Not A Pub Crawl
I was invited to a guided walk: ‘Ales and Pubs, Sipping the History of British Beer and the Social History of the South Bank’. As I like both history and beer, I accepted. I wasn’t entirely sure what I had been invited to though – was this an intellectual way of saying “pub crawl”?
I arrived on time at Bermondsey Underground, our starting point. Met the guides, a knowledgeable historian and the FT food and wine journalist. Began to realise this was going to be more of a guided walk, and less of a pub crawl. We walked to St James Church, and were told to notice the water pump outside, a source of clean water for local people, and the galleries inside the rebuilt church (it was bombed during the war). Definitely more of a guided walk.
We then went to Spa Terminus, which are several units built under the railway arches. All the railway lines from the South to London go through Bermondsey, and due to the marshy soil, they were all built on sturdy brick arches. These are now home to many different small businesses – including some breweries. We stood outside one, and learned a few historical facts while looking at the closed door, in the cold wind. I wished I had worn a coat, and was now certain that this was not a pub crawl.
We then walked to the Brew By Numbers brewery, which was also under the arches. It was started by two blokes in their flat, and now has 11 full time employees and several part-time workers. We were allowed in, and stood, amongst boxes stacked by a forklift, while the owner told us how to make beer. A few men were working at a table, using microscopes and thermometers – this was more science than pub. The smell was wonderful, that warm sweet beery smell produced by fermenting yeast.
Making beer is relatively easy. Making good beer needs a little more skill. The basic recipe is hot water, to which you add mixed barley and leave for about an hour. This will activate the enzymes within the barley, turning the starch to sugar. This is then moved to a kettle and boiled – killing those enzymes. Sometimes it is dried and roasted (hence malted barley). It is passed into a ‘whirlpool’ (big metal thing) and hops are added. It is cooled, and yeast is added before it’s pumped into the conditioning tanks. They might add more sugar here (depends on the beer). It can then be put either into metal drums or bottles.
I can tell you that barley is just barley – the same stuff that grows in fields, and malted barley looks like coffee beans. Hops arrives looking like the pellets I feed to my ducks.
There is some snobbishness as to whether the fizz in beer should be natural, or carbon-dioxide added at the end. Historically, people didn’t have pressurised canisters of CO2 so it had to be natural fermentation that added the fizz. The difference between bitter and lager is how they are stored. (I have a fun little story here: When my boys were little, they wanted to make characters for a computer game who sounded grown-up. So, being ‘real men’, they decided to call them Bitter and Lager. Unfortunately, their spelling wasn’t as good as their ideas, so the characters are called Biter and Larger.)
We were invited to taste the beers. Only two, so still not a pub crawl, and only about an inch, so we weren’t singing when we left. There was a Saison, which had cucumber and juniper extracts added, and tasted light and acidic. The Porter tasted strongly of coffee, and was nice, but an inch was sufficient.
We moved on to another brewery, the Courage Brewery which at one time was the largest brewery in London, possibly in Europe. Unfortunately, it is now a housing complex. There was a plaque, which commemorated when the draymen beat up an Austrian general. The draymen were the delivery men, beefy workers, so the attack would have been painful. It caused an international incident at the time.
Apparently, when water in London was revolting due to being pumped along rotting wooden pipes and people drank much more beer, it was also more alcoholic. Which caused a few problems. So Lloyd George changed the law, and reduced the amount of alcohol that was allowed in beers.
The end of the tour was a quick look at the Hops Exchange (where we weren’t allowed to take photos, though I have no idea why as it is just a tiered hall.) We also stood outside the George Inn, which has been there since Dickens wrote his novels. But we didn’t go in. This was not, even slightly, a pub crawl.
Thank you for reading.
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Hello, hope all is well.
I have a cheeky request (which you can ignore if you’re too busy, but I would be super-grateful if you can do this). Next time you are near your local library, please could you ask them to order you a copy of CLARA? It won’t cost you anything (other than time, which I know is precious, so I will be very grateful). The library order a copy, and let you know, and you will then have to collect it and read/pretend to read it, and return it a week later. Your part is then finished. But it means that the book will be available to a whole lot of other people.
I have tested the plan with my Mum, and there is now a copy in her local library, so I know it will work. Some libraries might refuse, if you are the only person who has requested the book, but the more people who ask, the more likely they are to stock it. I have had to deposit 6 copies with The British Library and 5 other libraries (which is a legal requirement, even though I lose the money) but it does mean that other libraries can stock the book.
The library will need:
Subtitle: A Good Psychopath?
Author: Anne E. Thompson
Publisher: The Cobweb Press
They can order it through their normal channel (I think they tend to use a wholesaler).
The more people who request it from a single library the better, as they will display it in a better position if it’s popular (so do mention it to your friends and work colleagues).
Hope you don’t mind me asking. I don’t have the backing of a major publisher, so I need all the help I can get. Thank you oodles if you are willing to help.
A fun look at that part of the south bank ; and definitely not a pub crawl!