I will admit that I typically do not seek out breweries that are known for excellent versions of traditional styles, including traditional English ales. Primarily this has to do with my generally disappointing experiences with these styles in the United States. So I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the civil life brewery and walking inside felt like visiting an English pub. The beers were equally impressive as well.
Sticking with the English pub theme, you are not able to order tasters but instead can choose between 10 and 20 ounce pours of beer. Thankfully, this was my first stop of the day so I was able to order four different beers in 10 ounce pours. Those beers were also fairly low alcohol, all under 5%.
I started with their English mild on cask. It was creamy and smooth with low bitterness and mild biscuit character and light hops. The STL best, was more full in body and better at the finish with light floral hop character and mild caramel malt. After the first two, I decided to try two versions of English brown ales that they had on tap.
The Great Hencini, a southern English brown style was nice and easy drinking with character of toffee and caramel. I preferred the hearty bite of this beer over the northern English brown. The northern English brown was lighter in color and overall thiinner with less dark malt roast.
I enjoyed the beers I had at the brewery so much that I tried to more beers later that day while I was at narrow gauge brewery after my hazy flight. They had both the American Brown ale and the amber ale on tap. Both were excellent examples of the styles. The American Brown was so good that I had wished at that point I had purchased some cans before I left the brewery. The amber was good and roasty with low hops and light notes of cherries. The American Brown was roasty with light character of coffee and medium body.
If you are at all interested in experiencing traditional English beers without having to go across the pond, I suggest stopping by the civil life to see how they are supposed to taste. I also read elsewhere that they make excellent versions of German beers, although they did not have very many choices in that variety when I stopped by. And if you live in the surrounding areas and can’t make it to the brewery directly, I suggest picking up some cans to enjoy.
I recommend visiting the brewery directly both for the fantastic atmosphere and for the great food options. We stopped by on a Sunday when they highlighted various examples of soups and we both enjoyed their butternut squash soup quite a bit.
Great Hencini Southern English Brown
Like most cities in Europe the craft beer focused bars and the breweries themselves are quite a ways from the city center in London. Staying in the city center I didn’t venture out to the breweries that would have taken some lengthy trips out on the tube (London subway) or the bus. Also because I hadn’t experienced much British beer fresh from the source I had to try a few more common local styles. Though I may have been able to find more craft beer in other neighborhoods I think there is something to be said for how available craft beers are in the average bar.
In general many of the British beer hovers around 4 to 5 percent. This can be anything including bitters, ciders, pale ales, ipa, and stouts. I stuck to darker beers (amber color) and they tended to be light body as you would expect with lower alcohol beer. Most of the traditional ipas and pale ales I ordered seemed to be using the hops for bittering not aroma. This lets the beers age better without having to worry so much about freshness. Most were enjoyable without being particularly flavorful or exciting.
The local craft beer I did try was much more tasty because it is using the American style of hops and has a lot more aroma. Both the pale ale and ipa I had from Kernel brewing were very impressive, one on tap and one in the bottle. The pale ale on tap had a delicious citrus aroma and flavor from the citra and simcoe hops. It also had a delightful cloudy orange color to it that I love to see. There are a lot more casks available in London at bars which makes the already smooth beers even smoother. It is common to find quite a few nitro beers including Guinness, which I didn’t think tasted particularly different in London.
Beers were fairly expensive but after Iceland I was glad they were usually around 3.50 to 4 pounds maybe slightly more on occasion. That ends up around typical bar prices in the US. There are so many pubs around that it can be hard to decide where to go. I decided to find places that Kernel brewing listed on their web site as serving their beers thinking it would lead me to fairly craft beer focused bars, though many of them still had fairly limited tap lists and not a lot that I was interested in trying.
Because most of the stouts I found were fairly standard (many places only had Guinness) I was glad when I found a bottle of Old Engine Oil on my last day out on the town. The higher alcohol porter was delicious and nice and thick offering bittersweet chocolate and plum flavors. Though they say London has quite a few breweries now it is hard to find bottles of anything but the big names in shops. When I did find a bottle of the Kernel beer in a local Whole Foods it was quite expensive and sold as an individual 12 ounce bottle. Some people told me that to truly experience English beers you need to get outside of London, and I hope to do that someday. Still, it was fun to spend a few days exploring the beer scene when I was in London.
If you had a different experience in London or think I totally missed the mark, please let me know in the comments.