London's Brilliant Parade

When visitors to the UK ask us where to go in London for a pint, our default answer for a while has been “Manchester, York, Leeds, Sheffield…” but things are looking up and we think the time has come for us to put that advice to bed. London is no longer a beer desert.

More Breweries

Back in 2007, around the time this blog started, we were chatting over a pint (as per) and bemoaning the lack of breweries in London. Back then, Young’s having just evacuated the city, there were only two: Fuller’s and Meantime.

As of today, Des de Moor reckons there are 14, with another 11 opening in the next year or so.

More beer geek pubs and bars

When The Pembury Tavern reopened in Hackney in 2006, a short train or bus ride from Walthamstow, we were ecstatic. It had multiple guest ales and a range of bottled beer from Belgium and Germany — what a find!

Now, although we still have a soft spot for the old place, it’s been overtaken, as places like the Rake, Cask, The Craft Beer Company, the Euston Tap, Mason and Taylor and Tap East open at a rate we can’t keep up with on our rare visits from Cornwall to the big city.

Good beer in ordinary local pubs

In 2006, our local in Walthamstow, the Nags Head, had (as far as we can recall) two cask ales which were not always in good condition. Even so, it was the best pub around by far.

On our most recent visit, a couple of weeks ago, the number of pumps had reached six, all in perfect condition, and Chimay had popped up in the fridge. This is an average pub, not a beer geek destination. And, what’s more, within a ten minute walk, there are now several other pubs offering a decent selection of interesting beer — namely the Rose and Crown on Hoe Street and the William IV in Leyton.

Pubs with thoughtful landlords and decent beer are beginning to become almost commonplace. The best ones seem to be thriving, too, despite the economy.

Appreciation of London’s brewing heritage

In 2006, Meantime (with dodgy IPA and porter histories for reference) were ploughing a lonely furrow in honouring London’s brewing tradition with attempts at historical recipes. Yes, Pitfield were doing something similar, but reclusively.

Now, Fuller’s are brewing an excellent IPA; a fantastic porter; and rummaging in their archives for old recipes to bring back to life. The ubiquitous Truman’s brand has been revived (we’ll see how that works out). And, finally, from Bedfordshire comes the news that Courage Imperial Stout is also to reappear on our shelves. UPDATE: and Kernel, of course, whose range of historically inspired brews is wowing the blogoshire.

So, things are looking up for London.

UPDATE: and here’s the Relucant Scooper making more-or-less the same points, better and earlier, in a review of Des de Moor’s book.

12 thoughts on “London's Brilliant Parade”

  1. You had Bünker for all of 2007 (you never said the breweries had to be good), and possibly ZeroDegrees and BrewWharf too. By the end of the year there was McLaughlin’s, The Cock & Hen and The Florence.

    Still: fantastic so see London getting the beer scene it deserves. More power to it.

  2. As you say, the scene has changed dramatically over the last few years. Whilst the headline-grabbing craft beer emporiums are of course great , what’s been most welcome has been your third point, the fact that wandering around London you’ve got a much better chance of popping into any pub and finding an interesting and well-kept range of beers.

    For me, on a day to day basis and working in central London, the greatest boon has been the turnaround at Nicholsons – interesting beers in good condition (with only the occasional lapse , regularly changing line-ups drawing from the best Britain has to offer and interesting festivals (most recently two weeks of IPAs, featuring, for example, two from current favourite Moor). You can see why places like Craft have to escalte their offering to 16 pumps just to to set themselves apart…!

  3. Steve — thanks, think we’ll add a mention of Kernel to the post, along with a couple of other updates.

    Beer Nut — bah — you always somehow knew London better than we did.

    Tom — absolutely agree that the general improvement in the standard of ordinary pubs is the most important thing. The top end of the market — posh beer bars, fancy-pants £10 a bottle imported beer, etc. — drags the rest of the market upward but, actually, all those pumps and bottles can be a bit over-facing. Good call re: Nicholson’s, too — credit where credit is due.

  4. London really is a success story at the moment and it’s good to see this celebrated. Beer Nut — are you sure Bünker was actually operating throughout 2007? I heard it was having beers contract brewed, which is why I didn’t include it in my “seven left when Young’s moved out” statistic in my book (these being Fuller’s, Meantime, the Stag, Zerodegrees, Twickenham, Brew Wharf and McLaughlins/Camden Town).

    I’d agree that at least as significant as the geek-pleasing pubs in the Craft mould is the improvement in the beer range in much more everyday venues, but — importantly — this goes much further than pubs. Even my local trendy young café-restaurant, the London Particular on New Cross Road, is now stocking Kernel and Cheddar Ales bottles. There have always been pubs that stocked a good choice of cask, even though there are more than there used to be, but craft beer in places like Café Oto in Dalston and Byron Burgers really is something new for London.

  5. Hi Des,

    No, my only view of Bünker was from the bar counter. It’s perfectly possible the kit wasn’t operating at the time.

    Is it too late to shake my fist at the duplicitous bastards?

  6. > London is no longer a beer desert.

    It may not have been the beer destination it deserved to be, but to someone who lives in what used to be a real beer desert (Oslo) it seems really strange to claim that London has ever been a beer desert.

    Anyway, I’m really happy to see the London beer scene revive the way it has.

  7. Y’know, I think I hate the term “beer desert”. It just seems to mean “I’m unreasonably fussy and I haven’t looked very hard.”

    For the record I drank lots of lovely beer in Oslo, and from what Knut Albert writes it seems much better now than it was back then.

  8. I use “beereft” to describe somewhere generally lacking in decent watering holes or equally a period with low/no beer consumption. You’re welcome to use that (cheques payable to….)

  9. Even to an ‘outsider’ like me, London has seriously boomed in the last few years – but more on the side of bars such as Craft etc. Great news, if you ask me.

  10. Leigh — it’s still got a way to go, though, and kind of mad that the capital city has taken this long to get *near* the range and quality of beer on offer in cities up north. I guess for years, wine bars ruled the roost.

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