled through a collection that I kept comparing to the new Whitney‘s assemblage, when I turned to face the counter to order my coffee. Truly- I meant to order an espresso. It was before noon and I had a full day of walking London ahead of me. And who would have guessed that a major world class museum would carry a local small batch beer? Fortunately this is happening more and more often. The bottle selections were just beyond the server’s head at eye-level. Very clever.
My inner voice- an old man I call Sid- reminded me that vacations should be enjoyed in every way. My shoulders relaxed and I smiled involuntarily and probably a bit too broadly. “I’ll have The Kernel IPA please.” Not being American, the server did not raise her eyebrow, nor did anyone else. And so my impromptu beer tour of London began.
My device was abuzz with advice. Stuart O’Dell of Teign Cellars in Newton Abbott made a quick trip to London to point out the finer brews of Craft Beer Covent Garden (I had already discovered the original Craft Beer Clerkenwell) including Soundwave by Siren. I was not completely surprised to learn from Shaun Hill that Siren’s brewer Ryan just joined Hill Farmstead, because everything I tried of theirs was more than good- it was special. Like your first Cigar City Humidor Series IPA is special. Or Shaun’s Flora. Or Yvan De Baets’ Brusseleir Zwët IPA.
Over the next week my tasty tour also led me to The Rake (above) which has a wonderful summer camp feel, Jerusalem Tavern where I ended up meeting a bunch of cool women drinking St. Peter’s cask beer and supporting a sculptor’s kickstarter campaign, the Holborn Whippet where a customer kept her dog on the counter and shared her beer with him, and a vermouth bar called Mele e Pere which is reviving the culture of sipping vermouth in London and soon will carry the elixirs of Carl Sutton.
O’Dell informed me that The Kernel Brewery is open only on Saturday mornings, but definitely worth a trip. I had planned to spend that day in Oxford, but decided I had time before my train. I took an Uber (my one taxi experience was an expensive and rude disaster) to a funky area called Spa Terminus. A long row of what look like industrial garages house all kinds of artisanal shops- some also points of production- such as Monmouth Coffee Company, Little Bread Pedlar, and Neal’s Yard Dairy. It’s got a groovy feel, and the aromas will keep your nose quite happy. I wanted to move there, although I did notice a threatening number of baby strollers.
What kind of person drinks beer at 9:00am on a Saturday? (Other than a beer traveler on holiday and people buying bottles.) Apparently single dads. The only other two drinking customers plopped their kids down at the interior picnic tables, handed them gaming devices, and ordered full beers. Who am I to judge? I ordered the Table Beer, a 2.9% tasty wonder, only because I had to be able to read the train schedule to Oxford and get off at the right stop.
On the 4th of July, I donned a red, white, and blue skirt- my subtle nod of approval for the recent Supreme Court decisions and President Obama’s moving lead of Amazing Grace– and struck out to visit maps at the Bodleian Library, where CAMRA member, Charlbury Beer Festival organizer, and author of The Gough Map Nick Millea is in charge of the map collection. Being a beer person himself, he gave me great tips on where to eat (King’s Arms, where I had aged cheddar and pickle on oat bread) and drink (Turf Tavern). As I strolled into town from the train station, I went into the first bookstore I saw, found a few gifts to take home, and went to pay for them.
Large hairy male cashier busting out of an Alice in Wonderland costume, complete with blond wig: “I get a lot of that.”
I had accidentally discovered a party. It was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you see. And Alices were everywhere. I barely remember reading it, yet could not help but get caught up in it. No fewer than 22 venues had events, from readings and races to food fairs and a Hatter’s Cocktail Party. The lawyer in me loved “Alice’s Evidence” at The Story Museum, followed by dancing and the auction of the impossibly balanced cake above.
The trip was already worth it because of the maps and beer- stumbling on Alice’s Day made it unforgettable. In a fun yet weird science fiction sort of way.
The Turf Tavern is a bit tricky to find. You will have to turn a corner at the end of a long passage- just like Alice- before you find the casks that say DRINK ME.
BACK IN LONDON
My final beer stop was Camden Town, known for off-the-chart ridiculously delicious Helles. And for not playing well with others- but what do I know? Melissa Cole invited me- so off I went bearing beery presents from Russian River. The Helles (both filtered and unfiltered versions) was even better than I had hoped- so clean and refreshing, especially after a week of unintentional hop imbibing. (Isn’t that supposed to be an American thing?) And the company – lots of industry folks – was warm and welcoming.
I even managed to meet a transplanted New Zealander, Stu from Yeastie Boys, who actually remembered my tweet about the beer he made with Dann and Martha of Pretty Things that I found at Hashigo Zake in Wellington. (See earlier post)
Finding myself stuck in Gatwick airport for several hours waiting for the plane to the next leg of my trip (Amsterdam; post forthcoming) and having exhausted the Weatherspoon options, I found this quirky but surprisingly good beer at the sushi conveyor belt restaurant upstairs. It’s called Kagua. The fine print says it’s a Japanese craft beer. Brewed in Belgium. Huh? Regardless, it was terrific with the sushi. Between the sushi and the beer I could not find it in me to remain upset about my delayed flight. Very smart, Gatwick!
And now for proof that I really did more than drink in England: