in the two years since Off Duty Bill and i first arrived in london, i have watched with vested interest as the craft beer scene has grown steadily. don’t get me wrong, it has always been easy to find great cask ales in london, many of them craft. and those, too, have grown in vast number over the past couple of years, as small local brewers have popped up and thrived all over the UK.
when i first moved to london, i could count on both hands the number of breweries in the city – one of which was the decidedly uncrafty purveyor of the eponymous london pride – and craft beer bars? hmm. there were perhaps three, one of which opened just a couple of months before we arrived. now, there are at least a dozen, if not more, local london-based breweries, and dozens of pubs in which to sample the delights of craft beer, both international and british.
if you’re looking for craft beer in london, here are a few of my favourite pubs for serious sampling:
craft beer co. has the largest selection of craft beers on tap i’ve seen anywhere in britain (though i am willing to be challenged on that, let me know if you’ve been somewhere!). in addition to their landmark location on leather lane in clerkenwell, they now have locations in islington, brixton and down in brighton.
the rake – the granddaddy of london’s craft beer scene, the rake is a tiny (and i do mean tiny) place just behind borough market serving up a hearty sampling of international beers, many of them strong and expensive. they also have british casks and plenty of bottles, and on a nice evening, the small outside patio is to die for.
i cannot sing the praises of this place enough. brand new in 2013, the whippet has a rotating (sometimes within a single night, new beers come on) selection of craftily chosen beers from around the world, many of them british. they could also potentially be called the most well located craft beer pub in central london.
i hate to lump these two outstanding pubs together, but both are brand pubs of the meantime brewing company (one of london’s oldest breweries) and if you happen to be in greenwich (or make it your destination), you really must hit up both. the old brewery is truly special because of its location inside the greenwich maritime university and near the thames and it has a truly spectacular garden. the greenwich union is a cosy local-style pub tucked away up in the hills of greenwich, and it, too, has a lovely (smaller) garden out the back. meantime beers remain some of my favourites in london – they are always trying new styles but retain their old favourites, all of which are outstandingly drinkable.
you have to love the ingenuity of craft beer bar owners. these guys took the two original stone lodges out the front of euston railway station and converted them into a craft beer bar and a craft cider bar. you have to be prepared to stand, because the spaces are miniscule, but on nice days you can spill out to picnic tables set up on the pavement. yes, it’s noisy and there is a lot of traffic noise along euston road, but the selection and strange ambiance is hard to beat.
i have been drinking camden town beers around, well, camden for the past year or so, but until recently didn’t know that they had a micro-bar at their brewery in kentish town. i love this place. it is fresh and new and completely devoid of scene-seeking scum and there are often food stalls set up out front. if you can score a pint of their unfiltered camden hells lager, you will not be disappointed.
perhaps one of the most lovable and atmospheric pubs in all of london, the jerusalem tavern is a rickety old wooden place in clerkenwell that serves up only beers from st peters brewery in suffolk. and they are good. despite the fact that this place is overrun with design-types and tech-types from the nearby offices, it is still ranked as one of my favourite places to drink in london. they also do a gluten-free beer that i’m told on good authority is quite passable.
pelt trader – another brand new to the scene pub in 2013, pelt trader operates out of a cavernous space underneath cannon street station and serves nothing but craft beer. great place and generally devoid of city suit scum who only want dirty, mass-producer lagers with green labels.
despite the upsurge in craft beer bars, very few of them are actually microbreweries that brew beer onsite. zero degrees does that. to be honest, i never find their beers particularly inspiring, but the atmosphere reeks of american microbrewery and they serve pizza – a surprisingly difficult combination to come by in the UK. with four locations around the place – including blackheath in london – it’s a great place to stop in for your ‘beer and pizza’ fix.
a serious hat tip is due to tom hall for pointing me in the direction of this place, which is recently opened in clerkenwell. they have a serious collection of craft beers, but the standout is the menu of grilled cheese sharing boards. i am serious. this is is a winning combination of things all around.
CASK – i have to admit, i have only been to CASK once and didn’t have an enjoyable experience, which is why it sits at the bottom of this list. however, i see potential here, so i wanted to include it in case maybe my experience was not representative. a sister pub of the craft beer co., CASK has a wide selection of tough-to-find craft beers, all presented on a chalkboard above the taps. it’s very small and gets very busy, so it can be tough to get served. they also (at least when i was there) had a very confusing pricing system based on ABV and size of portion (please, don’t make me do maths on the best of days, not a mind when i am drinking beer!), which led to me walking away having paid nearly a tenner for a single pint of some kind of extra-strong stout. still, they have a good selection and i think enough time has passed that it would be worth me giving it a go again.
got any other suggestions? did i miss your favourite pub? i am always looking for new pubs to try, so please leave me a comment below!