Skyrocketing in popularity in the last 10 years, the growing trend in independent brewers has hit the UK like a tidal wave of, well… beer. As a lover of the amber nectar, I’m planning to seek out the best drinking dens in London selling craft beer as well as taking a peek at the breweries where the magic happens. Starting off with arguably the Mecca of craft beer I headed to Craft Beer Co’s Clerkenwell headquarters.
There is a very simple reason why I wanted to visit this Leather Lane boozer, the pub contains a staggering 37 draught beers and 300 different bottled beers. I’ll just let that sink in…
You won’t see many tourists wandering around Farringdon’s Leather Lane, but as soon as you walk through the door you feel you have entered the territory of a real beer lover. Clusters of middle aged men sit around the tables of the downstairs bar, cradling golden beers, reading the paper and munching on pork pies.
Of the mind blowing selection, you can choose beers from almost every continent. US, Belgium and British brews feature heavily on the menu, with a diverse selection of Indian Pale Ale’s (IPA), stouts, golden red ales, fruity beer, wheat beers and porters with rich chocolatey notes. Having heard of The Kernel from one of my beer obsessive friends, I was keen to give their IPA the Chinook a go.
At 6.9% APV I wasn’t overly surprised to hear that the price was £3.95…for a half pint. One thing you have to realise about craft beer is that if you want local, small batch, cask aged beers you will have to fork out a few extra quid for the privilege. My girlfriend, hoping for a pint of cider, changed her mind (I may have been involved) and decided to taste Siren Craft Brew‘s Lemoncello IPA, a beast at 9% APV and packed with lemon zest and juice.
Every table was taken downstairs, so we carried our beers to the 1st floor where the crowd was a mixed bunch of 20-somethings, couples, a birthday party and a group beer tasting session.
I was quite taken with Kernel’s Chimnook, it had all of the bold flavours I have come to expect from a craft beer, but was still easy to drink and relatively light considering the percentage. The Lemoncello was sweet with a tart bitter finish, a great choice for someone looking for a refreshing pint.
The atmosphere upstairs was fairly quiet, drinkers were taking their time, enjoying the variety of aromas, flavours and stories that surround these independent brewers, not something you’d see in your average boozer.
One thing I will say for Craft Beer Co is that they don’t really do food. When I wandered to the downstairs bar with the thought of ordering a sandwich or finger food I was given a limited choice of cold snacks. The pork and black pudding pie above was delicious, but at £4.95 for half of a pie, it was a touch expensive. Despite this, I forgive Craft Beer Co, they never claimed to be a bar that sells food. This is a pub, they sell beer and they do it very well.
Never one to play it safe, my next option was going to cost me. Searching for a rich, dark beer, I was helped by the bar staff to find the above beer, Siren‘s Barrel Aged Broken Dream. At just £9.50 this beer was on the steep side, but I couldn’t resist tasting a beer aged in Jim Beam barrels. A breakfast stout, the Broken Dream was thick, velvety smooth with soft caramel and coffee notes and a sweet smokey flavour.
If I lived anywhere near Farringdon, this would not be my local. Craft Beer Co Clerkenwell would have to be my dirty little secret. I would come here to savour, explore and discover all of the brewers and beers that excite me. Inevitably I would end up spending most of my wage at this beer haven, so I would have to limit myself to weekly or monthly visits as a rare treat.
In terms of value for money, you can sit and enjoy a good craft beer for under £4, but why would you ever want to do that when there is so much variety and choice? I can relate the feeling of standing at the bar in Clerkenwell only to that feeling I used to get as a kid when I was choosing sweets. Craft beer pubs, perhaps, are the grown up version of sweet shops. All I know is that I forgo caring about the cost of beer when the reward is a story about the brewery, to taste an unexpected flavour and to smash my expectations of what you can do with beer.
Is Clerkenwell the El Dorado of craft beer? With the glow of golden nectar and 37 glistening taps awaiting every patron who walks in, it’s hard to argue otherwise.