Home Food and drinkFood tours Doing the Bermondsey Beer Mile and a tour of Borough Market

Doing the Bermondsey Beer Mile and a tour of Borough Market

It was a weekend of sampling great beer and food in and around London Bridge

by Sarah Bridge
Anspach & Hobday set up in the arches of the Bermondsey Beer mile in 2013

Spending the weekend in London doing little else but drink beer and sample food had long been on my wish list and I finally managed the other weekend with a gastronomic double: the Bermondsey Beer mile and a food tour of Borough Market. The scene was set for an epic food and beer extravaganza, but would it meet up to my expectations?

The Bermondsey Beer Mile

Having lived in London for many years, I love returning as a tourist, and the now-famous Bermondsey Beer Mile stretch of micro-breweries and tap rooms had been calling to me for some time.

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For years, the arches under the train lines leading out of London Bridge station had been mainly used as storage  or industrial units, but since the arrival of acclaimed brewery The Kernel 15 years ago, a whole brewing industry has sprung up, meaning you can sample many classic and innovative beers all within a short walk of this mainline station.

beer tour of Bermondsey in south London

A selection of some of the beers which awaited us on our beer tour of Bermondsey in south London

Being newcomers to the Bermondsey Beer scene, I decided to go on a beer-tasting tour rather than just winging it, and after lots of research, I booked the Bermondsey Beer Tasting Tour with UK Brewery Tours which seemed excellent value (£44 for three hours, visiting at least four breweries and tap rooms).

My partner Stephen and I arrived at London Bridge station ahead of schedule, which meant we could grab a discounted breakfast at Pret a Manger – check out my recent review of food-saving app Too Good To Go and could fit in a pub or two as ‘sharpeners’ before the main event.

The George and the Hop Kingdom – separated by hundreds of years of brewing history

One of the many wonderful and unique things about London is that you can jump forward in time several hundred years in few steps, which we did so by starting out at the historic pub The George, just off Borough High Street  which dates back to the 15th century, before discovering one of the area’s newest venues, the Hop Kingdom beer and skatepark.

The George pub in London Bridge

The George pub in London Bridge has welcomed visitors since the 15th century and is London’s last surviving galleried coaching inn

The George is a historical landmark – it’s the only galleried pub left in London and was one of London’s original coaching inns, visited over the years by notables including Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Princess Margaret and Madonna. It’s a firm fixture on the tourist trail, so it’s a good idea so get there early if you want a seat in its lovely, cobbled courtyard, and don’t forget to explore its rabbit warren of rooms inside and upstairs while you’re there.

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The Hop Kingdom was a polar extreme from The George in almost every way – you drank your modern craft beer to the sound of skateboarders zooming around in the next room – but it was a great introduction to the Bermondsey Beer Mile and the unique and quirky destinations which awaited us.

Our first stop – Southwark Brewing Company

The beer-tasting tour started at 1pm at Southwark Brewing Company which was absolutely packed when we got there. Not everyone there was on our tou,r but there was still a sizable number of us (about 16) and we were all firm friends by the end of the afternoon.

Southwark Brewing Company

Our beer tour of Bermondsey started at Southwark Brewing Company in the company of its founder Peter Jackson (left), who set the scene with a talk about the history of brewing in the area – our tour guide Paul Davies is in the checked shirt

We met our guide, Paul Davies, the founder of Alehunters, who sorted us out with a seat and a half pint of London Pale Ale. We supped away while hearing about the history of the area from Peter Jackson, who founded Southwark Brewing in 2014 after working for beer giant Marstons.

It was a great introduction to Bermondsey brewing as Peter told us about the history of the area, its central location as a trading post next to  London Bridge itself from Roman times (the bridge is now on its third incarnation), and the arrival of John Courage brewery in Southwark in 1793.

When it moved out in the 1980s there was a gap of around 20 years until The Kernel Brewery opened here in 2009 and started a whole wave of brewing innovation. Peter was rather sniffy about the newer ‘interlopers’ (who don’t brew in Bermondsey but just have a tap room here to make the most of the beer fans flocking to the area) but I was just excited to finally be in this iconic mile (now more like two miles).

Our second stop – Anspach & Hobday

From Southwark Brewing it was a short walk down Druid Street to Anspach & Hobday, a well known name to fans of craft beer.

Anspach & Hobday set up in the arches of the Bermondsey Beer mile in 2013

Anspach & Hobday set up in the arches of the Bermondsey Beer mile in 2013

London Black from Anspach & Hobday

The popular London Black from Anspach & Hobday

A&H set up in the railway arches of Bermondsey in 2013 while it has since moved most of its brewing to a larger site in Croydon, it is still a popular stop on the Bermondsey Beer Mile.  We all had a half of its famous London Black before heading down the road to Enid Street and the award-winning Moor Beer Company vaults and tap room – company slogan ‘Drink Moor Beer.’

Third stop – Moor Beer Vaults

The pints were ready and waiting for us as we arrived – the benefit of being in in an organised group tour – and we all bonded over our love of beer or reaction to trying beer for the first time (some were newcomers to beer, having been brought along by friends and partners but all seemed to be enjoying themselves).

Doghouse beer from Enid Street Tavern was light and refreshing

Doghouse beer from Enid Street Tavern was light and refreshing

Fourth stop – Enid Street Tavern

The fourth and officially the final stop on our beer tour was Enid Street Tavern, which was packed with drinkers dressed in cowboy hats and boots – it was a fancy dress party – so we tucked ourselves upstairs to enjoy our drink of Doghouse.

Unofficial fifth stop – The Kernel Brewery

Things were going so well at this point that Paul suggested we end up (at our own expense) at The Kernel Brewery, the original reason for the resurgence in Bermondsey brewing, and this was a great choice, with excellent beers and sharing plates of cheese and charcuterie.

Overall the beer tour couldn’t be faulted both for value for money – it was £44 for a 3.5 hour tour, including beer – and Paul was an excellent host, sprinkling the right amount of history, beer knowledge and technical information around.

Inside The Kernel Brewery

Inside The Kernel Brewery, which was the last (and unofficial) stop on our excellent beer tour of Bermondsey

We finally tore ourselves away from The Kernel and our new-found friends, and headed to our home for the night, The Counting House in Cornhill.

A night at the Counting House

If you are looking for a traditional but grand London pub, the Counting House must be near the top of the list. Owned by London brewery Fuller’s, the Counting House is on the site of a former gentlemen’s club, established in 1895, and has a vast circular bar, high ceilings, a mezzanine level overlooking the central space and a host of original features and rooms with names such as The Partners Dining Room and The Ledger Room.

The Counting House pub

The Counting House pub dates from the 19th century and is an imposing presence in the City of London, just seconds from Bank Underground station

It also has 15 individually-designed bedrooms and its location as a London base couldn’t be faulted, being just a short walk from Bank tube, The Royal Exchange, Spitalfields market, London Bridge and Liverpool Street, making it easily accessible from landmarks and transport options alike.

Inside, the Counting House

Inside, the Counting House is large and opulent, with chandeliers, an impressive bar and a balcony restaurant overlooking the main area

While the main pub was grand, opulent and historic, our bedroom, Florin, which on the second floor of this imposing building, was surprisingly modern, with colourful interior design, lights everywhere, a SmartTV, free wifi, in-room safe, mini bar with complimentary milk, water and soft drinks, iron and ironing board, hairdryer, ample towels and towelling robes, kettle, coffee machine and digital radio.

Our bedroom at the Counting House, Florin

Our bedroom at the Counting House, Florin, was thoughtfully-designed, well-equipped and quiet – a must-have in a London hotel

Our bathroom was clean and spacious

Our bathroom was clean and spacious, with a bath and separate walk-in shower

The bathroom – with bath and separate walk-in shower – was large and clean and there was even a nod to the historic building with a stone fireplace (sadly no longer in use).

Some rooms looked out onto Cornhill itself while others, like ours, faced the rear of the hotel, but the main attribute was that the room was incredibly quiet, a particular bonus for a central London hotel.

Counting House breakfast

After an excellent night’s sleep on the 1800 pocket-sprung mattress, breakfast at the Counting House was in the opulent bar and consisted of buffet options such as fruit, pastries, yoghurt and cereal as well as a menu of cooked options. My avocado on toast with poached eggs was adequate rather than showing any great flair from the kitchen, but the coffee was good as was the service, and indeed when we’d requested some conditioner in the room earlier (there was just shampoo for some reason) it was promptly delivered to our door by the receptionist.

breakfast of poached eggs

Colourful cooked breakfast of poached eggs on sourdough toast

Leaving the hotel we discovered that the road outside had been closed to traffic and cones placed down the middle – and a few seconds later, the lead runners in the London Landmarks half-marathon were sprinting past us. Being right on the route was an unexpected treat and another joy of visiting London at the weekend, and we joined the crowds of people lining the route to cheer on the runners on the way to Borough Market.

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Food tour of Borough Market

Borough Market used to be a regular haunt for me at the weekends, so I was looking forward to seeing how much it had changed – and what I still remembered. I’d chosen the three-hour London Bites Tour and we met our guide, Sophia, just across London Bridge. We were the only two people on the tour – the size can vary hugely, said Sophia – and this was fine with us.

Borough Market

Borough Market is next to London Bridge station and has hundreds of international food stalls – the perfect way to spend the day if you love food

As on the Bermondsey Beer tour, Sophia first filled us in on the history of London Bridge and Borough Market, including Southwark Cathedral, and then took us through the market for a full morning of tasting – some of which were stops on the tour and some where we took full advantage of the free samples being handed out.

mushroom pate on our food tour of Borough Market

Sampling some excellent mushroom pate on our food tour of Borough Market (yes, we did return to buy some later on!)

From excellent mushroom pate to freshly-made empanadas, truffle honey and French cheese, sausage rolls, fish and chips to Iberico ham, fruit smoothies, the social media favourite of strawberries covered in chocolate, Iraqi kubba, risotto, brownies and finally, chocolate ice-cream, we spent a thoroughly enjoyable and informative half-day exploring probably just a fraction of what Borough Market has to offer.

freshly-made empanadas at Portena in Borough Market

One of the food stops on our tour was some freshly-made empanadas at Portena in Borough Market

Having a guide certainly meant we could really enjoy the market rather than being overwhelmed, as Sophia led us through to our next food stop (and did all the queueing for us) and also pointed out the newer parts of Borough Market such as Borough Yards which we might have missed.

Award-winning fish and chips at Borough Market

Award-winning fish and chips at Borough Market – what could be more traditional?

kubba haleb and mushroom chap at Juma Kitchen

My first taste of Iraqi cuisine with a kubba haleb and mushroom chap at Juma Kitchen

After a solid three-and-a-half hours tasting and talking, we ended up having much-needed drink and rest at the nearby Hay’s Galleria, a venue I hadn’t been to for about 20 years.

beer at nearby Hay's Galleria

After all that walking, talking and tasting, it was time for a beer at nearby Hay’s Galleria next to the River Thames

It had been an excellent return to Borough Market and Sophia had been a friendly and engaging guide, although at a pricey £75 per person (it’s just got up to £85), I couldn’t help but feel that we could have gone it alone and instead put that money towards buying some delicious food to take home – as it was, we came home with cheese, pate, beer and honey so it wasn’t a cheap day! But spending the weekend seeing London old and new, meeting new people and trying some excellent beer and food – I really felt as if I’d had a thoroughly indulgent and fascinating weekend.

Tour info

We stayed at Fuller’s pub The Counting House, 50 Cornhill, London, EC3V 3PD. Rooms start at £328 including breakfast.
Book The Counting House
Read reviews of The Counting House on Tripadvisor

We bought tickets for our Bermondsey Beer Tasting Tour with UK Brewery Tours for £44 for 3.5 hours including beer at four taprooms/breweries – our guide was Paul Davies, the founder of Alehunters Brewery Tours.

We bought tickets for our food tour of Borough Market from London Bites Tours – adult prices now £85 for three hours, tours run 10.30am – 1.30pm daily except Monday.

If you like food tours of London then check out My East End food tour with Eating Europe

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