Thursday 1 August 2019

Beer: Gipsy Hill

So a pal of mine in south London says I ought to come and try this place near where he lives, where they make beer and sell it at the brewery tap. It's just your sort of thing, he says, which normally makes one's heart sink, but still.

Gipsy Hill, SE27 - it's that deep - is the place and the Gipsy Hill Brewing Company is the outfit that makes the beer. I've never heard of it, but then I never hear of anything; so I make it all the way across town to SE27 and the pal's place and we limp off in an elderly way and get to a little light industrial estate not far from Gipsy Hill station and what do you know? It is only the most excellent thing I've seen for ages; probably one of the top five encounters this year, in fact.

I mean, it doesn't look like much - it looks like what it is: a big parking space surrounded by tidy new sheds, all part of the brewing operation, with pallets stacked up here, metal kegs over there, a van or two, other bits of light industrial miscellany, pretty much what you'd expect, except for the fact that one shed has its doors wide open and a few tables and benches outside and this is the Taproom. We enter. Inside, the theme continues: it's mostly a big metal shed lined with pipework and barrels and bits of machinery which hiss and clank from time to time, plus some more tables and benches, a few galvanised light fittings, some dainty flowers in vases and a couple of fairy lights to soften the edges and - presiding over it all - a fabulous bar, made of yet more bare wood and metal, alarmingly provisional in some ways, utterly purposeful in others, with various beverages written on a board behind. And a guy waiting to serve us, because it's a warm day and we look like a couple of tragic, parched old men.

We get our drinks. First up is a pint of Hepcat IPA at 4.6%, one of Gipsy Hill's core beers. Given that this is a modern take on the IPA theme - complete with knowingly quirky name - I'm slightly fingers and thumbs, but you know, it wins me over. Citrussy, lightly hoppy, golden colour, smallish head, that kind of thing, not a trad brown pub ale but one with a tendency to interrogate you just a little bit before settling down. A couple of swigs in and I conclude that it is delicious. My pal makes himself comfortable, burps and starts going on about post-War cinema which is normally a good sign. The Taproom (which has only just opened for its evening session, I might point out) starts to fill up.

I move on to a pint of Beatnik Pale Ale at 3.8%. I can see a family resemblance with the Hepcat, anxiously noting Bit more hoppy? while reserving the my doubts as to what I actually mean by hoppy. But it too is a winner, cool, very slightly distant in its manner, but with plenty of narrative drive nonetheless. Everything is increasingly haloed in wellbeing. A woman sits at the next table with a bulldog which comes and sniffs our shoes, just to make sure we're on the level. A wood oven pizza van starts up outside. The place is getting busy, now: hipsters abound. My pal leans heavily against some fairy lights.

At which point I decide that it's not just the beer - which I now feel deeply attached to, treasuring it above all wines and many spirits - but the whole setup, the whole taproom experience. All pubs should be like this, I sigh into my glass. The Gipsy Hill people have turned metal sheds, tarmac, scaffolding and clamps, uncompromising brewery kit, into a place of deep funky geniality, something between a fashionable club and an exhaust replacement centre. Everything about it entertains - but there's nothing frivolous, apart from the fairy lights. And they make the beer right there, right under your nose, giving an extra sense of meaning and purpose to the encounter, an additional validation. And they've got another outlet just down the road, near Penge. I mean, what are the trains like from here to Anerley?


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