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Fancy a pint? Then look no further than your nearest brewpub, where the capital’s growing band of brewers are putting London beer back on the map. Here are six of the best.
Once the brewing capital of the world, London has begun the fight to regain its former status. In 1790, the city boasted 190 commercial breweries, but by the 1990s it had barely a handful. How things change. The opening of Meantime brewery in Greenwich in 2000 marked the start of London’s return to craft beer production. Admittedly, things were slow to get off the ground, but the past few years have seen a series of brewery openings: Brodie’s (2008), The Kernel (2009), Truman’s, Redemption and Camden Town (2010) and London Fields (2011) to name but a few.
‘Being the only craft brewer in town for so long was quite a burden – educating customers about good beer costs money,’ remembers Meantime founder and brewmaster Alastair Hook. ‘But in London we have recently had a paradigm shift. Hold on to your hats!’
The creation of the London Brewers’ Alliance (LBA) in 2010 cemented the change, and today the LBA estimates that there are 44 London breweries, with 10 also operating as brewpubs, which brew and sell beer on site.
The growth of the good food movement is one of the reasons for craft beer’s increasing popularity. ‘If someone’s focus is on artisan production, going to good bakeries and coffee roasters, and then they go and drink crap lagers… they’re not going to want to do that for too long,’ says Ed Taylor, head brewer of Howling Hops beers at The Cock Tavern.
‘The current interest in craft beer here has been too long coming,’ says LBA secretary Steve Williams. ‘Beer is having its time. It is no longer the land of the belly, flat cap, cardigan and sandal, it is hip and trendy: young or old, boy or girl, rich or poor, gay or straight, able or disabled, beer is inclusive; you can easily find one you love.’
So what are the benefits of visiting your local brewpub? ‘I haven’t been to one that doesn’t have a “try before you buy” policy,’ says Melissa Cole, author of Let Me Tell You About Beer. ‘And it’s also about the vibe – brewpubs are very egalitarian.’
Manifesto: ‘To be a great British pub serving a variety of cask-conditioned ales, accompanied by home-cooked seasonal food.’ Kirill Kharchuk, pub manager
With the brewery just inside the entrance and hops hanging from the rafters, The Botanist sets its stall out clearly. Pull up a stool at the bar and allow the staff to share their enthusiasm with you. Beer and food-matching evenings and brewery-day experiences are also available.
The beers: There are 10 in-house beers on the board, but not all are on at any one time. My pick is the 391: a malty, nutty brown ale with hints of milk chocolate, raspberries, oranges and coffee.
Manifesto: ‘To brew great-tasting beers that are easily accessible to everyday Londoners and to educate both staff and customers.’ Dan Fox, owner
When Dan Fox took on The Bull 18 months ago, it was derelict. Today, this large and welcoming pub is a popular hangout for the local community. The brewery kit is in the kitchen, and Fox is happy to give anyone who is interested a tour.
The beers: With six beers available on tap at any time, three of them regulars, The Bull treads the line between producing traditional ales and embarking on gentle experimentation with more expressive hops from America and New Zealand. The High Rise Pale Ale has delicious lemon and lime flavours, with a honey top note and bitter, hoppy finish.
Manifesto: ‘We use the freshest ingredients, and like to experiment.’ Ed Taylor, head brewer
This traditional-looking pub reopened in autumn 2012 following a refurb during which the brewing equipment was installed in the basement. With dark wood panelling and wooden benches, it is a spartan temple to ale, with 20 taps offering their own Howling Hops brews and a host from other breweries, including Brodie’s from nearby Leyton. Food includes pork pie and roast-pork baps.
The beers: Made by Edward Taylor, formerly at Redemption, there is a core range of 12 Howling Hops brews, with four available on the pumps at any one time. There’s an emphasis on expressive, fruity hops and experimentation here. Try the Chocolate Stout, a velvety dark brew reminiscent of 70% cocoa dark chocolate, instant coffee, dry barley and orange.
Where: Hackney Wick
Manifesto: ‘Making beers for the local community and providing a nice environment to enjoy them in. We see our brewery as akin to an arts studio.’ Adrian Redfern, bar manager
This canal-side bar may only have opened last summer for the Olympics (the stadium is a stone’s throw away), but such is the popularity of Crate’s beers that it’s already expanding the brewing facilities to keep up with demand. Situated in a warehouse building, the brewery sits behind a glass wall. Visitors can order a thin-crust pizza with toppings such as sweet potato, Stilton and walnut.
The beers: Four regulars are brewed on site (IPA, Best Bitter, Golden Ale and Stout), with a house lager made off site. Try the dark golden Best Bitter, which boasts caramel, raspberries and red cherry flavours before ending with a pleasingly dry, malty finish.
Where: De Beauvoir Town
Manifesto: ‘This bar is a community. We try to keep the Beavertown drinkers on their toes with unusual brews.’ Logan Plant, head brewer
Inspired by US barbecue joints and brewpubs, Duke’s Brew & Que has become a firm favourite with locals and foodies. The pub is always packed and has a convivial atmosphere with staff advising on beers and serving glistening ribs and burgers from the kitchen.
The beers: Logan Plant creates characterful, hoppy beers to pair with the food, brewed under the name Beavertown (local slang for De Beauvoir Town). Star of the show is 8 Ball – a rye IPA with tropical fruit, oranges and oatcakes that’s perfect with pork ribs.
Manifesto: ‘To change the way people think about beer.’ Alastair Hook, Meantime founder and brewmaster
Greenwich-based Meantime opened its brewpub in 2009. The brewery is in the restaurant area, and diners can occasionally watch brewer John Hidde Dreibergen at work. Sadly, this room is rather soulless, and the cosy bar next door is preferable for getting tucked into a pint or two. There’s also outdoor seating in manicured grounds.
The beers: There are nine Meantime brews on tap (in keg), but only the two seasonal, changing beers are brewed on site – the rest are made nearby at Meantime’s main brewery. Try the Wheat Beer – packed with flavours of banana bread, custard and nectarines.
This feature was published in the summer 2013 issue of Square Meal Lifestyle.