Pride of South London. Maybe I’m just a bit of a Beer Groupie!

We’re the Pride of South London Crystal Palace fans sing as we enjoy a prolonged stay in England’s Football PremierLeague.   These days South London also has a lot to be proud of beer wise too.

I remember not too long ago admiring the Brewery Tap rooms in the States and being a tad jealous we didn’t have so many here in the UK. Not only providing great places to enjoybrewery fresh beers, tap rooms like breweries provide employment and are often family friendly; during a trip to the Brooklyn Brewery four years ago I was amazed when my New York friend was able to meet me in the tap room with her two-year-old son in his buggy.

Tap Rooms also help demystify breweries making beer attractive and accessible to a wider range of people.

Happily, things are changing with more and more breweries opening tap rooms nationwide.

In South London The Bermondsey Beer mile has long been a pilgrimage for beer lovers.  There are also tap rooms at the Brockley Brewery and Gipsy Hill Brewery.

Slightly closer to where I live two more Brewery Tap rooms have sprung up so I decided to visit a couple of Fridays ago.

I kicked off my evening at the Ignition Brewery Taproom in Sydenham which opened in September.

What makes Ignition a brewery to be truly proud of is the fact that it is a micro-brewery set up to train and provide supported jobs for people with learning difficulties in the area.

I met the founder of Ignition Brewery, Nick O’Shea  a few years ago through mutual friends.  At the time Nick was busy trying to win funding and support for the Brewery.   

Fast forward three years and Ignition Brewery have a brewery and tap room in Sydenham High Street.   

In my opinion surpassing Nicks original mission To increasethe number of jobs for people with learning disabilities and to produce great beers the Tap room also provides a community hub.  It is bright and welcoming with a relaxed feel.   The staff cheerful and helpful, and the choice of beer satisfies all tastes.   Ignition’s core range of three; Lewisham Pale Ale South of the River 4.2% abv, Jumpstart IPA 4.6% abv and Well Oiled Machine Porter 4.8% abv are all available in bottles.   On tap the night I visited were South of the River andJumpstart plus specials Blood Orange IPA 4.5% and Lewisham Brown Ale 3.8%.   

I had a bottle of the Well Oiled Machine, a sumptuous Porter, followed by a pint of Lewisham Brown Ale.   Not normally a favourite beer style of mine, the Lewisham Brown was great; rich and full bodied.

Other drinks including the ever-popular Gin are available so fear not if you have friends who have not yet been converted to the hopped beverage.

As well as drinks, there is a good selection Ignition merchandise for sale so opportunities to support this great business abound!

I was lucky enough to be shown round the gleaming brewery by a member of staff.   I always love a nose around a brewery – maybe I’m just a bit of a beer groupie!  The guys pride when showing us around was evident.   

The ultimate plan is to provide a model that can be replicated nationwide.   I hope to hear of similar projects in the future.   

This is such a great idea so keep up the good work Ignition.

Down the hill from Sydenham, is Penge Hight Street.   Like Crystal Palace Football club, Penge is also enjoying somewhat of a renaissance.   

With an emphasis on community not for profits community group the Penge Tourist Board are working hard to enhance life if this corner of South London by engaging with residents and local businesses.

One of the events on their website is a late night at the Alexandra Nurseries in November with beer from Southey Brewery.  

On the site of the now defunct Late Nights Brewery, Southey began life a few years ago and later opened their tap room

Tucked away down a tiny side street Southey Brewery’s tap room is charming and characterful .  Vintage fixtures and fittings, book shelves and a comprehensive drinks menu, this tap room is a little gem.   

Another great selection of beers were on offer the night I went with six on keg including Penge Pilsner 4.8% and a Belgian Wit 5.5% with Session Bitter and Pale Ale on cask.

I enjoyed a couple of pints of keg Black IPA which is always a favourite of mine but managed to resist the tempting packs on monster munch and the bowls of peanuts on the bar.

For non-beer drinkers or if you perhaps simply fancy a change there are wines and spirits including Tequila available as well as soft drinks if you have the misfortune to be the designated driver for the night!

The cosy atmosphere of the Southey Tap room made it an absolute pleasure and I was sorry when it was time to get my train home .   





Micro in name – Mega in appeal. A journey in Kent to sample some of the fine micro pubs the county is known for.

When faced with deciding what to do to celebrate my birthday recently I had no hesitation in telling my husband that I fancied jumping on a train to the Kent seaside to go on a micro pub crawl.
Micro pubs are becoming prevalent in Kent – see


For those of your unfamiliar with the concept a micro pub is a small establishment often located in former retail premises.  They are independent and serve real ale, cider and maybe some wine but this varies from pub to pub.  They may have limited opening hours and some will serve bar snacks which tend to be good old British favorites such as scotch eggs, pork pies and pork scratchings.  A no mobile (cell) phone policy may be in place as may one of no music but this varies from pub to pub.

So on a sunny July Thursday we started our crawl at the Wheel Alehouse, Birchington on Sea   Located in a street that looks like any other provincial high street the Wheel takes you by surprise.  The interior is filled with nautical paraphernalia and I got the feeling much fun had been had collecting all the ships, parrots and other bits and bobs on display. The wheel raises a lot of money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) by holding pub quizzes and has a nice community feel.

We were greeted warmly and made to feel very welcome.  For my first beer I had Mauldons Mid Summer – pleasant seasonal golden ale with a 4% ABV whilst my husband had the Cottage Brewery’s Call to Arms a light cooper fruity bitter with an ABV of 3.8%. I had this for my second half whilst my husband had Cottage Sticky Wicket 4.2 ABV – traditional ale with nice hints of toffee. When researching our pub crawl I had referred to that modern day oracle the internet but the regulars in the pub were very knowledgeable and helpful giving us suggestions for what pubs to try next and how to get to them.

Next we jumped back on the train to Broadstairs, a lovely traditional British seaside town with a sandy beach, beautiful architecture, seafront gardens and a bandstand. I used to holiday here as a child but hadn’t visited for almost twenty years. I was pleasantly surprised at how I still loved the place.

Next on our ‘to do’ list was the Thirty Nine Steps but the nice men in the Wheel had recommended the Chapel which is round the corner from the Thirty Nine Steps and that’s where we headed first.

Blink and you could miss The Chapel as although not micro in the sense that it’s not tiny inside, it’s housed in a second hand book shop so easy to miss. It is well worth seeking out as another friendly welcome awaited us from a very helpful women behind the bar who as well as being passionate about the books, was also passionate about the local produce on sale in the pub which included good local beers, a great local menu and more ciders than I have ever seen in a pub.  These ranged from lemon to ginger to chilli ciders.   Now although I don’t mind an occasional drop of cider I tend to stick with beer but faced with the array of ciders on offer, I could quite happily have spent an afternoon trying them all- maybe that’s another blog…

We stuck to beer and ordered a Hopdaemon’s Skrimshander IPA 4.5 ABV – which according to the aforementioned barmaid who also happens to be a linguist means whale bone whittler.  This beer is a favorite of mine and didn’t disappoint. The Chapel has wall to wall books and a mixture of long tables, benches and arm chairs.  There was music playing but this didn’t bother us.
Upon chatting to the barmaid some more I discovered the Chapel is the sister pub of the Lifeboat micro pub in Margate And despite their policy of local produce they also feature regular guest ales which are generally CAMRA award winners. Feeling peckish we decided to try the menu.  My husband had local sausage and mash which looked amazing and I had a Biddenden steak and ale pie with mash which was really tasty and at £10 for both was an absolute bargain especially for good local produce.


When we’d first arrived at the Chapel a helpful customer had recommended the Wantsum Ravening Wolf, I think the word he used was ‘awesome’ but at 5.9% ABV we shyed away. With food in our bellies however we thought we’d be brave and share a half.   We were very kindly served a quarter of a pint each in individual glasses – what lovely service!

The Ravening Wolf was indeed very good.  A pale gold ale which despite a lingering aftertaste belied it’s strength – dangerous! After once again admiring the wall of ciders on our way out, we had a quick stroll along the beach as it was a beautiful day before heading to the Thirty Nine Steps.

The Thirty Nine Steps is different from the two previous pubs with a more contemporary interior of high wooden tables and stools.  The walls are adorned with old brewery mirrors and posters from various productions of The Thirty Nine Steps – the pub is so called as the novel of the same name was apparently written and based in part in Broadstairs.

The casks of beer are displayed behind glass doors which looks good and the hundreds of pump clips displayed on the ceiling and a map on the wall showed that beers from all over the UK had been served at the Thirty Nine Steps.   These ranged from Worthington White Shield to specials from Kent brewery Old Dairy who had brewed a special beer for the Broadstairs folk festival. We had the Time and Tide brewery’s Spratwaffler pale ale 3.7% ABV which is pleasantly citrusy.  We then had the Wards Best 4% ABV accompanied by a pork pie and a scotch egg as a little snack to keep us going. Like the Chapel the Thirty Nine Steps had music playing which again didn’t feel intrusive – in fact I overheard another customer say to his companion ‘the Smiths are playing and the beers good – I’m happy’


I finished with a half of Lytham Stout 4.6 ABV smoothly bitter on the tongue and a finish with notes of cherry – my favourite of the day as I am partial to stout even at the height of summer.

Both the Thirty Nine Steps and the Chapel had live music that evening which may stray away from what purists look for in a micro pub but probably reflects the local Broadstair’s culture of the arts- not only do they have a folk festival every August – this year from 8th till 15th– see  but they also have a Dickens festival every June as Dickens was a frequent visitor to the town which he fittingly in my opinion referred to as ‘Our English Watering Place’  see I enjoyed trying all three micro pubs which are very different in feel and direction.   This shows how much scope there is within the ‘micro pub’ to appeal to a wide range of people.   My wise husband however made an interesting point – given the success of micro pubs he mused how long will it be before one of the large pub chains take one over?

From what I know of the people behind these pubs I would be surprised if they were to sell to a pub chain however the idea did remind me of discussions I’ve had regarding the use of the term ‘craft beer’.  I have nothing against the use of the term ‘craft’ but the point has been made to me that big brewing companies use it to trick consumers into thinking they are getting a craft – artisan if you like beer, when in fact what’s on offer is simply a mass produced beer masquerading as a craft beer.

Could the same happen to micro pubs? If they cotton on to the success and appeal of these small independent drinking holes, will the large pub chains start opening mini versions of their pubs disguised as independent micro pubs….? Whether or not this is likely I urge you to go sample the genuine article now – a friendly welcome and good beers in a unique atmosphere awaits you.

The Chapel