Sir Frank Brangwyn's etching of Southwark Cathedral
London, in its infinite complexity, forces one to be a creature of habit, to stick with what you know. I return continually to the shadow of Southwark Cathedral, crossing the Thames over London Bridge, built up, as the rhyme goes, with needles and pins. Pricked and tingled, you take Green Dragon Court into the rabbit warren of delicacies that is Borough Market.
I am not a foodie; the dead creatures hung and bled, laid out on ice– I will never get used to the ordinary cruelties. I believe the best food is the simplest, the most humble. And yet the plenty of this little chaotic market moves me. So much of old London is gone, but there has been a market on the south bank of the Thames here since Roman times, and this particular location has existed for 250 years.
The cathedral shimmers golden in the early dark– I pass in its chiaroscuro. Soon I will be at the Utobeer beer stall picking out something new. It’s started to snow, now, as if the weather conspires in delight. Yule beer!
But, I have a secret. I’ve come here tonight because I suddenly find myself the kind of drinker that will run after a beer tweet. The trip to the beer stall is just a ruse– I’m kidding myself that I’m not really headed, once again, to the Rake because I’ve heard they have cask BrewDog on: mysterious Equity for Punks. I’ve never had cask BrewDog, and this is about to change.
I’ve resigned myself– it will be a grumpy affair. I’ll order, drink up, take notes and leave. The place is already packed at 4pm, but there’s still some BrewDog left so I order a half and find a vacant stool by an elegantly bearded gentleman drinking Rodenbach’s Grand Cru, “Are they doing something with this place?” He asks, “it seems even smaller than when I was last here. It’s like a temporary classroom or something. All the beer in the world to drink and nowhere to drink it!” (exactly.) And then we remarked that normally no one talks to strangers in pubs in London and why is that? This guy, mild mannered and charming is a beer person. Every year he makes a pilgrimage to Belgium in his Volkswagon, loads his boot with bottled beers and returns via the Eurotunnel in Folkstone. I love this idea– a beer road trip! it’s so American— but I keep this to myself. He never drinks “real ale” but his first Chimay, years ago, blew his mind. He’s joined by his mate, a fellow car-boot pilgrim who turns out to be this blogger.
I’m warming up to the Rake now, grateful for good company and a corner perch– though maybe that’s just the 3.7% Equity for Punks coloring things. In silent triumph I’ve gone back and snagged the last pint. It’s red and piny, velvety with a lacy head staying put through the entire pint. BrewDog have done their hat trick again, producing a profoundly hopped beer that remains balanced with lovely caramel malt on the finish.
And then who should pass by the window but Mike Hill, one of the owners of the Rake. Before moving here my idea of a quintessential Londoner was some Dickensian, lock-stock-and-two-smoking-Dalloways amalgam: forthright, funny. That Londoner is rare, but Mike is one, with his voice of shale and tailings. I had the luck of meeting him through Pete Brown and just immediately took to him. He waves, comes in from the snow and we have a proper chat.
My table mates have moved on and are now drinking Delirium Noel. The beer is starting to work; the elegant gentleman is praising the designer who came up with the little archetypal DT elephant, “It is exactly what a pink elephant should be. The essence of elephant!”
I’m on to the inevitable Death and Taxes, Moonlight Brewery’s schwartz beer, from my old stomping ground in the Bay Area. It’s impenetrably black and roasty, with a dense mouthfeel that betrays the style but makes me like it more. I resist the homesickess that might be equally inevitable. I’m a Londoner now.