THE GREAT BEERS OF LONDON
With Mark Dredge
London was once the world’s greatest brewing city. Porter led the way, aged for months in wooden vats bigger than a townhouse, then came Mild Ales, Pale Ales and Bitters – beers brewed to drink fresh and fast, which soon became the everyday drink of Londoners.
By the 1800s, beer flowed through almost every street in the city. Huge factories dominated many areas: look closely at the apartment blocks on the south side of Tower Bridge and you’ll see the words ‘Anchor Brewhouse’. In East London, the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane was once the world’s largest brewery, while in Moorgate there was the Whitbread Brewery – both are now events spaces. Urban Outfitters in Covent Garden was formally part of the Combe & Co brewing site, while in nearby Soho, between Yauatcha and Temper, stood Lion Brewhouse. Even Hackney City Farm was once a brewery called West’s.
For centuries, beer was central and essential to London. Remnants of this time now only remain in some of the city’s best pubs: the ones with dark green tiles, an eagle above the door, the names Charrington, Truman, Watney, Courage.
But over the past decade, something incredible has happened: while that past of industrial brewing in London is long gone, the city is once again brimming with breweries that are ensuring London has regained its place as one of the world’s greatest beer cities. A decade age there were just 14 breweries in London. Today, there are 120 heralding a new golden age of beer in the city.
These upstarts have given us new social spaces that have quickly become integral parts of local communities. They’re making exciting things which taste totally new and have, in turn, created a new drinking culture.
London’s brewing landscape is a diverse place where traditions and creativity weave together to quench the city’s drinkers’ thirst for variety. Indeed, it’s this variety which has returned greatness to London’s brewing story. Analogous to food in so many ways, we’re surrounded by a world of beer. Whatever we want to drink can be found locally: from classic ales to beers formed from the zeitgeist of the moment, London has it. The beers are inspired by London, and made for its people.
Looking east, the old centre of London brewing, you can drink neo-traditional Golden Ales, Dark Milds, Best Bitters and Porters from Boxcar Brewery, or head to The Five Points Brewing Company for something unequivocally and classically British, yet entirely of today.
Between Boxcar and Five Points you can drink some superb low-alcohol sours at London Fields Brewery and have some of the best modern Pale Ales at Pressure Drop. Then you’ve got Howling Hops, a warehouse space in Hackney Wick serving all their beers fresh and direct from the tanks they’re brewed in to.
Further east and you’ll find Exale, brewers of creative and eclectic beers, including an Irn-Bru inspired sour. Then there’s Wild Card, making many excellent beers which also often highlight and support a social purpose, and Pretty Decent, which donates part of the money from every beer they sell to charities.
In Bermondsey, the railway arches are full of brewers. There’s Anspach & Hobday, Brew by Numbers, The Kernel, Affinity, Partizan and Fourpure where you can drink anything from a bitter Pilsner or a sour barrel-aged Saison, to the new go-to brew of the city: a hoppy, hazy IPA. Collectively, they’ve made breweries a destination.
Then you’ve got the crowd favourites like Camden Town which have made Camden Hells Lager and Camden Pale Ale a familiar sight all across the city. Or there’s Beavertown with their Neck Oil which has become the go to drink for many Londoners.
For traditionalists, Fuller’s, the oldest brewery in London, dating back to 1845 is still making beer in Chiswick, West London. Also West stands Mondo in Battersea which impresses with a wide range of beers.
Down south, Gipsy Hill is leading the way with modern, bright brews, nailing every style it makes. There’s Villages in Deptford. Brixton Brewery. Bohem, making the kind of lagers you can normally only find in Prague. Across London, Hackney Brewery, Wimbledon, Orbit and Solvay Society, which specialises in Belgian-style beers, all deserve a mention – as do countless others that I haven’t got the space to.
London’s beer history surrounds us in the old brewery buildings and old pubs, but what's really exciting is that we’re in the middle of a new boom for London brewing, with new brewers writing a new story for beer made in our city. Now we must champion and celebrate our beers and our brewers: after all, it’s made for us – for all of us.
Mark Dredge lives in East London and he loves beer so much that he’s written six books about it. You can follow his drinking @MarkDredge
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