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.