London for Beer Lovers
It’s Saturday afternoon inside a brick-built railway arch in sunny southeast London. The kind of white-painted, tunnel-like lockup typically housing garages or workshops, this one is different: it’s crammed with chatty drinkers slurping tasty beers made onsite by Southwark Brewing Company.
“We specialise in traditional cask beers, adding a modern twist of new hops and other ingredients for more varied flavours,” says founder of the 2014-opened microbrewery, Peter Jackson, who recommends starting with Bermondsey Best, a smooth English bitter.
With a busy bar and surging production, Southwark is cresting a wave of fresh beer makers that has spread across London like a spilled pint in recent years. Britain has been a booze-making behemoth for centuries, of course, but the global latter-day microbrewing movement inspired dozens of new producers to launch in the capital.
As in other craft beer cities, lower-cost, once-grungy neighbourhoods are preferred, including increasingly developing London areas like Bermondsey (Southwark Brewing’s home) and Hackney. Railway arches and industrial units are commonly colonized, restoring underutilized spaces to thirst-slaking good use after years of neglect.
Near Hackney Wick railway station, Crate Brewery operates in a century-old former factory building. Alongside a canal – summertime’s alfresco tables are highly sought-after – its chunky rail-tie bar serves gourmet pizzas (Kashmiri dahl recommended) and intriguing house-made beers to friendly, hipster-bearded locals.
“We opened the bar on a shoestring budget,” says co-founder Jess Seaton. “But we were determined to involve the community from day one. We’ve now become a gathering place that many people around here feel part of.”
The siren song of great beer helps, of course.
“We have a strong core range but we also have seasonals and a Brewers Tap that allows us to try fun and crazy beers – including refreshingly tart sours. We’re aiming to make interesting beers accessible to those who want to experiment.”
It’s these curious quaffers that help drive the London scene. Locals often have preferred producers – from Kernel to Five Points or from Brick to Beavertown – but August’s London Craft Beer Festival is ideal for discovering new favourites. This year’s participants include Bermondsey’s Fourpure Brewing.
“Our top-sellers include the hoppy, really drinkable Pils Lager,” says Fourpure co-founder Daniel Lowe, adding that summer visitors to their tasting bar should also save room for Southern Latitude, a New England-style session IPA.
For Lowe, the city’s effervescent ale scene is part of a deeper grassroots movement here. “Londoners are embracing quality: buying less but also buying better and buying local. New venues are opening almost daily that focus on local craft beers, gins and artisanal products. Things are only just getting started.”