I’ve written a couple of times about London breweries, here and here, over there and over the hills, but since the time of these two articles things have raced on, taken various bends, crossed continents, frosted up arguments and then warmed and warned them up again; things have accelerated and accentuated the positive, grown up and thrown up all manner of conundrums and now there are god knows how many existent in the capital; countless amounts are capping bottles and kegging kegs, but that’s not what I want to write about.
I’m in the Dean Swift, a few moments from where Barclay Perkins used to send out beers to perk up Londoners; the Institute of Brewing and Distilling is a corner away, my happiness being a final trawl through a variety of brewing publications from the late 1950s onwards: finally I have all the results of every brewing competition for what is now the InternationalBrewing Awards since its inception in 1888 (I’m writing a book). Four cask beers and — I don’t know — six or eight craft keg beers (it’s ridiculous that I feel the need to identify the dispense system of the beers I want to choose from) face me and my throat desires the first drink of the day, the drink that I want to percolate down through my palate and whose character I want to stay around and get me to remember it in 100 years. So I chose the pub’s own branded London Lager. I ask questions. Is London Pilsner a Czech style then? No it’s a London style. I try a tasting, there’s a billowing diacetyl note that I’ve always associated with Pilsner; there’s a bite of bitterness. It’s Czech I mutter to myself, very happy that there are breweries bold enough to take on this style (it’s Portobello btw). However, what it also makes me think. So what is a London style, how can a city influence a beer style?
The next day, I’m drinking Kernel’s London Sour with founder Evin; mindful of the previous day’s thoughts about London, I’m thinking about the beer: it’s sour but not too sour, not too assertive in its sourness, but still sour enough for someone not attuned to sour beer to make a face a contorted as jazz and ask what on earth are they drinking. It’s a refreshing beer, a beer Evin tells me has Berliner Weisse, the idea of Berliner Weisse as its idea, but I then think about London Pilsner and wonder if there is such a thing as a London style.
Could there be a London style and what would be the influence? I know about the water of London and the availability of the hops and the malt, but there’s got to be more to a style than this? What about the people, what do they eat and what do they like to drink with their food? What about the climate, the temperature, the summers and the winters, the happiness and the sadness, the carefree index or the lack of care, the influence of wine, the silence of temperance, the ghosts that haunt people’s palates, the food that they eat and dream about and then there‘s the feats of strength they like to boast about and toast. All these must surely contribute to a contemporary London style? Or any style?