The soft rumbling and clacking of trains passing overhead caused us to look up from our beers at first, but then gradually faded more and more into the background noise. All sorts of people stood and sat shoulder to shoulder, groups spilling out into the sidewalk and roughly-paved street, half-pints in hand, chatting and tasting amiably. Friendly, somehow relaxed bartenders appreciatively poured third, half and full pints for thronging and thirsty patrons making a line well out the door. A corrugated metal ceiling curved high over our heads forming a long, narrow warehouse bay running under six rows of train tracks, and a simple wooden and metal bar was draped with haphazard cafe lights. Anspach and Hobday was our second stop along the Bermondsey Beer Mile, and we were sold.
What, you might ask, is a Beer Mile? And what is a Bermondsey? Craft beer nerds, rejoice – this is what you’ve been seeking in London. The Beer Mile, also known as Druid Street, runs along and under the elevated train tracks that cut through the area of Bermondsey just south of the Thames. Breweries, auto repair shops, bakeries and other miscellaneous retailers have built their businesses into bays tucked beneath the tracks, their arched entries beckoning visitors into their cavernous interiors.
This experience was recommended to us by a young British woman we met at our favorite beer-centric bar in Barcelona several weeks ago and we tucked it away in our brains for a visit to London. Opportunity knocked over the weekend, and we planned a trek down the Beer Mile after our visit to the Tower of London – after all, the breweries begin just on the other side of Tower Bridge. It seemed a match made in the stormy, ominous, 50-shades-of-grey heaven hovering over the city that day.
As we wandered down Druid Street, a variety of slightly dingy houses, apartment buildings and gardens to our left and the warehouses and trains to our right, we could guess where each brewery was housed by the ever-growing crowds of people clustered just outside the entrances, beers in hand, contained by ropes or small fences. The level of camaraderie was high within these convivial crowds, and everyone was clearly there to relax and have a good time on the Beer Mile. Each brewery offered something different, aside from their beer selection: a casual open feel here, more intimate, crowded and packed in between beer tanks and kegs there, bottles to go at several stops, an upper level just below the rumbling trains at one, a bustling beer garden with a food truck outside another, quirky and eclectic decor in the form of beer cans hanging on strings and artificial flowers tucked into woodwork further down the line, and happy people following our same route at every single one.
I had several favorites, but would recommend completing the entire mile for thoroughness’ and completeness’ sake. Anspach and Hobday’s beers were superior – I’d drink any of the three we tried again (a sea salt and chili stout, session porter and a dry-hopped sour), and its atmosphere drew you in and held you there. We sat at a communal table, backs up against an industrial yellow fence separating us from the tall tanks, cafe lights strung haphazardly over our heads. The bartender who helped us smiled and nodded approvingly at our choices, and our three 1/3 pint samples set us back just 6 pounds. The to-go bottles were flying off the shelves and it became clear this brewery had a loyal and loving following.
Another stop deserves particular mention due to the sheer volume and variety of its offerings. While not a brewery, the two-story Bottle Shop stocked some delicious, rare and impressive beers and poured about 15 on tap for patrons to sip at one of their many tables (while adorable dogs played around our feet and wandered freely – gotta love dog-friendly spots). We enjoyed a dry-hopped herb sour with juniper, rosemary and yarrow from Red Church and a sour gooseberry “Trolltunga” IPA from Buxton Brewing in collaboration with a Norwegian brewery (clearly I’ve completely converted my husband to a sour-beer drinker – success!!), the operative word being “enjoyed” – they were incredibly flavorful, just fruity enough, tart and ever-so-drinkable.
Our three or four hours on the Bermondsey Beer Mile resulted in one of my favorite beer-drinking experiences I’ve had in a long time, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys good craft beer, people watching, exploring, bonding with locals over drinks and politics and discovering new things.