I’m here (with Snig’s permission) to say a few words about ‘real ale’. Its a provocative term: to some it conjures up images of bearded men out in the country drinking something black as pitch, and to others its actually quite inspiring. As someone who spent their undergraduate days forced to choose between Heineken and Carling, I fall into the latter camp. I worked at a “micro” in North Wales before I went to Cambridge, and did everything from bottle washing, to label design, to hauling firkins (barrels to you lot!).
Herein I will use use the term ‘Craft Beers’ to cover the range of real ales, lagers, Belgian Beers and the like. Beer with character and beer made with skill.
One of the problems I find have with the some craft beer enthusiasts is that things descend into jargon. I believe that most things about describing taste are understood by all, but understanding some of the key terms will help you understand what you’re drinking:
BC beers are vital to the craft beer industry. When the beer is racked off away from the sediment and yeast, and decanted into bottles, a small amount of sugar is added to each bottle so it can continue the final stages of fermenting under glass. This adds to the taste, and by-product of that final fermentation creates the fizz. The alternative involves a completely dead beer and an injection of carbon dioxide at the point of bottling.
Like bottle conditioned, but with added considerations about how quickly the beer will be served, and the percentage of Irish Moss to keep the beer clear.
You already know what hops are - they give beer most of its flavour and bitterness - but did you know there are at least 50 distinct varieties? My friends at Charles Faram (the hop factors) are always finding hybrids of them. The three you will most often come across include Cascade (gives the citrus taste), Syrian Goldings and Fuggles. All give beer a freshness and a zestiness that thirsty Londoners want in a golden bitter or a lager variation.
- Lambic fermentation
Most beers are fermented by adding yeast (and there are usually two types: one for beers and a different one for lagers). Lambic fermentation is where the beer vats spend time being exposed to the airborne yeasts that live in certain special cellars. This produces a bitter almost sour brew, often sweetened by fruit syrups. A Belgian delicacy.
So where are the gems?
This is an unashamedly London blog, so with this in mind I suggest my favourite spots in Central London where the beer is worth the trip, and the atmosphere makes it worth staying.
Craft Beer Company, Leather lane, EC1N 7TR
The boys at CBC have really done wonders in little more than a year. I love the variety of foreign beers in bottles, and English ales and porters on tap. They also do a mean pork pie. Anyone who can recommend a Norwegian beer, while pouring you a pint of Dark Star, is on their way to greatness.
Tube: Chancery Lane and 7 minutes walk
The Jerusalem Tavern, Britton Street, Clerkenwell, EC1M 5UQ
I love this place: its wholly owned by St Peter’s brewery in Suffolk and mostly stocks their own beer, which is thoroughly excellent. Inside the decor is very country pub, but cool and quiet. Attracts a youngish crowd in the evening, but happily it seems to be student free.
Tube: Farringdon and 4 minutes walk, Old Street and 15 minutes walk, Chancery Lane and 10 Minutes walk
The Cross Keys, Lawrence Street, Chelsea, SW3 5NB
I found this pub after the cryptic hint “it’s near the house of the guy who wrote ‘Sartor Resartus’” (Thomas Carlyle), which tells you something about the people I drink with. Do look on the map first as its hidden in the backstreets near Chelsea Embankment, but the beer (and food) is worth the trek. You also get a nice view of the river if you get there early enough.
Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington and 20 minutes walk. Or take a cab, “yah”.
The Rake, Borough Market, SE1 9AG
Be honest, when I said ‘Borough’ you thought about the Market Porter didn’t you? Well this is – dare I say it – just as good? You might just get to sit down and the constantly changing selection of beer will impress anyone you take there. Try to avoid the commuter rush 5-7 and you’re onto a winner.
Tube: London Bridge and five minutes walk
This of course ignores the very good Fullers and Young’s that are dotted around, and the pop-ups that will sell you your bottles of Meantime, Duvel and the like. You know the ones.
So remember, life is too short to drink poor beer, and CHEERS!