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London Beer Quest: The Wenlock Arms

Dave Haste
By Dave Haste Last edited 87 months ago
London Beer Quest: The Wenlock Arms
One of the more picturesque parts of the surrounding area.
One of the more picturesque parts of the surrounding area.
Evidence of the cooking lager, plus a Samuel Smiths keg beer.
Evidence of the cooking lager, plus a Samuel Smiths keg beer.
An entirely suitable dog.
An entirely suitable dog.
The real ales on offer.
The real ales on offer.
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Welcome to a new series devoted to exploring what London has to offer the discerning lover of excellent beer - from pubs and retailers that take pride in the quality of their hoppy offerings, to local breweries and beer events. And so, where better to start than a visit to one of London’s best-regarded real ale pubs…

Despite being situated a mere ten minutes’ walk from Old Street or Angel tube stations, the pub that has repeatedly been named as CAMRA’s ‘North London Pub of the Year’ is often described as a ‘hidden gem’, presumably with emphasis on the ‘hidden’ as finding it requires brief exploration of a decidedly bleak wasteland street just off City Road.So, on a late Saturday afternoon, we stepped into the Wenlock Arms, to see what all the fuss was about. The inside of the pub was not incongruous with its insalubrious surroundings - slightly grubby and clearly ‘local-friendly’ - it was quite clear that this is a basic, traditional establishment. No gentrification here.And then there’s the prominent line of hand pumps, which is really what this place is all about. We counted nine of them, comprising eight real ales and one cider. There was also some evidence of bog-standard cooking lager on sale around the corner, but this was of no concern to us. With significant anticipation, we set about the ales.By all accounts, the Wenlock favours a regularly-changing variety of real ales from independent breweries - we sampled all eight that were on offer, and found them all to be very well-kept. The highlights of our visit were probably Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold (a respected pale ale, peachy, with sufficiently delicate hoppiness to make a great session ale) and Mighty Oak St. Patrick’s Stout (peaty and explosively fantastic), but with evidence of regular rotation we don’t doubt that the line-up will be completely different from one month to the next.Aside from the great range and quality of beer, we noted some evidence of substantial sandwich-based food, although we didn’t partake, instead preferring humble pork scratching-oriented snacking - essentially bags of salt with just enough pig fat to provide a rudimentary structure - also of a decent quality. The prices were pretty reasonable for central London, and the atmosphere was cheerful and comfortably untidy. As some inoffensive blues music issued from dusty speakers, an eccentric old man wandered around with a metal bucket, urging people to ‘bring out their dead’, for reasons that were not immediately obvious to us. All very pleasant.This pub represents a simple proposition. If you enjoy real ale, and are not of an overly precious temperament, you really should visit. If you prefer to sup lager, alcopops or fine wines in gleaming polished surroundings, this particular establishment might not be your beverage of choice.The Wenlock Arms, 26 Wenlock Road, London N1 7TA.

Last Updated 11 March 2010