They say…

Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars: The return

One of London's newest breweries in one of its oldest pubs: the Dragonfly brewery in Acton, W3.

One of ’s newest breweries in one of its oldest : the Dragonfly brewery in Acton, W3.

Sometime in October 2010 I created a new folder on my laptop labelled ‘londonguide’, for everything connected to what eventually became the first edition of The CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars. Rather optimistically, I then created a single subfolder within the folder, labelled ‘2011’. And so things stayed for several years, an apparently redundant extra layer of hierarchy, until a few weeks ago when it was finally joined by another labelled ‘2015’.

There aren’t  many files in that new folder yet, but among them is an already large Excel spreadsheet which ultimately will generate the ‘Places to Drink’ section of the next edition of London’s Best Beer. Inside the spreadsheet is a tab named ‘Long list’.

The adjective is deserved. At the moment it contains 489 records of potential listings, and only a handful with updated details and reviews. Its predecessor never contained more than 300 or so.

I admit the file structure of my hard drive is of no great interest, but somewhere in these spreadsheets and documents is a pale reflection of an extraordinary story: the rebirth of London as a genuinely great beer city.

When CAMRA Books first suggested I create what was original mooted as a London pub guide back in the late summer of 2010, one of the reasons I jumped at the opportunity is that I felt there was a modest but significant new sense of excitement around beer and brewing in London.

“It’s a great time to do this,” I enthused at my editor. “Beer in London seems to be on the up for the first time in years.”

After the disappointingly brief flowering of Clapham’s pioneering Microbar in the early 2000s, another internationally-focused specialist beer bar, the Rake, had managed to flourish on Borough Market since 2006. Over the previous year or so, a few more venues had started finding interesting ways of presenting quality beer in a variety of styles to a broader audience than the traditional crowd of real ale drinkers and well-travelled geeks: places like Cask Pub and Kitchen (2009), the Southampton Arms (2009),  the Jolly Butchers (2010) and the Euston Tap (2010).

And with its longstanding smattering of good real ale pubss, Belgian- and German-themed bars, bottle shops and beer champions like the White Horse SW6, London’s claim to becoming a major beer destination was strengthening.

Perhaps even more significant were the new London breweries. We’d reached a nadir in 2006 with the departure of Young’s but suddenly there were a handful of vibrant young newbies brewing seriously well, often using approaches and styles that stretched the established boundaries of British microbrewing, like Brodie’s (2008), Camden Town (2010 in its current form), the Kernel (2009), Redemption (2010) and the more traditional but nonetheless determined and consistent Sambrook’s (2008).

Someone had even revived the legendary brand name Truman’s — as sported by the last big historic London independent to fall to a national takeover in the 1970s — although at first the beer was contract brewed outside the capital.

When the book went to press in April 2011, London entrepreneur and beer importer Martin Hayes had a single pub to his name – the groundbreaking specialist beer bar Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico. Just before the book finally appeared on the shelves in July, Martin opened the first Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, immediately raising the bar for London beer venues with its dazzling range of domestic and imported specialist beers in all formats. In a mere 18 months since, three more Crafts have opened, two in London (Angel and Brixton) and another in Brighton, and all appear to be flourishing.

At a time when 18 pubs close every week in the UK, the Craft story is only the most striking example of how an unprecedented growth of interest in “craft” and other specialist beer is happily pushing at least one significant sector of the licensed trade against the depressing trend, in London at least. The three Draft House branches listed in the book are now five, and several other top class independent beer outlets featured have gone forth and multiplied – the Bree Louise, Jolly Butchers, Pineapple and Southampton Arms have all added sister pubs.

Small pub chains – Butcher & Barrel, Convivial and, most notably, Antic – have seen the commercial wisdom in creating showcase beer outlets and upping the ante across their estates. Fashionable bar operators that ten years ago would not have ventured within a long beard’s reach of real ale, like Barworks, Fluid Movement and Lost, are embracing the new age of hops and malt. Even big national pubcos are boosting their beer credentials – Mitchells and Butlers’ beer friendly Castle and Nicholson’s chains continue to improve with even some branches of more mainstream high street bar brands like O’Neill’s being transferred to them.

The turnaround of brewing in London is even more dramatic. When published the Guide contained details of all 13 breweries then operating in Greater London. 18 months later that total has shot up to 36, with further launches imminent. East London and City CAMRA’s Pig’s Ear beer festival in December 2012 featured a Hackney bar, dedicated to the brewing products of a single London borough which until August 2011 had not witnessed commercial brewing within its boundaries since the 19th century. Now there are six, with one of the most eagerly awaited of the new projects soon to join them when Truman’s re-establishes itself in East London at its new site in Hackney Wick this spring.

– See more at: http://desdemoor.co.uk/latest-guide-updates-show-londons-beer-culture-blossoming/#sthash.7TkzdDH5.dpuf

When the book went to press in April 2011, London entrepreneur and beer importer Martin Hayes had a single pub to his name – the groundbreaking specialist beer bar Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico. Just before the book finally appeared on the shelves in July, Martin opened the first Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, immediately raising the bar for London beer venues with its dazzling range of domestic and imported specialist beers in all formats. In a mere 18 months since, three more Crafts have opened, two in London (Angel and Brixton) and another in Brighton, and all appear to be flourishing.

At a time when 18 pubs close every week in the UK, the Craft story is only the most striking example of how an unprecedented growth of interest in “craft” and other specialist beer is happily pushing at least one significant sector of the licensed trade against the depressing trend, in London at least. The three Draft House branches listed in the book are now five, and several other top class independent beer outlets featured have gone forth and multiplied – the Bree Louise, Jolly Butchers, Pineapple and Southampton Arms have all added sister pubs.

Small pub chains – Butcher & Barrel, Convivial and, most notably, Antic – have seen the commercial wisdom in creating showcase beer outlets and upping the ante across their estates. Fashionable bar operators that ten years ago would not have ventured within a long beard’s reach of real ale, like Barworks, Fluid Movement and Lost, are embracing the new age of hops and malt. Even big national pubcos are boosting their beer credentials – Mitchells and Butlers’ beer friendly Castle and Nicholson’s chains continue to improve with even some branches of more mainstream high street bar brands like O’Neill’s being transferred to them.

The turnaround of brewing in London is even more dramatic. When published the Guide contained details of all 13 breweries then operating in Greater London. 18 months later that total has shot up to 36, with further launches imminent. East London and City CAMRA’s Pig’s Ear beer festival in December 2012 featured a Hackney bar, dedicated to the brewing products of a single London borough which until August 2011 had not witnessed commercial brewing within its boundaries since the 19th century. Now there are six, with one of the most eagerly awaited of the new projects soon to join them when Truman’s re-establishes itself in East London at its new site in Hackney Wick this spring.

– See more at: http://desdemoor.co.uk/latest-guide-updates-show-londons-beer-culture-blossoming/#sthash.7TkzdDH5.dpuf

Yes, it was obvious that something was happening, but nobody could have predicted the scale of what was to follow. Consider the case of entrepreneur and beer importer Martin Hayes, pioneer founder of the Cask. When the book went to press in April 2011, it was still his only pub. Just before the book finally appeared on the shelves in July, he opened the first Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, immediately raising the bar for London beer venues. Since then, five more branches have opened, four in London and one in Brighton.

The only Antic pub listed in the last edition was the Antelope in Tooting — now, despite a funding glitch last year, the company’s distinctively distressed and junk-bedecked drinking holes are sprouting up in every unlikely suburb, many of them free of tie and dispensing fine local beers. And this at a time when 18 pubs close every week across the UK.

Besides this and numerous other examples of independents and small chains, the impact on the big boys of this evident change in the marketplace is arguably even more symptomatic. Mitchells and Butlers is converting more and more pubs from tired old circuit drinking chains like O’Neill’s to its beer friendly Nicholson’s and Castle brands.

Meanwhile Greene King seems to be pretending it isn’t even a brewer, with numerous members of its extensive estate rejigged into ‘Metropolitan’ pubs stocked with guest casts and little evidence of their owner’s own products.

Then there’s London brewing. When published the Guide contained details of all 13 breweries then operating in Greater London. By the end of 2013 there were over 50, representing a quintupling of brewery numbers over a mere five years. I was keeping track of them all, but temporarily gave my attention to other things and now I’ve lost count, but there must be at least 60 by now.

For two years running, East London and City CAMRA’s Pig’s Ear beer festival has been able dedicate an entire bar to the products of a single London borough, Hackney, which until August 2011 had not witnessed commercial brewing within its boundaries since the 19th century. OK, it stretches a point by including Hackney Wick, most of which is technically in Tower Hamlets, but if it didn’t it would miss the new Truman’s, now up and very much running on an industrial estate on Fish Island.

There have been some casualties. At least five breweries have opened and closed again since the last edition was published. And not everyone has been able to make a success of showcasing a great beer range everywhere: two significant and lamented departures this month were Ales and Tails in Twickenham and the Duchess of Cambridge between Shepherds Bush and Chiswick.

These are hints that the rapid expansion of the past few years is slowing, but all the signs are that, with a newly educated generation of discerning drinking underpinning its beer culture, London isn’t about to lose its status as a top beer destination anytime soon.

All this poses an acute challenge for your humble compiler. Given the scale of change, the new edition will largely be rewritten from scratch.

We don’t want it to grow in terms of page count, yet only 12 of the 252 places to drink in the last edition have closed or lost interest in beer (two or three more have changed ownership or name but kept the faith with St Arnold). Many current listings will simply have to go, then, not because they’ve fallen in standards, but simply because the more deserving cases have proliferated.

A rethink of the breweries section is unavoidable — I can’t possibly afford to treat everyone at the same length as I did in 2011. I’m also planning to squeeze in more on beer and food, and more on London brewery heritage.

You can help — I’m eager to hear your suggestions of new places to drink as well as general comments and feedback. But please look at the guidance notes first. See the London page for more details.

I’ll be tracking the progress of the new edition on my Twitter feed and on the new official Facebook fanpage. Please do have a look and Like it if you will.

I was pleased with the way the first edition turned out and delighted to win an award for it. I like to think that in a small way it contributed to boosting the interest in London beer. I’m determined to make its successor as good as it possibly can be, and an essential and indispensable guide to what’s once again one of the world’s great beer cities.

 

 

 

When the book went to press in April 2011, London entrepreneur and beer importer Martin Hayes had a single pub to his name – the groundbreaking specialist beer bar Cask Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico. Just before the book finally appeared on the shelves in July, Martin opened the first Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, immediately raising the bar for London beer venues with its dazzling range of domestic and imported specialist beers in all formats. In a mere 18 months since, three more Crafts have opened, two in London (Angel and Brixton) and another in Brighton, and all appear to be flourishing.

At a time when 18 pubs close every week in the UK, the Craft story is only the most striking example of how an unprecedented growth of interest in “craft” and other specialist beer is happily pushing at least one significant sector of the licensed trade against the depressing trend, in London at least. The three Draft House branches listed in the book are now five, and several other top class independent beer outlets featured have gone forth and multiplied – the Bree Louise, Jolly Butchers, Pineapple and Southampton Arms have all added sister pubs.

Small pub chains – Butcher & Barrel, Convivial and, most notably, Antic – have seen the commercial wisdom in creating showcase beer outlets and upping the ante across their estates. Fashionable bar operators that ten years ago would not have ventured within a long beard’s reach of real ale, like Barworks, Fluid Movement and Lost, are embracing the new age of hops and malt. Even big national pubcos are boosting their beer credentials – Mitchells and Butlers’ beer friendly Castle and Nicholson’s chains continue to improve with even some branches of more mainstream high street bar brands like O’Neill’s being transferred to them.

The turnaround of brewing in London is even more dramatic. When published the Guide contained details of all 13 breweries then operating in Greater London. 18 months later that total has shot up to 36, with further launches imminent. East London and City CAMRA’s Pig’s Ear beer festival in December 2012 featured a Hackney bar, dedicated to the brewing products of a single London borough which until August 2011 had not witnessed commercial brewing within its boundaries since the 19th century. Now there are six, with one of the most eagerly awaited of the new projects soon to join them when Truman’s re-establishes itself in East London at its new site in Hackney Wick this spring.

– See more at: http://desdemoor.co.uk/latest-guide-updates-show-londons-beer-culture-blossoming/#sthash.7TkzdDH5.dpuf

4 comments to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars: The return

  • David Bull

    Hi Des

    Delighted that there will be a new edition next year. The first edition is my London beer bible, so I will eagerly await the ‘new testament’.

    Cheers

    David

  • Simon

    Excellent, will be buying and probably pre-ordering this. I trust Stormbird will be featured, of course?

    PS. a pedantic point maybe, but it’s a common mistake that I’d hate to see perpetuated in the book: it’s not “the” Cask.

  • Vince Mercer

    Des,
    I’ve pre ordered my copy of the new edition of the London beer guide… but not available until 2nd July…. I have a problem; my son lives in Stamford Hill and is getting married in France at the end of July. I’m in charge of beer…. I’m bringing down a couple of kegs of Lowewater Gold from my neck of the woods (Lakedistrict) to take over to France but I need to consider some simliar types of lightish ales to source from London en route to France. I had hoped the guide would assist me but the timing looks tight… can you make any suggestions of a suitably accompanying ale from local London breweries that I could take with me??
    Also any hints/tips oin keeping it cold when serving!
    Many thanks, Vince Mercer

  • Des

    Hi Vince — you also contacted me by email and I replied personally.
    Des

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