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Diary catches up with the minds behind The Thinking Drinkers

14 December, 2018 — By The Xtra Diary

Charing Cross Road brewery in Georgian times


Regular Diary readers will know that this page has enjoyed the show called The Thinking Drinkers, starring Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham.

They talk all things tipple-related, and performed their mix of booze and chit chat at the Leicester Square Theatre this week to a sell-out and highly appreciative crowd. Nothing to do, of course, with the five free drinks every one was given as they took to their seats…

Diary caught up with the pair and raised an issue that has long kept us wondering – namely, is the boom in London beers creating a genuine, long-lasting, quality drinks industry or is it a hipster fad fuelled by stupid names cooked up by men with luxuriant beards, that will be gone in a few years?

No they say. “Not content with a fancy Ferris wheel, its very own wax museum and regular direct trains to Luton, the capital currently boasts arguably the most buoyant craft beer scene in the world,” Ben tells Diary.

“And back in its 18th-century heyday, London was an unrivalled brewing metropolis, its pubs and breweries the envy of the world and its skyline smudged by the bellowing smokestacks of more than 130 breweries.”

Now for the sad bit: “But by 2006 the city that had spawned porter, stout and India Pale Ale beer styles, boasted fewer breweries than Suffolk,” Ben adds. “London’s brewing legacy was left dangling by a thread and one could count the number of respected breweries in the capital on the fingers of one hand – as long as it was a hand with six, maybe seven fingers.”


Today: a brewery with a tap room to go with it


But now, the Big Smoke has rediscovered its micro-brewing mojo.

“From Bermondsey to Bow and Tottenham to Twickenham, there are now more than 100 ‘craft breweries’ in the capital, ranging from modest one-man operations and small batch brewpubs to seriously sophisticated set-ups kitted out with cutting-edge brewing gadgetry.”

And it seems this ocean of booze is built on solid foundations.

“It’s not a fad because flavour can’t be a fad,” he says. “In terms of character and aromas and flavour, there’s never been greater choice and there are some wonderful beers being brewed in London right now. But there are a lot of new beers that aren’t that good. Small doesn’t necessarily been beautiful. Consistency is often an issue. It’s easy to brew a good beer once but to consistently brew it brilliantly, time after time, is a lot trickier.”

So what do they make of the confusing, hipster names that grace pumps across the West End? “In an attempt to stand out, a lot of breweries are going weirder and wackier with their names and their styles,” he says. “While it’s impressive to brew an industrial stout made with coffee beans that have passed through the digestive tract of a weasel, most people won’t want more than a pint. We prefer a balanced beer that we can enjoy all evening yet won’t render us full of regret the morning after.”

Wise words indeed for the festive period.

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