Kew Brewery, By The Horns Brewing, Belleville Brewing, Bullfinch Brewing, Canopy Brewery
What better way to ring in Tryanuary than with a taproom tour?! Waking up on the first Sunday morning of 2019, JB and I realised that, although we bounce around taprooms all the time in sunny Austin, our London visits are much less frequent and those closest to home are among the most neglected. Clearly it was time to take action! Cue a quick online search and a Tryanuary plan to tour a full five breweries open on a Sunday within a 30 minute driving radius of our East Sheen HQ – bring it on!
I’ve been drinking Kew brews for some time, memorable highlights being the nicely rustic Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing at London Drinker Festival and their lovely collaboration with my good friends at Micro Beers. Hence my surprise that I had managed to completely miss the opening of their taproom on the Upper Richmond Road, in walking distance from home no less! Having opened their doors to the public less than a month ago, Kew are still very much in the process of setting up. There’s a small drinking space with some rather nifty vintage stools situated in front of their four tanks, and although at present they only have bottles available, plans are in place to introduce taps in the future. Bottles are very reasonably priced at £3.25 a pop or 4 for £12 and there are mini key-kegs of one or two styles on sale too. We tried all three of the beers available on the day of our visit, all of which went down very easily. As someone who is making an effort to drink more session beer this year, the Kew range was an excellent place to start. The Pagoda #10 Pale was a nice update on the traditional, mixing bitter hops and a citrus twist, and the Petersham Porter had a lovely light, smooth texture with hints of chocolate and liquorice – significant complexity for 4.3%. The Camellia Orange and Earl Grey Session IPA fully captured both complementary flavours.
Although facilities and choice at Kew are currently limited, hats off to them for opening to the public and giving folks the chance to pop in, try the beers, and engage with them as they progress. Their excellent, highly visible location should help to bring people in, especially once their opening hours expand a bit. There’s something a bit special about getting to know a taproom early on and watching it grow, and we shall certainly be doing that with Kew.
By The Horns Brewing
While this wasn’t our first visit to By The Horns, we’ve not been for a while, despite its close (by London standards) proximity to home – a mere 25 minutes in the car. We shall, however, be returning soon after an extremely impressive flight, including one of the best Brut IPAs I’ve had in London. By The Horns were happily embracing the Tryanuary spirit with 10% off flight paddles, meaning our flight of three 1/3 pints came to just £5 – an absolute bargain, especially considering how good the beers were. As well as the delightfully dry and biscuity Spark Dust Brut IPA, we also tried the Chateau Rouge Farmhouse Saison, aged in red wine barrels for a pleasantly rustic, astringent tang, and my kind of massive smokey-roasty Russian Imperial Stout brewed in collaboration with Russian microbrewery Crazy Brew. Between these super-exciting beers I rather felt that my Tryanuary ship had come in!
By The Horns have made some changes to their taproom since our last visit. A huge stone pizza oven sits next to the bar with an intriguing menu that is unfortunately only available Thursdays to Saturdays, but looks worth a visit all by itself. A slightly less welcome touch is the presence of innumerable TV screens, large and small, one of my least favourite US taproom traits, which felt a little bit overkill. The taproom was quite quiet for a Sunday afternoon, but this did mean we had a chance to chat about the new beers and pizza menu with the bartender, always fun. With ten beers on tap I would have liked to stay for another flight, but alas we had three more taprooms to visit. I am looking forward to a return visit to hit up the rest of the menu!
We first visited the Belleville taproom shortly after it opened in March 2017, when they were very much still finding their feet and only had three or four beers on tap. We were really impressed with how well-designed the space was, with its split-level interior, cosy wood furnishing and stylish signage, which has now been expanded into a wide range of merch. We clearly aren’t the only ones as Belleville was a-buzzin’ on this our return visit with most every seat taken. They have added an adorable little reading nook for solo drinkers and have plenty of board games on hand, plus they now have eight beers on tap and a decent menu of bar snacks including salami and scotch eggs – surely the food of the Gods. Due to a slight miscommunication with the bartender we ended up with just two beers to try (they do, in fact, serve tasting flights but something must have gotten lost in translation). We had a light, easy-drinking Balham Black Schwarzbier that could have handled a little more oomph and the rather delicious Hop Junkie DIPA which went down especially well with me as I’m currently a little NEIPA’d out and have been craving a full, malty, bitter ultra-hopped DIPA like mad!
Belleville is clearly the place to be for drinkers of Wandsworth, and it has successfully blended key characteristics from your standard US taproom and a local pub to create a lively, atmospheric hangout. I hope to try more of their new beers on our next visit.
Tucked between Tulse Hill and Herne Hill, a hop, skip and jump from Brockwell Park, Bullfinch has been serving thirsty South Londoners since 2015 and I felt a bit bad that this was our first visit. Squeezed under a railway arch like so many London taprooms, Bullfinch feels a little like stepping into Mole’s burrow in Wind in the Willows, even most of the stools are tiny! That said, hunkering down on a chilly winter evening under the pretty low-hung fairy lights is by no means a bad thing, especially with some rather tasty brews on offer at a most bargainous £4.50 for a tasting flight of three 1/3 pints. After a very nice chat with their American bartender, we settled on a satisfyingly meaty Simcoe Red IPA and a dry and floral Walk It Off IPA – a collaboration with Ghost Whale, no less. Our final beer was my pick of the bunch, the Wolf APA was an extravaganza of exciting flavours that managed to combine being smoky, hoppy, piney, grassy and dry in a way that made me want an awful lot more.
Bullfinch was about half-full when we rolled up at about 7pm on a Sunday night, not bad at all especially as they don’t serve food, although they do also have a good selection of board games, which I consider an essential component to a successful taproom. They also get extra double plus props for playing Big Star for most of our visit. Nice. We were once again tempted to settle in for a second flight, break out the games and make a night of it, especially as this was our first visit, but five taprooms is five taprooms so on to Canopy we went.
This was by no means our first visit to Herne Hill’s Canopy taproom (begging the question as to how we’ve bypassed Bullfinch – who knows?) and, as well as my enduring enthusiasm for their Brockwell IPA, it’s always a cool spot to visit. In another (if significantly taller) railway arch setting, the Canopy taproom is spacious and hip (the slightly disconcerting free-standing toilets aside), with ten taps and a much-needed supply of excellent scotch eggs. Our bartender informed us that as it had been a busy weekend (good for them!) only five beers were still on. Again, there was a little confusion over the small pour options available and we somehow ended up with tasting portions of all five, which unsurprisingly worked for me.
Of the beers we hadn’t tried before, I was especially impressed with the bright, crisp Champion Kolsch, which had a nice sweet-bitter balance, and the Love Walks Small Beer which was impressively big on flavour for 2.9%. The Hoots & Shoots Sloe Porter was perfectly easy-drinking but I struggled to locate the sloe flavour which was a shame as a sloe porter is a great idea. The taproom was almost empty during our visit, which surprised me as every other time I’ve been there it’s been full to the gills. I’ll certainly be noting that if I want to get a seat, Sunday night is the time to go!
In conclusion, I can happily report that South-West London is a hive of taproom excitement, and you don’t have to travel big distances to do a local brewery tour. It was really heartwarming to see how the area is embracing taproom culture, and ever so exciting to get in amongst so many cool new local beers. We’ll be implementing our Tryanuary strategy again on our next visit to London, whatever month it is!