"South London. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious."
I'm assuming that something like the above was the reasoning behind BrewDog taking so long to open a bar south of the river. After all, Camden, Shoreditch and Shepherd's Bush have been representing the other three points of the compass for a year or more now. Sure, there were those plans to set up a bar in Brixton last year - they even produced a beer to mark the location, and are still selling it long after the property deal fell through.
But finally, they've got their act together. In fact, for one weekend in September, there were actually two BrewDog bars in South London. Except one of them doesn't exist any more.
It was a relatively small bar, almost hiding under the stairs up to the main galleries, but it seemed popular enough on our Saturday afternoon research visit. It wasn't doing anything fancy - mostly just selling beers from what we now have to call their Headliners range, since the brewery's somewhat controversial rebranding exercise. They've completely redesigned the labels, and renamed a couple of their most popular beers to make it clearer to the passing punter what they are: so 5AM Saint is now 5AM Red Ale, and Dead Pony Club is now Dead Pony Pale Ale. The Belated Birthday Girl was amused to see that the Dead Pony Pale Ale she bought at the Tate bar was listed as DPC on the receipt, indicating the rebranding still has a way to go.
As for me, I took the opportunity to drink my first pint of This. Is. Lager., the long-overdue replacement for shitty old Fake Lager. Aside from the macho nonsense of that name, it looks like they've finally made a lager that works - a pilsner with a decent malty aftertaste to it, like the ones you get to guzzle on European holidays. The proof of the pudding will be in how many nearly-full pints of it we see abandoned in BrewDog bars by disappointed lager drinkers - and unlike Fake Lager, that doesn't seem to be happening so far. We'll need to wait and see.
Certainly there were no abandoned pints on the tables at BrewDog Clapham Junction, which we visited the next day in the company of site favourite Old Lag. (After all, he did invite us from the comments box back in August.) By now, we know what to expect from the post-Shepherd's Bush openings, and Clapham Junction (even though it's Battersea really) has the same low-key branding that we've encountered in bars like Sheffield. The design's toned down, the attitude is less spiky, the orange-on-grey street signage so subtle you could very easily miss it. (Compare it with the cheesy-but-fun neon BrewDog shields used to attract passing trade to the Tate bar.) In one amusing design touch, the bogs are labelled with huge XY and XX signs, which have had to be augmented with smaller M and F labels for drinkers who don't know their chromosomes. ("The bee, the bee, the bee.")
But they also have beer. 24 lines in total, and it looks like they're generally split evenly, with twelve for BrewDog's own beers and twelve for guests. Still, the presence of Old Lag resulted in an interesting pause for thought, because he's off the ale nowadays. And it struck me that as much as we gripe about the brewery's casually snotty attitude to vegetarians, it has to be said that teetotallers get it even worse. Sure, they do have the odd low alcohol beer like the wonderful Nanny State, but the soft drink options are rather poor - a couple of variants of Fritz Kola, a selection of mixers, and that's about it. (Apart from tea and coffee, which we tried for the first time a couple of weeks later as an accompaniment to the Camden bar's astonishing Cocoa Psycho sorbet.) I remember James Watt saying a year or two ago that BrewDog were looking at getting into the soft drink market. Whatever happened to that? There's a trick being missed here.
Anyhoo, the staff at Clapham Junction (even though it's Battersea really) are as knowledgeable and friendly as usual, and the Lagster seemed to enjoy the atmosphere even without drinking, which has to be a good thing. And the bar is still developing: on that first visit in early September food was limited to a couple of meat and cheese platters, but when we returned a couple of weeks later the menu had extended to include a few more options like toasties and Scotch eggs (veggie and otherwise). Still, the lack of food on our first visit allowed us to discover the delights of Pizza Metro Pizza just down the road. If you're in the area one evening and looking for an adventure, why not try eating there and telling the staff it's your birthday?