May 11, 2015
You’ve likely heard some negative stereotypes about British beer in the past. British beer is lukewarm. British beer is flat. British beer just isn’t very exciting. But pay a visit to London today and you’ll quickly discover just how out of date those assumptions really are.
All across the capital, the London craft beer scene is booming. As the figures currently stand, there are roughly 80 breweries within the M25, up from just a handful five years ago – and they’ve helped usher in a sea change in the way that beer is made, served, and enjoyed in the city and beyond.
Eager to do some tasting of your own – but not sure what to look for? First, a quick lesson in semantics. “˜Craft beer’ has a murky definition at best, but broadly refers to brews made by independently run breweries that care more about the quality of their products than about cutting a profit. Craft brewers aren’t afraid of breaking from tradition and borrowing styles from around the world – from salty and sour German Goses to tart Belgian Lambics to juicy American IPAs. They’ll source hop varieties grown as far afield as New Zealand and Oregon, and dose up their brews with all kinds of culinary-minded ingredients – from coriander to peaches, from coffee to caramel. In this way, craft beer is not synoymous with the traditional cask ales that Britain has long been known for, though most craft brewers pay tribute to these older styles.
For the freshest beer of all, it’s best to go straight to the source – which, given the number of breweries that are currently active in London, shouldn’t pose a great challenge.
No London craft beer crawl worth its malt would bypass the Bermondsey Beer Mile, which, as its name suggests, covers a roughly mile-long stretch of Bermondsey in South London (though the continual opening of new breweries means it grows longer seemingly by the month). Largely housed in railway arches or other industrial spaces, the breweries here open their doors to the public on Saturday afternoons exclusively. Arrive around lunchtime, then, and begin at The Kernel, which was the first brewery to arrive in the area back in 2009. (A pro-tip: complement your tippling with some snacks – try Italian charcuterie from The Ham and Cheese Co, bread from the Little Bread Pedlar, and cheese from Neal’s Yard Dairy. No food is served in-house, so you’re welcome to bring your own.). Once you’ve nibbled and sipped, keep the crawl moving with stops at Brew by Numbers, Anspach and Hobday, Fourpure, and Partizan – all worthy destinations along the trail.
Another must-visit local brewery is Beavertown, which has been on the London craft beer scene since 2011. While justifiably renowned for their flagship Gamma Ray, a gloriously juicy and fruit-forward American Pale Ale, everything else in their range is equally exceptional. Come ready to sample on Saturday afternoons, when the brewery’s taproom opens up alongside its rows of gleaming fermentation tanks, and crowds settle on the stacks of pallets outside to sip, snack on street food, and listen to the DJs who come and spin. For those who find their Tottenham Hale location too much of a quest, note that the brewery also runs Duke’s Brew & Que in Hackney, where its full range is served alongside tasty American barbecue staples.
Beyond the breweries, London’s vibrant pub scene is fertile turf for those looking to sample some craft beer. These days, more pubs than ever are stocking flavourful, local, independent brews instead of the mass-produced stuff.
For those looking to try London’s finest, The Craft Beer Co. is a sure bet. With locations in Covent Garden, Brixton, Islington, Clerkenwell, and Clapham, it caters to beer lovers across the city – and keeps its fridges full and its taps bursting with British craft pours.
The Earl of Essex in Islington (alongside sister pub The Kings Arms in Bethnal Green) is another suitably splendid spot for beer drinkers – it even brews its own beers in the back of the pub. Both pubs feature broad tap lists with craft brews sourced both locally and internationally, alongside some serious fridge stock.
Looking for a bubbly souvenir (or several)? If you’re travelling, make sure to wrap your purchases up tight before stowing in your suitcase – otherwise, your wallet’s the limit at these London craft beer bottle shops. Among the best is the stellar Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green, which features a whole wall of fridges filled with bottles hailing from the UK, Belgium, Germany, the US, and beyond – after browsing, pull up a chair at one of their communal tables and sample from their 20+ taps. For those staying central, BottleDog, run by Scottish brewery BrewDog, has an impressive selection, does growler fills, and also shifts homebrew supplies.
Really, though, beyond what’s in the glass, London’s craft beer culture wouldn’t be the same without its legions of devoted beer fans, who trek across town for meet-the-brewer events, for tap takeovers and tastings, and for beer and food pairings. There’s no better way to get a feel for the scene than at one of the city’s popular annual beer festivals. London Beer City will return to the capital this August for its second year running, bringing many dozens of events to the capital, while the London Craft Beer Festival will be held at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green once again this summer. One of the biggest annual festivals is Craft Beer Rising, which appears at the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane every winter.
Header Image: The London craft beer scene is bubbling over with excitement © London Craft Beer Festival
Thirsty? Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to London, so you can get in on the capital’s craft beer scene.
What are your thoughts on the growing London craft beer scene? Which breweries, pubs, or shops are your favourites? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.
Written by Claire Bullen