For the second year running, I joined Doreen Joy Barber from The Five Points Brewing Company around a curated selection of exceptional pubs. In 2016, we visited some of East London's drinking highlights, but this time, we were set to discover some of the best that the Old Street & Islington area has to offer. The tour de pub promoted the Tryanuary initiative to encourage better, more adventurous drinking, with all proceeds from the ticket price and raffle tickets sold on the day benefitting St Joseph’s Hospice.
This year’s endeavour was slightly outside of my usual stomping ground, which made it all the more enticing. I work around Liverpool Street – only a short jaunt away from the excursion’s starting point – but habitually rely upon Brewdog Shoreditch for any rendezvous in the area, mostly out of ease, convenience and its proximity to the overground. I was therefore keen to explore further afield.
On Saturday the 21 January, convened at the Old Fountain, just a stone’s throw from Old Street station. We were scheduled to visit four pubs throughout the afternoon, spending about an hour at each destination to soak in the beer and the ambiance. Our group was large and to mitigate a sudden bombardment on smaller pubs, we were split into two groups and staggered our arrival times. Everyone was given an itinerary in case they lollygagged along the way.
The Old Fountain was a pub that I knew, typically bursting with city drinkers on weekday nights. On a Saturday afternoon, it was much more tranquil, giving us ample time to explore their vast beer selection. They had Brugse Zot on tap, that intensely drinkable blond from De Halve Maan that I had enjoyed in Brussels only the week before, and the excellent I Fear The Ferryman from Verdant Brewing Co, a sweet and silky stout. The pub itself is surprisingly spacious and I’ve heard great things about their roof garden, but it was sadly under repair on our visit (and it was January).
Assigned to Doreen’s group, we moved on, taking a short walk to The Wenlock Arms, where we were warmly greeted and offered a free half by the publican because we were in good company (read: Doreen). I savoured Siren Craft Brew’s Soundwave on cask, which was so clean and refreshing that I vowed to drink it more frequently. We circled the pub, where keys from a piano in the backroom were occasionally plunked and a dog sighed contentedly next to the lit fire. After a game of darts, I enjoyed a crisp South Pacific Pale from Redemption Brewing and Weird Beard Brew Co on keg, sitting down and remarking the casual, community vibe of this venue.
Another short stroll brought us on to the Earl of Essex, which was much more livelier than the previous stops. I’ve been to some of the Earl’s sister pubs around London and the atmosphere was equivalent, with the drinks list prominently displayed across two wooden boards. This pub has a small brewing set-up behind the bar, including a mash-tun and fermenter tank, but it looked pristine, unused and just for show. Brewing in this space would be a nightmare, but it was a conversation point. Here, I had the most memorable drink of the day – a Drink'in Cucumber Berliner sour from Mikkeller - which was bursting with cucumber and hints of sharp vinegar, redolent of tzatziki, but deftly balanced, making it zingy and light.
Our final destination was The Three Johns, a vibrant, spacious pub that offers a commendable pizza menu in addition to their fine beer selection. We had an area booked and some of us tucked into dinner here, washed down with some more Siren Soundwave on keg, a solid IPA from Cloudwater Brew Co and a reliable Gamma Ray from Beavertown Brewery. The atmosphere here was trendy but relaxed, making us happy to graze here until the early evening, chatting with friends and the rest of our group.
The 2017 Tryanuary pub crawl was a resounding success, showing off the crème de la crème of an area of London less travelled - by me, that is. I would happily revisit any of these stops and I'm glad to have them on my radar. I think I owe someone another round of darts anyway, so we'll be back at The Wenlock Arms for a rematch soon.