Welcome to our ongoing mission to explore 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. In this instalment, we visit a newly opened pub with major ambitions.
Near the top of Leather Lane in Clerkenwell, on the site of what was an old Greene King pub, a new establishment opened this week. A sister pub to Cask in Pimlico, which we visited last year, the Craft Beer Co. claims to offer the largest range of craft beer on draft of any pub in the UK.
As soon as we walked in, we could see that this was a claim to take seriously. The sizeable bar was wholly lined with taps too numerous to count at a single glance – 37 in total, 16 cask ales and 21 keg offerings. The bright (some might say stark) interior offered little distraction from the beers, aside from a remarkable mirrored ceiling, emphasising the establishment's apparent single-minded focus on the hoppy stuff.
As if the huge range of draft beers was not extensive enough, two large fridges held a vast array of imported bottles. A glance through the rather smart beer menu identified beers from the US and Europe, as well as more unusual origins such as Japan and South Africa. The bar also stocked some good-looking wines and handsome spirits to further expand the available range of alcoholic goodness.
And so to the business of tasting, where to start? We won't try to provide tasting notes for every beer – even the most experienced Beer Questers would need several visits to taste them all. We sampled a good proportion of the draft beers on offer, and found an unsurprisingly wide variety of styles and flavours. Much of the appreciation of these beers will come down to personal preference – some will find great interest in some of the more unusual brews, others may find them rather challenging. However with such an extensive range, the Craft Beer Co. are able to stock relatively rare beers (such as Mikkeller 1000 IBU Light and Stillwater Autumnal) alongside less obscure ales (from Dark Star, Oakham, Crouch Vale and so on), so there are probably beers for all palates here. The friendly staff should be able to help advise those overwhelmed by choice.
For us, the highlights of our visit were Otley's Thai Bo, a curious golden ale with a mildly sulphurous aroma that was redeemed by a surprisingly moreish light spiced flavour, and De Struise Black Albert, a strong Belgian imperial stout with wonderfully balanced, smooth, dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavours – a perfect example of this style of beer. Less challenging but still excellent session beers were available in the form of Magic Rock's Curious and Mikkeller's Drink'in The Sun.
Prices start at normal London pub prices, but can travel sharply upwards depending on the relative obscurity of the beer. In-house cooked food is not currently available (as there is no kitchen on the premises), but tasty bar snacks such as pies, pasties and scotch eggs are on hand for beer-soaking purposes.
General manager Tom Caddick explained that the ethos behind The Craft Beer Co. is to “serve the best beer” in the world, and that they “will always have 37 beers on tap”. This is no small undertaking, but a promise that we hope they can live up to.
The Craft Beer Co., 82 Leather Lane, London EC1N 7TR
Disclaimer: we attended an opening party by invitation; all drinks and food consumed were complimentary.