Not so long ago London was seen as one of the worst beer cities in the country, with only a handful of breweries remaining, despite once being the brewing capital of the world and the birthplace of traditional beer styles such as porters, IPAs, and stouts. But now new beers and bars are starting to appear in every corner of the city as part of this craft beer explosion; there are now over 30 breweries in London, around 5 times more than in 2006, and this number is increasing rapidly.
Micro-breweries such as Redemption, Kernel, Brodie’s and Camden Town are experimenting with beer styles and creating a new wave of craft brews, making it an exciting time to sample what’s on offer, and London has something for everyone on a beery quest. Here are some ideas on where to find fine beer in London, which brews to try, and which breweries are worth a visit.
Craft Beer Pubs
The resurgence in brewing in London, which was partly due to the discerning drinker’s desire to try more diverse, well-produced, flavoursome beers rather than the mass-produced beers that dominated the industry, has brought about the opening of a whole new breed of bars and pubs. These craft beer establishments showcase quality beers from innovative local and regional breweries and also feature unusual beers from around the world.
The Craft Beer Company — Nearest tube: Farringdon
The Craft Beer Company on Leather Lane, off Holborn, is a great place to start your craft beer crawl. This Victorian pub was taken over only a year ago, but with its ever-changing beers sourced from some of the best microbreweries in the country it has become very popular very quickly. There are 37 beers on tap including 16 cask and 21 keg taps, and beers range from the light and hoppy Camden Town Pale Ale and Dark Star Espresso Stout (around £3.95 a pint), to interesting German, Scandinavia and US hop monsters (at around £3.95 for a half pint).
There are also over 300 bottles on sale, including many rare small-batch US artisan beers—you won’t find big US names like Flying Dog or Anchor here. The pub has been nicely restored; in the downstairs traditional but sleek bar there is a lavish mirrored ceiling and chandeliers, and upstairs there is a small light and airy lounge. It’s very easy to settle yourself down here on one of the comfy chairs, but it’s not so easy to leave.
The Euston Tap — Nearest tube: Euston
The Euston Tap is housed in a 19th century station gatehouse opposite Euston Station, and this miniscule square bar has an impressive beer list with about 8 beers on draft and 20 on keg, the names of which are scrawled on a blackboard behind the bar, plus shiny fridges lining the walls stocked with around 150 bottled beers.
It’s not cheap if you go for a US keg beer—a half pint can set you back around £3–4—but a pint of UK beer from micro-breweries such as Redemption (just up the road in Tottenham) should cost less than £4. It’s sparse inside and there isn’t much seating downstairs apart from a few stools—it’s more of a standing pub, inside and out—but up the steep spiral staircase you will find comfy sofas and a few tables. The pub also has a cute terrace, which can be a nice little suntrap in the summer. Despite its small size, the Tap has a kitchen and offers New York style pizzas so you can have something to munch on to soak up some of the beer. It’s great spot to stop off when waiting for your train. Just be aware that you’ll probably end up missing it.
Cask Pub and Kitchen — Nearest tube: Pimlico
This is the sister pub to Craft and one of the first craft ale houses in London (this one opened in 2009); this pub is located in Pimlico in the south west, slightly off the tourist trail. It may not look very special on the outside, being housed at the bottom of a not-so-pretty block of flats (compared to the lovely Georgian houses close by anyway) but once inside that doesn’t really matter.
On draft they have a great selection of beer from the UK’s top microbreweries such as Thornbridge and new exciting breweries like Red Willow, as well as fine European and American keg beer, plus over 500 bottled beers—they profess to have the best and most unique collection of hand-crafted beers in the UK. They also offer a decent food menu. Meet the Brewer events take place most months where a large number of the brewer’s beers are featured. This award-winning pub is worth a trip out to south west London.
BrewDog Camden — Nearest tube: Camden Town
This pub feels more like a bar—bright, airy, cool, lots of metal and stripped wood—which is in contrast with its Victorian exterior. It’s the fourth offering from the BrewDog clan and being offered over the two floors—ground floor and basement—there are a bunch of BrewDog beers on keg (no cask) as well as international brews. Some of the more potent beers are sold in third pints—a third of BrewDog’s imperial stout Paradox Jura, 15.0%, comes in at a hefty £4.95—but a pint of 5% beer such as the zingy, amber, dry-hopped 5am Saint costs £4.25.
BrewDog bar is all about the attitude; it’s cool and they know it, and it therefore attracts a young trendy crowd who don’t mind spending a bit of cash on a quality beer. This pub/bar is a nice addition to the Camden Town pubs and it’s only a couple of minutes from the tube station, so you don’t have to stagger far after your Paradox Jura.
The Southampton Arms — Nearest tube: Gospel Oak
North of Camden at Gospel Oak you will find the Southampton Arms which just sells beers and ciders from small independent breweries in the UK. It’s a proper, traditional pub for drinkers—it doesn’t serve food, you can’t reserves tables, just turn up and get ready to drink from a choice of 18 hand pumps. Local brews that regularly feature here come from breweries such as Hackney Brewing, Camden Town, Sambrooks, Meantime, and Redemption (try the 3% Redemption Trinity, if it’s on, with full tropical hop flavours and a much stronger taste than its ABV suggests), and exciting national breweries include Marble, Oakham, Summer Wine, and Magic Rock. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
Some other great pubs for craft beer:
The Bree Louise — Nearest tube: Euston
The Parcelyard —Nearest tube: Kings Cross St Pancras
Duchess of Cambridge — Nearest tube: Stamford Brook
White Horse — Nearest tube: Parsons Green
The Rake —Nearest tube: London Bridge
Mason & Taylor — Nearest tube: Bethnal Green
>> Book a tour of London’s historic pubs
Brewpubs and Breweries
Several microbreweries in the city have their own outlets where their beer can either be purchased or consumed, whether it’s a tiny bar under railway arches, or a sleek, contemporary brewpub where brewing vessels are on display for all to see whilst indulging in a crafty pint. Here are a few suggestions for brewpubs and breweries that are worth searching out.
Tap East — Nearest tube: Stratford
Tap East, located opposite Stratford International station in Europe’s biggest shopping mall, Westfield Stratford City is a new-on-the-scene cool brewpub with around 150 beers available including 17 interesting draft beers and lots of bottles. It’s an American-feeling bar, being a new build with lots of wood panelling, sleek polished taps, quirky metal décor, high stools and tables, and leather chairs and sofas, so you don’t get the olde-worlde traditional pub vibe, but the innovative beer selection kind of goes with this contemporary atmosphere.
The shiny brewery can be seen from the bar behind glass. Try one of their cask beers such as Tap East Double Hard Stout or East End Mild. It’s also a great place to try a Kernel draft beer such as Kernel IPA or Black IPA VI with contrasting pine hop and deep roasted malt flavours. It’s probably a good idea to do your shopping in the mall before you head to Tap East, because you sure won’t feel like doing it after.
The Old Brewery — Nearest tube: Cutty Sark DLR
This is the brewpub and restaurant of the Meantime Brewery and it is housed in a historic setting on one of the buildings of the Old Royal Navel College. It’s an atmospheric place, with exposed brickwork and large shiny copper brewing vessels, known as tuns or vats, dominating the Main Hall, and in the summer you can sit outside in their large pretty courtyard to enjoy your food and beer. This craft brewery has been going since 2000, and here you can sample some of their beer brewed on site such as Meantime American Black Ale, with citrus hop flavours along with dark malts, as well as selecting a beer or two from their 50+ beer menu including many other Meantime ales and beers from around the world.
Kernel Brewery — Nearest tube: Bermondsey
The almost 3-year-old Kernel brewery in south east London has been a big name in the city’s craft beer scene due to their forward thinking-beer styles and experimentation with hops (they tend to brew a certain beer style several times but each with a different single hop variety usually originating from the new world, such as their IPA Stella or IPA Citra). Visitors are welcome to visit the brewery on Saturdays between 9 and 3 to meet the staff and purchase bottles of their beer or sample some on keg in the makeshift bar. If you can’t make it to the brewery but want to get your hands on some of their bottles, they can be found in many craft beer outlets throughout the city including the Euston Tap, Utobeer—a great little beer shop in Borough Market—and Utobeer’s pint-sized pub The Rake also in Borough Market (these are the guys behind Tap East).
Camden Town Brewery — Nearest tube: Kentish Town, Camden Town, Chalk Farm
The Camden Town Brewery recently opened a bar at its brewery underneath one of the arches of the Kentish Town Overground; you can catch it open on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays (check the times on their website). This brewery creates interesting and flavoursome keg beers and enjoys playing with hop and yeast varieties leading to an innovative beer range which has had an impact on London’s progressive beer movement. Their small brewery bar also has a courtyard outside with wooden benches and it overlooks a little park; every Friday several food stands are set up on the street outside the bar so drinkers can enjoy matching beer with a variety of foods.
All the brews are on available on-keg taps, such as the deliciously hoppy Camden Pale Ale, a US inspired beer, Camden Hells Lager, and their stout laced with hops and chocolate flavours, Camden Ink, as well as occasional guest beers. Bottles can also be taken away. Brewery tours are offered every Thursday evening where you can sample the beers on tap—be sure to book in advance.
The King William IV for Brodie’s Beers — Nearest tube: Leyton
The King William IV in Leyton is the brewery tap to Brodie’s Brewery which is right next to the pub.
This large traditional East End pub and hotel (conveniently, especially after a few beers) has a patio outside, and there are around 16 beers on tap at weekends. Brodie’s 39 beers are a mixture between traditional ales using English hops and malts, such as the Bethnal Green Bitter or London Fields Pale, and new world flavours such as Hackney Red brewed with bundles of US hops, and the ultra-hoppy tropical tasting Shoreditch Sunrise brewed with Australian Galaxy hops. It’s a welcoming, proper pub and worth heading out East to visit.
Some other great London breweries:
Redemption Brewing — Nearest tube: Tottenham Hale
Sambrook’s Brewery — Nearest tube: Clapham Junction
Fuller’s — Nearest tube: Turnham Green
The Red Church Brewery — Nearest tube: Bethnal Green
Beavertown Brewery — Nearest Tube: Haggerston
This list is really just the tip of the iceberg as there are so many great pubs and breweries in the capital to be able to mention them all, and new microbreweries, beers, and bars are appearing as I write. But the suggestions above show that the amount of pubs that now offer craft-brewed quality beers, as opposed to the bland mass-produced beer which dominated the capital not so long ago, is vast, and it demonstrates how the beer movement in London has enjoyed, and is still enjoying, a real resurgence. Happy drinking!
- Louise Hanzlik