So I got home on Friday after a great week revisiting old favourites and discovering new ones in London.
Overall impression: craft beer is really surging. There is always a focussed craft beer bar within a 10 minute walk. This is both good and bad. The English are producing some great craft beer but, generally, when you talk about craft there, you're talking keg. Loads of American and Belgian styles, and they take pride of place at the hipster joints that are popping up around the city. Their cask ales are obviously something we would consider craft, but generally quality kegged beer is what the new wave of beer geeks is talking about in London.
Don't get me wrong, there are some great breweries making tasty IPAs and Saisons, but I was much happier in the Harp drinking a pint of mild from Sambrook (or even a pint of Sam Smith's for 2.40 at one of their pubs), than drinking a Lagunitas at Draft House.
The latest must-do for beer geeks in London is the Bermondsey Beer Mile. This started a few years back with the Kernel opening up shop under the railway arches around Maltby Market. This has now expanded to 6 quality breweries along the railway line:
I can't imagine it will be tolerable much longer. Hasn't been discovered by tourists yet, but the market itself was hardly navigable on the Saturday we were there.
My favourite two breweries were:
Brew by Numbers
Anspach and Hobday
Brew by Numbers is just a great concept. Embrace variety without appearing schizophrenic. All their beers were just excellent. I liked Anspach and Hobday because they showed an appreciation for what makes British beer so well-regarded. Their Dapper IPA/Bitter was excellent and their porter was one of the best I've had (if a little on the heavyweight side of things).
Favourite new pub I visited: Finsborough Arms. A real local's pub with a theater company in the basement, and they'll order in pizza for you from the decent join next door. Had about 6 hand pumps (4 running) and 5 interesting keg beers. Preferred it to the White Horse nearby(ish) just because of the crowd.
Holborn Whippet is a decent craft beer pub if you're in the British Museum area. Good split between keg and cask. Had an Adnams South Town, which is a fantastic red, and Burning Skies Plateau, a brilliant golden ale.
The Draft House has a couple of pubs in London now, run by really passionate folks. Expensive as anything I drank though, which goes for their intriguing bottle takeaway selection as well (5.20 for a bottle of Weird Beard's Saison I bought for Tayyabs).
I didn't get to any of the Craft Beer Co pubs, but they're sprouting like mushrooms and are opening up a new one in Convent Garden, so that's worth a look.
Favourite remains the Harp, just a fantastic pint every time, decently priced all things considered, and sausages to boot.
Drinking in London is becoming prohibitively expensive, especially at these craft bars, so beware. Also a creeping trend of 1/3 and 2/3 pints at full prices, which makes me sad. For this reason, Sam Smith pubs remain essential. But even they have increased their beer range, providing most of their bottled products under the counter. HOWEVER, a bottle of their IPA set me back 6 pounds, which was absurd considering I could get a pint of bitter for a third of that.
Had a great Sunday Lunch at Hawksmoor Seven Dials, and a memorable dinner at Dinner by Heston in the Mandarin.