The words ‘craft beer’ have become associated with a certain sort of young man (always, always a man.) This fellow lives in East London, has a plethora of tattoos, an aggressively unkempt beard and can bore unsuspecting passers-by into submission by describing, in detail, the particular hoppiness of an IPA, or why a gooseberry sour is the finest kind of gose beer. This stereotype is the CAMRA stalwart updated to the 21st century; thankfully, while there is a grain (or hop) of truth to it, the world of craft beer drinking is a far more egalitarian and interesting one than this suggests.
A large part of this is because pubs, threatened by the cheap prices of beer from supermarkets and off-licences, have had to reinvent themselves less as places where loud men pile in to get drunk and more as the casual equivalent of an interesting boutique restaurant. Even the Wetherspoon’s chain has their own selection of craft beer, some at astonishingly low prices. Yet for a more satisfying aesthetic experience, here are London’s most interesting and surprising places to drink craft beer. But remember: sip, don’t slurp.
One of London’s smallest pubs, the Rake, set snugly off Borough Market, prides itself on offering a wide cornucopia of beers, which could include anything from strong German wheat beers to triple-hopped American IPAs. It briefly became infamous for serving ‘Britain’s most expensive pint’ at £13.40 a go a couple of years ago – one day, this will be the norm, no doubt – but it is a particular go-to destination of many of the world’s top brewers, many of whom have signed the walls or other pieces of insignia and are therefore offering their own seal of approval. It can be extremely hard to get a table, especially after work, but those in the know have been known to pop in on a weekday afternoon to get their fix.
14 Winchester Walk London SE1 9AG
The White Horse
The so-called ‘Sloaney Pony’ has been one of South-West London’s most iconic pubs for decades, not least because it has a deserved reputation as being one of the first places that brought genuine craft beer to a city more interested in wine bars and old-man boozers. Its founders Mark and Sophie Dorber eventually headed off to Suffolk (to the excellent Anchor in Walberswick), and there has been understandable grumbling that its acquisition by ‘corporate gastropub’ group Castle Inns has turned this into something more run-of-the-mill than in its heyday. But it still serves interesting, distinctive beers (including, at the time of writing, Hitachino Nest White Ale and Wild Beer Co’s To Me, To Yuzu), good food and much of the atmosphere – including loo signs for ‘Dolls’ and ‘Pistols’ remains much as it has always done.
1-3 Parsons Green, Fulham, London SW6 4UL
Part of a nationwide group that includes various other station pubs (notably at Sheffield, Manchester and York) and the Pelt Trader at Cannon Street, the Euston Tap serves up a wide range of keg and cask beer, at slightly lower than average prices, and one can expect a range of excellent breweries to be on tap. The great German beer Weihenstephaner usually puts in an appearance, and there is invariably at least one beer from the London brewery The Kernel. Yet the appeal here, apart from the drink, is the unusual setting. Located within two separate lodge buildings at Euston station, each serves different beers – a total of 47 – and if you’re not milling about with the other commuters outside, you can make your precarious way up to the top floor bars, which have a pleasantly snug atmosphere – as long, that is, as they’re not overrun with other drinkers.
190 Euston Rd, London NW1 2EF
The Cock Tavern
Rightly or wrongly, Hackney is seen by many as the epicentre of the London craft beer movement, and it is undeniably true that the caricature described at the start of this article is all too present in many of the pubs in the area. Thank heavens, then, for the Cock. Located on ever so trendy Mare Street, it has a pleasingly old-fashioned, ‘bloke in a boozer’ atmosphere, a feeling engendered by its no-nonsense list of bar snacks, including pickled eggs, and a wide and comprehensive assortment of beers including Partizan New England Saison and a weird and wonderful range of cask and keg selections. It is very hard, though not impossible, to leave here sober.
315 Mare St, London E8 1EJ
The Three Johns
If you’re not the sort of beer obsessive who can have lengthy conversations about triple hopping and gravity dispensers, but just fancies drinking something unusual and interesting, then this well-patronised, substantial bar in Islington, a stone’s throw from Angel station, offers a less intimidating way of sampling a good selection on draft and in bottles. The keg beers range from the well-known (Stone IPA and Delirium Tremens) to the really splendidly obscure (the 10.9% ‘Birthday Chocolate’, a collaboration between the Basqueland and Stu Mostów breweries, and yours for £9.20 a pint), and the food, mainly stone-baked pizzas and the like, gets a nod of approval from those seeking to line their stomachs between tasting sessions.
73 White Lion St, The Angel, London N1 9PF
A welcome recent development in London has been the rise of the bottle shop, a series of emporia where one can either buy one’s beer to take away or, for a small supplement, to drink it on the premises. Real Ale, in the heart of Maida Vale, is a particularly fine example of the type, not least because their corkage charge applies equally to a £2.50 can or a £20 bottle of an especially fine Belgian beer or small batch saison, meaning that if one comes with a similarly inclined friend, there are inordinate bargains to be had. There is also a selection of eight regularly changing beers available on keg, but it’s in the fridges that the magic really lies; head here with an open mind and you won’t be disappointed.
4 Formosa St, Maida Vale, London W9 1EE