Last Saturday, I set out on what was potentially going to be part 1 of a Bermondsey brewery tour. Not only was I looking forward to finally getting down to The Kernel’s headquarters (not KFC’s as many of my friends seemed to think) but I would be returning to Partizan Brewery for the first time in two months since their first birthday party, a pleasantly drunken blur. Firstly I made the mistake of starting at 2pm, which is far too late if you’re intending on going around more than two breweries, so in actual fact my ‘tour’ consisted of two breweries, The Kernel and Partizan. The Kernel have got quite a name for themselves in the world of craft beer, in fact they could well be one of the most recognised names after Camden Town Brewery and Meantime. They were certainly the first independent brewery to pop up in Bermondsey and are still one of the most popular. Now I would like to stress how much I was looking forward to this first beer. I had been away in South Africa on holiday for two weeks, where I had had a couple of OK lagers, put on a fair number of pounds as a result of the holiday and the preceding Christmas period and had therefore decided to lay off the beer for a couple of weeks to allow my stomach to return to a respectable size. So all I could think about on the Friday night before and the Saturday morning of, was my first sip of fruity, bitter, cold, US hopped beer.
Arriving at The Kernel, my friend and I were very excited to see that they offered their beers on draft. I had decided to not do my usual and start with something over 6%, so I deliberated over their table beer, a respectable 3% and an oak aged saison which was 4.1%. Given the craving I talked about earlier, it would of course have made sense to go for the table beer, which contained the recognisable Amarillo US hop but no I decided I wanted to be adventurous and opted for the saison. I knew I was in trouble when I took a sniff and was hit with a kind of acidic dishwater smell but sometimes the smell can be misleading, like a good cheese. In this case unfortunately, it wasn’t. I was pretty much drinking cider. Now what irks me about this, is that perhaps it had been brewed in a tradtional style, which could explain the taste and therefore some might like it but for something that does not taste remotely like beer, the customer needs to be warned! My friend who lives by the motto, the stronger it is the better it tastes and who I have to generally agree with, did the sensible thing and went for a single hopped Chinook pale ale which was very satisfactory and kindly shared it with me after I gave up on mine after three sips, I honestly tried. After insulting a fellow Man United supporter by asking him if he had been a fan of the team since the crash (for those who don’t know this was in 1958) for him to then tell me he was in his 40s, I decided it was time to move on to more familiar territory but not before snapping up a bottle of Table Beer and a Simcoe/Mosaic/Centennial Pale Ale to take away (500 ml for £3 each, bargain).
On arrival at Almond Road, the home of Partizan Brewing, I noticed three new things, 1) They had acquired some tables and benches, 2) The beer list had grown 3) So had the queue. Still slightly reeling from my first beer at The Kernel, I approached the menu with some trepidation, which I wouldn’t normally but I had been scarred. So I went with a recommendation from a trusted friend Sara, aka La Fermata, a regular fixture at Partizan on Saturdays, selling her ever popular and delicious pao de queijo, that’s cheese balls to you and I. The ever helpful Katie, who helps out at the brewery, described my choice, an X-ale, as a delicious ale in the style of a Victorian mild. I had no idea what she was talking about but went for it anyway. At the same time I ordered a cheese ball and British Rose veal meatball stick from La Fermata, took myself to the side with my friend Yuko who had once again opted for a strong IPA and after one sip and one bite I was made. The X-Ale was an instant hit as it was reminiscent of a mild porter, one of my favourite beers and went wonderfully with my cheese and meat stick ( a bargain at £3). Another thing I have to mention is the bottle’s label. Partizan’s bottle labels are renowned for their unique style, all designed exclusively by Alec Doherty. Each beer has a different label which is extremely impressive considering Partizan will be coming up to their 100th brew in April. The label for the X-ale shows Malcolm X and the rapper Xzibit forming the letter X (see if you can spot which is which in the photo above). You can spend hours figuring out what each label means which adds to the fun.
So after finishing my X-ale, I then knew that I had pretty much settled in for the rest of the afternoon and I got back in line behind a crazy Swedish lady who had obviously had a few more than me and was accidentally calling her friend Yahoo and who was standing next to a guy with an unbelievably impressive mullet. For my second beer, I decided to go with another recommendation from my friend Sara and determined to undo the earlier saison, I opted for a Black Saaz. This was a step up from the X-ale, dark, rich and herby and for want of a better word, more complex. So complex that I kept accidentally trying to drink my friend’s beer instead of my own. At this point though I had stepped over the 6% mark and it was threfore to be expected. Very content and to guarantee I would end on a high, I went for a trusted Cascade/Centennial Pale Ale, fruity and not too bitter. At 5.4%, 6.4% and 4.8% respectively, I was nicely merry and unfortunately too late to try a fourth. Having said that I had definitely got my money’s worth.
In a couple of weeks’ time, I hope to have regained my strength and will report back on my Bermondsey Beer Tour part 2, featuring- Four Pure Brewing, Anspach and Hobday and Brew by Numbers.