Beer Guide London Visits 15 – South East London
There aren’t that many advantages to living near a major international airport, but one of them is the increased range of public transport serving destinations far and wide. I took advantage of one of these, the X26 bus, to kick off my travels. The X26 is one of the few London express bus routes which run longer distances with very few stops and I was going on this one all the way. To Croydon. Timewise it may a tad longer than the train, but there isn’t the hassle of changing which means you can just sit back and watch the world go by. All for £1.60!
On arrival at Croydon East station I made my way to my first stop of the day, the Croydon branch of Art & Craft, a small group of bars run by Inkspot Brewery. It is situated on a small side alley running off the street market area, and on entry you are immediately in the small bar area. There are a few seats here, more outside, and even more when you head down the small flight of steps in to the main, comfortable seating area. Disconcertingly it is below street level so you get to watch people wandering by, but only from the knees down. With 10 beers on tap and a good packaged range you will always find something of interest here and I settled down with a couple of thirds to recover from the “exertion” of my bus journey.
Leaving here it is only a couple of minutes back up the road to the next stop, the Green Dragon. To all intents and purposes this looks like any standard town centre pub, large corner location, welcoming interior but it is the beer range that sets this place apart, and what earns it it’s place in the Guide. 8 handpumps serving beer and cider, 8 taps and a good selection of packaged beers. I suspect that that as it is part of the Midlands based Stonegate pub chain had some influence on my beer being from Coventry based Twisted Barrel, a brewery whose beers I’ve always enjoyed.
It was time, now, to start my exploration of deepest darkest South East London, heading vaguely towards home in the process. I caught a bus to South Norwood and alighted outside my next stop, the innocuous looking Craft Beer Cabin. A micro pub in a shop unit on a standard parade. But once you walk through the door you know you have made a good choice. Only 6 taps, but all quality, and very friendly staff that immediately make you feel welcome. I have to confess that I always feel a bit guilty in places like this, they always ask what kind of beer you are looking for, what do you normally drink, eager to navigate you through their offerings and help you find your perfect beer. My answer of “Something I haven’t had before” always deflates them a bit, but it does also usually start a good conversation about the relative merits of the beers and breweries on offer. This is a cosy venue with seating on two levels and I would go as far as saying that there may now be a real reason to visit South Norwood!
Next up, after another short bus journey to Sydenham, I got to all of the glamorous locations today, was the Ignition Brewery Tap. The tap room seems to have a slightly strange location, occupying as it does the front space of a community space, but it makes perfect sense when you read up on the ethos behind the brewery which is not-for-profit and trains people with learning difficulties to brew and serve the beer. This philosophy permeates the tap where you immediately feel at home and welcome. Beers are limited to their own, but they cover a range of styles and are well made, heck on my visit I even got a tub of home made ice cream to taste and critique! Whilst in here I found a leaflet advertising the Local Brewery Loop, a circular trail covering four breweries in the area. I was already in one, had been two of the others recently but didn’t immediately recognise the fourth. Time to adjust the day’s plans!
I followed my newly acquired map through the back streets towards Penge and my next destination, Southey Brewing. As I neared I began to recognise the very impressive paintings of birds on the walls and realised that I had, indeed, been here before. Ah well, better safe than sorry. The brewery and it’s small taproom is located in a courtyard just behind the main road. There was a good selection of their beers available, from which I selected a couple. Soon after I settled in to my seat two men entered who I had last seen at Ignition, they were doing the actual loop.
It just so happened that my next planned stop was in Penge anyway so it was a just a case of walking along the High Street to the excellent bottle shop & bar, Craft Metropolis. This place, rightly, has a good reputation and you are guaranteed to find some excellent beers on tap, and if you aren’t happy with that choice just turn around and look in the fridges. Bumped in to a friend here and it was good to chew the fat and pass on bits of beery news. It was also really good to catch up with one of the owners and their plans for their, then imminent, now open, second branch. Spoiler, I’ve since been and it may be even better!
It was a glorious March day and so I opted for the 15 minute walk to my next stop that took me along the southern edge of Crystal Palace Park to the Douglas Fir, a small pub that is run by Gipsy Hill Brewery. A good selection of their beers is available along with a couple of guests. This bar is a great way for the brewery to showcase their beers without the need to head to an industrial estate. Maybe other breweries will start to take on this approach, I know, for example, that Siren have taken on a country pub to complement their tap room.
I don’t mind walking but I decided against taking on the log drag up Anerley Hill, so I hopped on a bus to whisk me to Crystal Palace at the top. My first stop here was the imposing Westow House, a massive pub that looks out over the Park. Formally owned by Antic it is now under new ownership, still with a great range of beers available. The pub was packed due to the Six Nations Rugby being on but I was still able to find a corner to perch in and savour the grandeur of my surroundings. It really is a very impressive building.
A short walk along the High Street and my next bar was very much in contrast to Westow House, another micropub in a shop unit, Craft & Courage. It may have been several degrees smaller, but the welcome was much bigger, and the beer range yet another step up. A traditional set up of long bar down one wall with seating down the other this is a great place to while away the hours, and I have to say that that is one of the things I regret about these trips, my stays are never really long enough, such is the task of trying to visit everywhere as often as possible.
From here I took a bus down to Gipsy Hill and the Gipsy Hill Taproom. This brewery tap has been done really well, it’s basically a large box of an industrial unit but it has been laid out and furnished in such a way that it doesn’t feel like it at all. The large board behind the bar lists the beers available, mostly their own but with some guests, often the results of collaborative brewing. It may be tucked away in an anonymous trading estate but it is well worth the effort to get here, as shown by the large numbers of people who do just that.
It was another bus back up towards the station and my final stop of the day, the Bull & Finch. This small bar is run by the Bulfinch brewery and has recently been refurbished and expanded, they have even added a small brewery in the basement since my visit. The list of beers on tap here is excellent, but it is the range in the fridges that is truly impressive with some of the top class breweries from Europe and the UK available. Throughout my travels I had been in contact with a couple of friends who were doing a crawl in a slightly different part of London, but close enough that we arranged to meet up here, (some of you no doubt know them, and may be able to spot them in the photo…). What resulted was an excellent session with the chance to buy some large bottles to share. Let’s just say it was a good job that this was (a) my last stop and (b) directly opposite the station!