Welcome to our ongoing mission to explore what London has to offer the discerning lover of excellent beer – from pubs and retailers that take pride in the quality of their hoppy offerings, to local breweries and beer events. In this instalment, Dave Haste and Jason B Standing visit a traditional Soho pub with a difference.
The Old Coffee House has an identity crisis. On one hand, it is a solid, standard Soho boozer – a bustling, straightforward atmosphere, comfortable but well-worn furniture, inconsequential old pictures and mirrors on the walls, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, a television that sometimes shows football, no-nonsense but agreeable service, pavement drinkers. On the other hand, it serves something approaching the full range of Brodie's beers, and Brodie's is anything but a standard brewery.
Based in Leyton, Brodie's brewery exhibits more than a passing preoccupation with powerful hop flavours. At any one time their portfolio tends to consist of the best part of a dozen beers, more than half of which are various permutations of pale ales, covering a fair range of hop permutations. This hoppy focus was borne out on our visit to the Old Coffee House, with their nine hand pumps and five keg taps exhibiting a wide variety of pale (and India pale) ales, as well as a few other interesting Brodie's brews.
With so much variety on offer, where do you start? Well that almost certainly depends on the purpose of your visit. For those looking for a sustainable session, some of the more modestly alcoholic beers could be the way to go. London Fields Pale is light and refreshing, with a gentle biscuityness and an inevitable bitter finish. Kiwi steps up the hops several notches, but remains only modestly alcoholic. We were also pleasantly surprised by the London Lager (Brodie's, not Meantime), with citrus and malt flavours that are decidedly atypical of many draught lagers.
For those looking for more of a challenge, Brodie's stronger beers do not disappoint. They offer a fair range of powerful IPAs such as Hoxton Special, Hackney Red, Dalston Black, and on our visit, a marvellous collaboration with Kernel: Scanner IPA. ABVs with this lot are generally north of 6%, the bouquets often rather 'sweaty', and the tastes aggressively full-on, so these beers are probably not for the timid of liver or palate. They're great fun though.
Aside from the hoppy stuff, Brodie's often produce a small handful of other beer styles. Double Mild (a collaboration with Danish brewers Fanø) delivered rich chocolate and coffee flavours, while their Ginger Beer tasted uncannily like a shandy made from the eponymous soft drink. And then there's the joker in the pack: the London Sour. Anaemically yellow, with a powerful odour of rancid chicken stock, this bizarre concoction tasted face-puckeringly, toungue-sweatingly sour, as its name would suggest. Wonderfully, magnificently, hilariously awful. It's worth buying a half just for the entertainment value.
Despite the wide range of excellent Brodie's beers on offer, the Old Coffee House also stocks a standard range of cooking lagers and suchlike (Fosters, Amstel, Heineken, John Smiths, Guinness, etc.) as well as a normal selection of spirits, so your friends who are not interested in taste gymnastics can also enjoy themselves while you wrestle with the more interesting stuff. Smart.
The Old Coffee House, 49 Beak Street, London W1F 9SB.
Check out more great pubs with the Londonist Book Of London Pub Crawls, for less than the price of a pint.