About six months ago, in one of my blog posts at beverageworld.com, I wrote about the bizarre experience of having an English brewery tour guide tell me that the U.K. craft beer scene is still about 15 years behind that of the U.S. Most of my visits there had been driven by the romance of immersing myself in British beer and pub culture and tradition—one that, on many levels, had influenced the craft movement in the United States.
I returned to London last month and figured I’d adhere to my usual itinerary—typically, it’s all about the pub crawl for me, having a pint or two of real ale from some traditional breweries at a variety of neighborhood locals that tend to be light on the tourist element (the way I like it). I had planned to do the same, but a friend had recommended that I integrate into my circuit one of the newer breweries that have been popping up in the city over the past few years.
I’ve been aware of the small boom in craft beer startups in the U.K., in large part influenced by what craft’s accomplished in the states. But I’ll admit I didn’t have a firm grasp on just how explosive it’s been in the past few years just in the capital city alone. So I decided to hit the Camden Town Brewery, a great little spot not too far from the Kentish Town tube stop. With brews like Gentleman’s Wit and Hells Lager, a wheat and a pale, it hits on most of the popular styles of European origin that inspired U.S. crafts. But Camden wears its U.S. influence most on its sleeve with USA Hells, a twist on its Hells Lager with American hops. While there, I ran into Mark Dredge, author of the just-released “Craft Beer World,” who noted that during each of the past handful of years, the number of craft breweries opening in London has been in the double digits and that I can’t leave town without stopping by at least a few of them. So, next I headed over to the Swansea district to Sambrook’s Brewery, one of the veterans of the new class—having opened “way back” in 2008. Sambrook’s kind of bridges the gap between the old and the new. Sambrook’s brews mostly cask real ales in keeping with the British tradition, but with an appeal to the younger generation of craft enthusiasts.
Next stop was a couple of brewers only open to the public on Saturday. Luckily, they were within a half mile of each other in the Bermondsey district. First was the Kernel, whose brews use a lot of the hops popularized in American crafts A real standout is Kernel’s Export India Porter, which successfully merges roasty with hoppy. The Kernel experience had a sort of Brooklyn Brewery vibe, circa a decade ago. The final stop was Partizan, one of the newest breweries in London, having just opened about six months ago. It’s London’s answer to nanobrewing, located in a garage-size space down what locals once considered a sketchy little alley. It, too, plays up hop varietals popularized by U.S. West Coast craft brewers and sports some of the most artfully rendered label designs on either side of the Atlantic.
So, before I knew it, my expected pub crawl had morphed into a brewery crawl as a whole new London—bathed in craft beer—has awakened.