London beer drinkers who take their pastime seriously have an excuse for an epic crawl around the city’s pubs coming up, as Cask Ale Week rolls into town.
Pubs will be hosting tastings that allow punters to sample some of the country’s best brews, in the hopes of winning even more fans of real ale.
For those who are not already converts, cask ale is the stuff you see pulled from handpumps at the bar (you can’t buy cask beer in the supermarket because it goes through a second fermentation in the pub cellar).
The last few years have seen an explosion in both cask ale and craft beer appreciation in London. A plethora of microbreweries have sprung up and a growing number of venues are catering to beer aficionados.
The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town is one such pub, with 18 handpumps serving a rotating selection of ale and cider from small UK brewers including Truman’s,
Thornbridge and London Fields. Landlord Peter Holt remembers how, only six years ago, decent ale was hard to find in the capital.
“Back then, pubs would sell three ‘different’ ales, all brown and boring. No wonder ale had a bad name,” he says.
However, with establishments like Holt’s blazing the trail, ale drinking is on the up and punters are becoming more discerning.
“Life’s too short to be drinking industrial cooking lager.
You may as well stay at home with a couple of cheap cans from the shop,” says Holt, who admits to advising Stella drinkers: “There’s a pub around the corner that you would love, left at the lights.”
As cask ale has grown in popularity, so too has craft beer; ales, IPAs, lagers and stouts made in small batches by independent brewers, many based in London. Specialist bars now offer craft beers from across the globe.
The Camden Town Brewery sells its own beers from a Kentish Town pub, The Brewery, as well as offering tours of the operation itself. Its Australian owner, Jasper Cuppaidge, comes from three generations of brewers.
After working in a few London pubs on his travels, Cuppaidge decided to buy his own and set up the Camden Town Brewery.
“I realised I was having to order so much for the bar from abroad; lager from Germany, pale ale from America,” he says. “That was the catalyst to start Camden Town Brewery – the desire to make great beer locally.”
Crafting the perfect beer is an intricate process. Cuppaidge and his team spent months tweaking a recipe to create their signature Hells Lager – the litmus test being their desire to “sit down and drink a few pints of it” – but the result was a best-seller that his patrons quaff by the gallon.
London has woken up to the delights of artisan beer. But it’s still supposed to be fun. “I love the beers we brew and drink them every day,” Cuppaidge says. “That’s exactly why we brew them.” That’s the attitude!
Cask Ale Week, Sept 28-Oct 7
139 Highate Rd, NW5 1LE
Tube | Kentish Town
55-59 Wilkin Street Mews
Tube | Chalk Farm
Read more: London’s best craft and cask ale venues
Photo: Richard Fairclough Phtography ; Helen Cathcart