Beer styles london

Finding stout and porter in London

“What are the best places to find stout in central London?” asks Stuart via Patreon. It’s a good question.

London is strongly associated, historically, with porter and stout but these days it’s hard to find, apart from Guinness which is, of course, almost everywhere.

Anthony Gladman recently wrote about the resurgence in London porter for Good Beer Hunting. That’s worth a read if you want to understand the broader context. It’s interesting how few examples he was actually able to point too, though.

Some that were around a decade or so ago have all but disappeared, too, such as Meantime and Fuller’s. The latter is a bottle-only product these days – and even so, rarely seen in pubs.

On our recent tour of classic London pubs we didn’t notice much dark beer on offer at all.

The Sutton Arms had a dark lager; The Carpenter’s Arms was all bitter and golden ale; and The Pride of Spitalfields had nothing darker than Fuller’s ESB.

We know that The Pembury Tavern, one of our favourite pubs in London, always seems to have Railway Porter, one of our favourite dark beers, on cask. But it’s hardly central.

Bristol brewery Moor has a very good straight-up cask stout called, uh, Stout, which seems to be regularly available at their London taproom. Bermondsey is a bit easier to get to but still not central, though.

The Royal Oak at Borough, still maybe the best pub in London, full stop, had Harvey’s wonderful porter on cask when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If not that, there are always bottles of Harvey’s wonderfully funky Imperial Stout behind the bar. We think this counts as central, even if it’s not West End.

Samuel Smith pubs, of which there are many in London, have an own-brand Guinness clone that’s we’ve always enjoyed. They may also have bottles of Oatmeal Stout, Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout in the fridge – but at a premium.

Anspach & Hobday also have London Black which they call an “independent nitro porter” with a handy map showing all the pubs that serve it. There are quite a few in central London.

In general, visiting pubs with wider-than-usual beer ranges will probably pay off, especially in autumn and winter. Cask in Pimlico, for example, or The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green. If there’s going to be a guest stout or seasonal porter, this is when and where you’ll find it.

If you know of a London pub that always has porter or stout on offer, let us know in the comments below. ⬇⬇⬇

Does Britain do regional styles?

Stuart also asked a related question: “Can you visit a city and find places that specialise in a particular style of beer? What does this say about the UK if we don’t have the same definable geographic association as German cities?”

What immediately sprang to mind for us was Midlands mild country, highlighted memorably by Robbie Pickering many years ago.

We recently revisited The Great Western at Wolverhampton where there was not only cask mild but also a choice of the hyper-local light golden ale style, from both Batham’s and Holden’s.

And down in the West Country there’s maybe an argument to say heavy, brown, sweetish ales are a thing – Blue Anchor Spingo, St Austell HSD, and a few others.

“London murky” (another Robbie Pickering contribution) almost became something but that now seems universal. It’s certainly the dominant style in Bristol.

But, yes, Stuart’s right: beyond that, it’s hard to say “Oh, you must go to city X which specialises in beer style Y.” Perhaps Britain is just too small to carry it off.

Or maybe we’re wrong. Are there living beer styles you associate strongly with a particular UK town, city or region?

18 replies on “Finding stout and porter in London”

Pretty sure that there’ll always be a dark beer on in The Harp, Covent Garden… Marble’s Stout is on cask in there currently (with Thornbridge’s Market Porter in the ‘up next list)

Yes the Harp is pretty reliable for a cask stout or porter. I also had the excellent Marble Stout in there yesterday.

The Porterhouse is a great shout.

Nearby The Harp has a porter or stout on about 50% of the times I pop in.

The Waterloo Tap often has Railway Porter or other dark beers on. Suspect some of the other pubs in this group also have them on from time to time.

Cask’s sister pubs in the Craft Beer Co are worth trying too.

I’d expect the Northumberland Arms in Kentish Town and Sutton Arms in Clerkenwell to be worth a try given their diverse beer ranges.

If you’re venturing down to Moor’s taproom in Bermondsey then worth popping into Anspach & Hobday’s Arch House where you could also find their porter on tap (a recent update from A&H explained that they’re at full capacity with Nitro Black until new brew kit is installed and they are prioritising this over some of their existing small batch beers, but they expect this to change soon – so expect to see more of their porter back on tap).

Not central Central London, but don’t recall ever being in the Southampton Arms, Kentish Town, and it not having one (or more) example(s) of Stout/Porter/a Dark Ale of some description on.

As for regionalisms, West Yorkshire has (had?) a regional light mild typified by Webster’s Green Label and Tetley’s Falstaff, of which Timothy Taylor’s Golden Best is a remnant.

Teesside had a culture of malt-led beer of higher than average strength, such as Worthington’s Ale (a beer brewed only for the area, and not the same as the national bitter), Tetley’s Imperial, John Smith’s Magnet and Cameron’s Strongarm.

A dark bitter like Strongarm, served with the Hartlepool Head and consequently* with all the gas beaten out of it, tastes nothing like any other beer, unless you can think of another beer with the texture of gravy.

Many years ago, before I even started beer-blogging, I wrote:

In south London, where I learned to drink, the bitter is generally tawny and malty. In south Wales and East Anglia, the next two areas where I tried the beer, the bitter is usually both malty and tawny. The types of bitter native to Scotland, Cornwall and Yorkshire, in my experience, have similar characteristics. There are variations – Cambridge beer is flat and tannic; a lot of Scottish beer tastes as if a bag of toffees has been dissolved in it (which in a sense it has); and South Walian beer is the best in the world bar none. But they’re variations within a shared style: in most parts of the country, if you order the local bitter you can safely expect something T and M.

(I hadn’t been to the Black Country at this stage.)

The big exception, it seemed to then, was south Lancs and west Yorks – Sheffield and Manchester, basically – where they like(d) their beer

pale and hoppy, with variations ranging from light-but-sour through cyanide-with-a-hint-of-malt to just-plain-undrinkably-bitter

Times have changed; pale’n’oppy has gone national (and fortunately I’ve learned to appreciate it). But as late as 2006 I think you could argue that dry, pale bitters were a northwestern regional speciality.

*Don’t know if this would actually work like that, but that’s certainly how it seems.

I think Boddingtons Bitter was the first pale bitter I remember tasting in the early 1980s when I moved to Manchester from Bristol. I even bought a house because it was walking distance from a Boddies pub! It was good then and I can’t remember when it started to deteriorate, but better beers began to appear over the next couple of decades. Now back in Bristol it is good to see such a variety of beer styles available, including plenty of dark options if you know where to go.

Sam Smith’s stout is not really a clone of Guinness – I think it’s significantly better than Guinness. I have heard a possibly apocryphal tale of its origins, though. Apparently Guinness intimated a price increase to Sam’s, at which Humph protested. Guinness refused to discuss the price and at some point in the conversation commented “You need us more than we need you.” This was the end of the matter, as Humph slammed the phone down and instructed his head brewer to start brewing a stout. Amusing story, whether true or not.

The origin story of Fuller’s Black Cab stout is pretty similar to that. Fuller’s only stopped making it when Guinness came back a few years later with an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Wonderful post! Having lived in London for years and dark beers always being my go to, I usually struggled and always inevitably landed with Guinness.

I have started blogging about the bartending and drinks world in the UK, beer included. Please check out my blog and let me know what you think – I recently wrote an extended piece shitting all over Brewdog, which might appeal.


Young’s London Stout (keg) in The Lamb, Lamb’s Conduit Street is good. Quite like the Sam Smith’s one, which I now usually choose over OBB in winter.

I was once in a Sam Smith’s in central London when someone came to the bar, peered at all the unfamiliar beer names and then asked “Do you have something that’s like a Guinness?” The words ‘Extra Stout’ meant nothing to them. Power of the brand!

In a way, I wonder if the popularity of cider in Britain is a better example of “strongly regional beer [sic] styles”.

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