Thursday, 29 August 2013

A Crafty Beer...

As some of you who follow me on Twitter may have gathered, I'm a tad partial to a good craft beer or a traditional real ale. Earlier in the summer, when football and Charlton had taken a back seat, I began writing a post about the craft beer venues I frequent in London and I've finally got around to finishing it.

I don't think there has ever been a better time to be a beer drinker with an exciting, ever-growing list of independent microbreweries around the world pushing the boundaries of ingredients and taste to quite extraordinary levels. Not since I first discovered the wonders of continental beer, particularly from Belgium and Germany, many years ago have my taste buds been quite this excited!

All around London specialty craft beer venues are opening up at an encouraging pace (and seem to be thriving) and I'm going to share with you a few of my favourite establishments for sampling good craft beer and most often a tasty cheese board to boot! In no particular order of preference (all images are my own)...

I've chosen this venue over their sister bar in Camden as it's the one I frequent the most being close to Liverpool Street station. For some time I shunned Brewdog because of their youthful and brazen approach to merchandising, but how wrong I was to judge a book by it's cover. Primarily known for the Punk IPA you can find on the shelves in most supermarkets nowadays, this Scottish brewer is responsible for some of the most progressive craft beers currently in production. Outside of their own beer range they always have a healthy balance of guest beers on tap and in the bottle. Situated near the top of Brick Lane, the added bonus of this venue is a top quality take-away curry on the way home.

This is easily my favourite pub at the moment. Home to the Earl's Brewery, this gem be found in leafy Islington amongst attractive looking - and no doubt very expensive - Georgian houses, close to the Regent's Canal and within a short walk from Angel tube station. The wonderfully presented beer board (left) typically offers around 12 keg and 6 cask offerings with countless bottled beers to chose from. Recently I've grown very attached to Red Hook's 'Long Hammer IPA' (main picture above), which is a refreshing American IPA perfect for a late summer evening in the sizable beer garden out back. I can thoroughly recommend the food as well, both the snacks and the main meals.

Craft Beer Co. - Islington

With bars in Clerkenwell, Brixton and this featured one in Islington, in a craft beer sense, the Craft Beer Co. bars are as close as you get to a chain. But don't let that put you off, the emphasis remains firmly on the quality of beer. This venue, which is within walking distance of the Angel tube station on White Lion Street, has the feel of a traditional local boozer with big, comfortable leather chairs and a framed painting of Winston Churchill on the wall. Only one small criticism is that I don't always feel the bar staff have quite the knowledge to match their beer list, but that is being overly picky considering few craft beer venues will have quite this selection of cask, keg and bottle offerings. If you live on the south coast, you can visit their Brighton venue.

Duke's Brew & Que - Hackney

A real challenger to the Earl of Essex as my current favourite craft beer venue. A short stroll from Haggerston tube station on Downham Road, Duke's Brew & Cue is the home to one of London's finest independent brewers, Beavertown, who are the creators of another of my current favourite beers, Black Betty. As if the extensive list of craft beer on tap and in the bottle isn't enough, this great pub also specialises in meat based cuisine, particularly BBQ'd food (the aromas are quite something). The knowledgeable bar staff are friendly and the table service, particularly if you're sat outside watching the world go by in their small beer garden, is worth the service charge. It can be an expensive night in this venue, but it is definitely worth it!

The Euston Tap - Euston Station

When I first got interested in craft beer, this was the venue I would frequent the most. The Euston Tap is quite literally within spitting distance of the main line station, set in an unusual stand-alone square stone building. It's a small venue with a seated area upstairs and on busy nights it can get very cramped, but with around 150  bottled beers to choose from alongside extensive keg and cask offerings, you can forgive the lack of space. It was in this venue that I first tried a beer produced by the ground-breaking Mikkeller brewery of Copenhagen. The bar staff can sometimes come across as a tad arrogant and impatient, in my opinion, but I suspect this has something to do with the amount of punters who stroll in wanting a quick pint of standard larger before grabbing their trains home. None the less, it's well worth a visit. If cider is your thing, the identical building opposite houses The Cider Tap.

The North Pole - Islington

I only discovered this venue on New North Road, Islington, a year or so back and it's never let me down whenever I've visited since. The interior reminds me of a typical recently renovated pub and it does miss the quirkiness of some of the other venues noted in this post, but that's only a personal view and on the plus side it is spacious with plenty of seating to take the weight off after a hard days work (yes, that's how I justify a cheeky beer every now and again). The hand-pumps regularly feature independent brewers and the extensive list of draught and bottled options means you could spend a very comfortable night in the North Pole if you wished! The snack food is fantastic as well, as you can see from the picture to the left.
Stepping into this boozer, a favorite of fellow Charlton blogger, Marco, you could be mistaken for believing you'd just been transported back in time to the 1940's or 50's. I'll be bluntly honest: I nearly never added this to my list as I am somewhat put off by the open arrogance of the owners of the venue. From odd hand-written notes on the bar warning customers against asking certain questions to bizarre lists like this on their website, I'm a little baffled as to why they are so grumpy. So why have I included it? Well, because all of the above aside, it's a bloody good venue to enjoy a good quality, well kept pint and it's décor, cheeseboard (left) and the tiny walled beer garden add to the appeal. Perhaps more for the real ale drinkers than the hipster craft beer crowd, this is a great pub showcasing the best of the UK microbrewery scene. Another observation is the nice choice of piped music, which is played via an old style record player.

There are plenty of other venues worthy of a mention, like The Holborn Whippet - Holborn, The Pelt Trader - City of London, Jolly Butchers - Stoke Newington, The Hops And Glory - Islington and The Cock Tavern - Hackney, but given that I've not spent quite the same amount of time in them I can't really offer much more of a comment other than they are all worthy of a trip so you can judge for yourselves.

By the way, just in case you were wondering why I'd left out The Rake in Borough Market, I have done so as I've felt a little let down by their pricing policy on a few visits this year. Notably, they tried to charge me £6.70 for a bottle of Beavertown Black Betty and then when I questioned the price I was rather arrogantly told "Craft Beer, Craft Beer Prices. It costs a lot to get these rare beers to you". Needless to say I walked out. I know enough to know craft beer comes with a weighty price tag, especially the imported ones (Beavertown is a London brewer), but for me, this seemed more to do with exploiting the local, and dare I say it, naïve tourist trade that are in huge numbers, wide-eyed around the wonderful market. Make up your own mind, but I don't like to feel I'm being taken for a fool so I may well be cutting off my nose to spite my face here, but so be it.

Please let me know your comments, especially if you can add to this list as I'm always open to a new venue. And for the Addickted, please take a moment to read this Charlton to Greenwich Pub Crawl post by another fellow Charlton blogger and beer lover, Wrong Side of the Thames. 


  1. Dear Hungry Ted,
    Top man , I am very privileged to be the owner of Cave Direct the importer and distributer of many of the beers you talk about (the long hammer is one we have started importing this year and is now also available on draught)we supply a number of the pubs you mention , I also have a consumer website which gives access to about 500 or so beers from around the world .
    I am not looking for business but can perhaps offer a discount for season ticket holders , but just really want you to know your comments about the beer scene are appreciated and spot on .
    A fellow Addick (since birth and visited over 60 grounds)

  2. Great to see yet another Addick who loves his ale, Ted.

    When near Charing X I find it impossible to avoid The Harp - draws me in like a magnet. For an excellent list of top London pubs take a look at Jack is a Fulham fan (he can't help that) but is the modern day 'Beer Hunter'.

  3. Ted, an excellent post and some new places to try as and when, thanks. Sadly one of my closest friends passed away earlier this year. He got me onto real ale many years ago and knew more about ale ( and a number of other things ! ) than I'll ever know. He organised numerous pub crawls in London but to my eternal regret I never went on one. On Saturday 7th September I'll get the next best thing as his son is organising one for a few of us. Last week I finally joined CAMRA partly in tribute to my mate who taught the joy of a decent beer !

  4. Really appreciate those comments, chaps.

    Colin - I've bought beer from you many, many times before!