Drinking In London's Craft Beer Revolution

28 June 2016

England has a long and proud beer-quaffing heritage, with some of the best pubs in the world. But until quite recently, the drinking scene was fairly predictable.

You'd typically see old blokes in wooly jumpers propping up bars and sipping warmish pints of bitter, or groups of young lads (or ladettes) sinking pint after pint of fizzy lager.

You'll still encounter this, of course, but the beer scene has become much more diverse and sophisticated, not least in the capital, where new microbreweries, specialist beer bars and independent taprooms have mushroomed at an astonishing rate.

Craft beer bottles in a shop window More and more London ales grace shop windows (Image: Steve McKenna)

The result is a mouth-watering array of unique, characterful craft tipples. Whisper it – and those in Prague, Portland and Munich may disagree – but London is possibly the most exciting city in the world right now for beer lovers.

Here are a few of the places where you can embrace the beery revolution.

East London

The formerly downtrodden East End is now home to the city's most intriguing and creative districts – there are almost as many breweries and craft beer joints as art galleries and studios.

One of the most alluring spots is Crate, which occupies an old sweet factory in Hackney Wick, a hop's throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. A malty tang permeates the air around this canalside establishment, drowning out the scent of paint spray (nearby walls and buildings are plastered in graffiti).

A man ordering pints of craft beer at Crate Brewery Craft beer is an art at Crate Brewery (Image: Steve McKenna)

Offering a range of craft beers conjured on site – including pale ale and stout, available either in bottled, keg or cask form – as well as guest beers from home and abroad, Crate is a heady delight on balmy summer afternoons when drinkers congregate on the waterfront benches.

Cool, rainy days should be spent in an industrial-chic bar area dotted with railway sleepers, ladders and ratchet straps. Incidentally, brewery tours are usually run a few times a week.

Elsewhere in East London, real ale aficionados head to The Fox in Haggerston, the Cock Tavern in Hackney Central, the White Hart Brew Pub in Whitechapel and The Dove on Broadway Market (a must for Belgian beer fans).

People sitting outside The Fox craft beer bar in London Duck into The Fox for a pint of quality brew (Image: Steve McKenna)

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South Of The River

Tourists are often lured to the watering holes fringing the South Bank of the River Thames. Discerning drinkers, thirsty for hoppy golden ales, brooding stouts and aromatic Indian Pale Ales, delve a little further south.

The railway arches of Bermondsey, one Tube stop from London Bridge, are blessed with microbreweries, taprooms and bottleshops. As well as Kernel Brewery, which was founded here in 2009, you'll find Southwark Brewing on Druid Street, Brew By Numbers on Enid Street and Partizan on Almond Road.

Although the 'Bermondsey Beer Mile', as it's dubbed, sounds perfect for a pub crawl, most establishments only open their doors on Friday evenings and Saturdays, so plan accordingly.

A mile or so further south of Bermondsey, in the arches of Peckham Rye station, Brick Brewery is open Wednesday to Friday evenings and all day Saturday.

Brixton beer bottles in a shop window Purchase some Brixton beers or brew your own at one of the workshops (Image: Steve McKenna)

It yields a range of seasonal beers – this summer's specials include Berliner Weisse, a cloudy sour white beer, and Hefeweizen, a wheat beer – as well as tasty pub grub (West Sussex lamb burger with wild garlic pesto, and free-range chicken wings with duck egg confit garlic aioli).

If you're inspired to homebrew your own stuff, seek out another set of South London railway arches, for London Beer Lab, a Brixton bottle shop that does beer-making workshops. You can pop back a fortnight after your visit to collect the beer you made on the day.

The Big Boys

It's not just the one-bearded-man-and-his-mates operations that have tapped into the craft ale renaissance. Legendary London brewery Fuller's – established in Chiswick in 1845 – has launched 'Frontier', an innovative 'new wave' craft lager.

And chain pubs such as JD Wetherspoon now serve characterful tipples including Meantime London Lager and BrewDog's Punk IPA alongside blander mainstream drinks in beautiful restored old buildings. Check out The Crosse Keys (the former headquarters of HSBC) in the Square Mile, and Hamilton Hall, an old ballroom next to Liverpool Street station.

People sitting in a park in London London's parks are a fine place for an al fresco drink (Image: Steve McKenna)

Beer festivals are very much in vogue. Set in the redundant gasworks by the Regent's Canal in East London, London Craft Beer Festival returns for the fourth time on August 12-14, 2016.

If you prefer drinking al fresco, an increasing number of London-made beers are on sale in supermarkets and off-licences. Don't be surprised to see people sipping the likes of Beavertown Gamma Ray American Pale Ale or Moncada Brewery's Notting Hill Blonde in the city's parks and green spaces.


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Steve McKenna

A regular contributor to some of Australia's leading newspapers and travel magazines, Steve McKenna has visited, written about and photographed more than 80 countries on six different continents. He fears he has an incurable case of wanderlust and is particularly fond of Europe, Asia and South America.