‘Wow, the landlord’s enthusiastic’, says Lee as we watch the guv’nor of the Birkbeck Tavern stop on his way back from collecting empties to dance with the regulars. Tonight, Donna Hayes is belting out singalong pop to a small but appreciative crowd. A poster behind her announces a forthcoming appearance by Two Fat Men In A Bathtub.
It’s the end of a long day, and the Birk is our last stop. The pub seems to have changed hands again. Whoever the new lot are, they’re keeping their beer well, capitalising on the good work of the previous custodians who’d turned the much-loved but mediocre pub around. I can only manage one more pint – something called ‘Kings’. It might have been from the Horsham Brewery of that name. It’s dry and hoppy. But we’re at the top of seven or eight (nine?) pint ladder. I’ll probably describe Fosters as dry and hoppy.
We’d kicked off at lunchtime in the Holborn Whippet. Koenig Pilsner for me. Breadcrusty and mellow. Redemption Porter for Lee. Coffee caramel. Then a Moor Nor’hop; quenching grapefruit and mango. Totally tropical. This is my second visit to the Whippet, and Lee’s first. All good this time, the barman committing neither of the foul sins that irked me last time, when I was patronised over my choice by a man who then wiped froth from the side of my glass with his podgy fingers. The interior is almost anti-pub but it’s welcoming and unthreatening. It could be a showroom for Scandinavian HiFi. Beer is dispensed from taps on a central island, with the brew names chalked on slates. I want to take the door with the Public Bar window home with me. They do food here – mainly burgers. I’m absolutely certain that their hygiene standards are beyond question, but having seen where their open plan kitchen is – right outside the toilets – i’ll be sticking to beer.
Next: Craft, a ten minute walk away at Leather Lane. This is my old stamping ground, and I’ve visited before and loved it. But today we’re tourists. It’s busy, every seat taken and not much standing room. Young fashioneers with astonishingly neat hair sharing a table with a dandruffed ticker. Magic Rock Curious is a fine whisk of smooth hoppiness. All day drinking stuff. Dark Star Espresso Stout. Black as the earl of Hell’s waistcoat and tastes as robust as it looks. No fancy tasting notes for this – it’s all in the name. Two is enough. Fyne Maverick is all dark bonfire toffee and its brother Vital Spark looks malty but tastes hoppy. There’s flyers up for a 200 quid beer geek quiz. Craft feels properly bedded in now; it could have been open for decades rather than a couple of years.
The wives have told us not to forget to eat. If we don’t eat, we get daft. The shopping trolley incident. Penderel’s Oak for ballast. It’s a Wetherspoon, but a good ‘un. No tracksuit bottoms with shoes here. It’s well-run, clean. The beer is always good. ‘Gourmet’ chicken burger, pimped up for a couple of quid. Washed down with a plastic cider. I like plastic cider – although I won’t be having Stella’s effort again, which tastes like an own-brand Irn Bru.
An early evening walk and The Euston tap is packed. It’s always packed. But it’s always easy to get served. Summer Wine Teleporter is a smoky, 5% thump. Chewy. We’re channelling rauchbeer. Lee’s pint has tiny lumps of – what? sediment? – in it.
Where now then? The days of lock-ins are left to our younger selves. We’ll get off at Leyton. Quick one at the Birkbeck. Tomorrow is another day.