The 10 Best Craft Beer Pubs In London

It can’t have escaped the attention of many pub-goers that London has experienced something of a beer ‘renaissance’ over the last few years. Some observers adopt even stronger hyperbole, referring to it as a ‘revolution’. Either way we’ve seen a massive surge in the popularity of non-mass-market beers in London, accompanied by a huge increase in the number of local independent brewers – there are currently around 50 commercial brewers operating within the M25, most of whom have sprung up in the last few years.

So it seems that lovers of good, independently-brewed beer are almost spoilt for choice in London. But amongst the ever-increasing number of pubs selling craft beer, which, if any, are the best?

Somewhat pedantically, before we try to answer that question we need to establish some criteria. We’re not going to get bogged down in trying to precisely define what, if anything, the term ‘craft beer’ refers to (beer writer Pete Brown covers that debate rather well if you’re interested), but we are going to focus on pubs that serve a regularly-changing selection of high-quality beer from from a variety of independent brewers. We’re also going to acknowledge that, for a drinking establishment to qualify as a good craft beer pub, it firstly needs to be ‘a good pub’ – places that serve good beer but present an unpleasant drinking environment do not make the grade here.

Finally, in the interests of variety, where several potentially-qualifying pubs are siblings (e.g. owned by the same organisation), we will choose just one for the list, although we may mention some of its brethren.

So, in no particular order, here are what we currently consider to be the 10 best craft beer pubs in London.

The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town

A refurbished and revitalised incarnation of an old-fashioned boozer, the Southampton Arms has managed to retain a relaxed, local feel, even at busy times. Twelve hand pumps on the bar are mostly used to dispense cask ales from independent UK brewers, and six further pumps behind the bar offer ciders. There are also two keg taps, serving beers from the likes of Camden Town. Food offerings seem to mostly revolve around pork – ranging from packets of scratchings (of course) to meat from a roast joint. The pub’s location, awkwardly between Kentish Town and Gospel Oak stations, might be mildly inconvenient for some, but once you’re there you’ll be happy to hang around for a while.

The Southampton Arms, 139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE.

The Harp, Covent Garden

Situated right in the middle of the West End, this old pub of compact proportions was never going to be quiet. And once you factor in the high quality of its beer – predominantly of the cask-conditioned variety – and the efficient and friendly welcome from its staff, you can see why this pub is popular for more than just its central location. Adding to its general acclaim is an impressive list of beer-related awards, the pinnacle of which is undoubtedly CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year in 2011; the massive real-ale-loving organisation essentially considered it to be the best pub in the country at the time. This all contributes to the Harp’s relentless busyness, so this might not be a sensible destination for the weary-of-foot, as they would rarely be guaranteed a seat. Some respite from the (generally affable) crowd can sometimes be found in the surprisingly elegant upstairs room, but in general it’s best to only visit this pub if you’re happy to drink your excellent ale vertically.

The Harp, 47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS.

The Queen’s Head, King’s Cross

The Queen’s Head is one of those pubs whose minor ergonomic challenges tend to work slightly in their favour. Sure, finding an entirely comfortable drinking (or ordering) space can be a bit awkward at busy times, but here it seems to add to the place’s pleasantly bustling atmosphere. This is another pub to have gained CAMRA’s public approval, though curiously not for beer – the bearded ones have actually declared the Queen’s Head to be a great place to drink cider. Not to worry though, this is still a great place to consume more sensible drinks as well. Their beer selection, while not vast, is usually well-judged with a handful of often locally-brewed offerings on both cask and keg, as well as some great options in the fridge. They also stock a fine selection of whiskies. Food is of the things-to-nibble-while-drinking variety – bread, cheese, cured meats, pies and suchlike – which works rather well.

See also: sister pub Simon the Tanner in Bermondsey.

The Queen’s Head, 66 Acton Street, WC1X 9NB.

The Earl of Essex, Islington

Given its slightly off-the-beaten-track location in the residential back-streets between Angel and Canonbury, it’s surprising how busy this pub can get. At popular times beer geeks flock from far and wide to hang out here. Why? Well for a start the beer selection is not just excellent, it’s also rather interesting, often comprising beer from a number of brewers who tend not to feature that heavily in London’s other craft beer pubs, as well as their own in-house brew and some more familiar names (Camden Town, Magic Rock, Thornbridge, etc.). The food is entirely agreeable, focused more towards the gastropub audience than those looking for simple pub grub, and the woody, bright décor is immediately comfortable. Combine all this with a nice little beer garden at the back of the premises and you can begin to understand this pub’s appeal.

The Earl of Essex, 25 Danbury Street, N1 8LE.

The Old Red Cow, Smithfield

More-or-less equidistantly situated between Smithfield Market and the Barbican Estate, the Old Red Cow is probably more compact in proportions than many of the other pubs nearby. However this has not prevented them from squeezing in a surprisingly wide range of interesting beers across two bars, with more than a dozen keg beers, a few good cask ales and innumerable bottles all vying for attention. With a good split between independently-brewed beers from the UK and US, and a large selection of European beers, this is a good place for any beer lover to spend a few hours. They also serve good food, including some of the best scotch eggs we’ve ever tasted.

See also: sister pubs the Dean Swift (Shad Thames) and the Hack and Hop (off Fleet Street).

The Old Red Cow, 71-72 Long Lane, EC1A 9EJ.

Westow House, Crystal Palace

Of course, not all of London’s great craft beer pubs are to be found within its central areas, and there are few better examples of this than Westow House. If you walk up the hill from Crystal Palace station you’ll probably feel that you deserve a pint as you reach the top, but if you can avoid the temptation to quench your thirst in the CAMRA-beloved Grape and Grain and continue to the opposite side of the crossroads, you’ll reach a much more contemporary beery destination. Westow House is a large Victorian pub, sporting dark paint, funky wallpaper, a ‘library’ of books, plenty of tables and chairs, and Chesterfield sofas. And beer. Eight fine cask ales, a similar number of keg taps, and a number of well-stocked fridges will ably slake your righteous hill-climbing thirst, and the well-executed food will help you regain your energy. With DJs until late on Fridays and Saturdays, lazy Sunday roasts, board-games and the occasional beer festival, the pub is understandably popular with 20-to-40-somethings. And why not.

See also: many of the other pubs in the Antic group, including the excellent Antelope in Tooting.

Westow House, 79 Westow Hill, SE19 1TX.

Craft Beer Co, Islington

Of the four Craft Beer Co pubs in London, we reckon this one is probably the most pleasant in which to enjoy a drink. That said, there’s not much to differentiate them – they all serve the best part of three dozen draft beers on cask and keg, often featuring imported brews that are not available anywhere else in the UK, and they all stock hundreds of different bottled beers (as well as a fine selection of lesser types of beverage). However in our view, the Islington Craft Beer Co feels more comfortably ‘pub-like’ than its immediate siblings, with an agreeable ambience across three rooms, and a nice little beer garden. Food is very much limited to the ‘snack’ end of the culinary spectrum, but they’ve been known to offer decent pork pies and scotch eggs.

See also: siblings in Clerkenwell, Brixton and Clapham, and a wonderful older cousin in Pimlico’s Cask.

The Craft Beer Co, 55 White Lion Street, N1 9PP.

The White Horse, Parson’s Green

This big pub on Parson’s Green is somewhat notorious for the perceived nature of its clientèle, earning it the nickname ‘The Sloany Pony’. While there’s some truth in this perception, not all of the pub’s customers are annoying ‘gap yah’ types, and the selection of beer on offer is certainly beyond reproach. With a wide range of cask and keg ales from a variety of UK and European brewers, as well as some big (and sometimes expensive) American craft beers, there’s enough variety here to keep an eager beer drinker entertained for some time. The pub further cements its beery focus with regular beer festivals (including a rather excellent annual American beer festival around Independence Day) and a conspicuous tank of unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell. The food’s pretty good, too.

The White Horse, 1-3 Parson’s Green, SW6 4UL.

Euston Tap, Euston

Housed in what must be one of the most unusual pub premises in London, the Euston Tap works hard to make the most of a rather challenging space. The Grade II listed nature of the old Portland stone cube in front of Euston Station, combined with the pub’s popularity since it opened in 2010, means it’s often hard to find much space within. Because of this, and the almost perpetual drama that seems to befall the over-subscribed toilet facilities, this pub almost fails to meet our ‘pleasant drinking environment’ criterion. However, if you pick a quiet time, or don’t mind sitting at the tables and chairs outside, you can often avoid the crush and enjoy an immense selection of craft beers in some rather unconventional surroundings.

See also: Obvious twin, the Cider Tap, across the road.

The Euston Tap, 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF.

BrewDog, Camden

Despite the relentlessly hyperbolic bravado and attention-seeking that Scottish brewers BrewDog are notorious for, their Camden bar is actually better adjusted than you might think. Sure, they publicised the pub’s opening a few years ago by driving a big tank around Camden Town, and yes most beers in stock sport an ABV somewhere north of 6%, but the day-to-day experience of this place is conducted some way below the shouty fever pitch that you might expect from BrewDog. Serving pretty much the Scottish brewer’s full range, as well as beers from the likes of Mikkeller, Kernel and Green Flash, this is very much a destination for hop-lovers. Just don’t expect any cask-conditioned ales, as everything is served from keg or bottle.

See also: a younger sibling in Shoreditch and a rather impressive new arrival in Shepherd’s Bush.

BrewDog, 113 Bayham Street, NW1 0AG.

What do you think?

Of course, there are many other great beer-oriented pubs in London that didn’t quite make our top 10. Let us know your favourites in the comments below.

For further information on excellent beery pubs in London, check out our London Beer Quest series, or download the Londonist Book of London Pub Crawls for less than the price of a pint.

This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital’s top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.

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davehaste

Article by Dave Haste | 841 Articles | View Profile

  • Andy Thornley

    Great round-up that Dave. Nice one.

    • Dave H

      Cheers Andy!

  • James Guppy

    Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington is pretty good (as its sister pub the Crown and Anchor in Brixton/Stockwell).

  • O.D

    Stormbird, Camberwell. The Flying Pig, East Dulwich and the Holborn Whippet in er Holborn.

  • Paul R

    I’m really surprised (since you were in the area), you didn’t mention The Bree Louise on Euston St NW1, which has an incredible range of real ales.
    Still, the website does say it’s Euston’s Best Kept Secret :)
    http://www.thebreelouise.com/

    • Dave H

      Hi Paul. I did consider the Bree Louise — as you say they do serve a great range of beers. But I felt that the other pubs in the article were slightly nicer places to drink. This is the problem with limiting the list to just ten pubs!

      • Paul R

        Agreed. The decor in the Bree is pretty basic :)

  • Claire

    A few favourites on this list (Southampton Arms and Earl of Essex are both lovely), though some of these seem to fall more in the real ale camp than the craft beer camp. Missing out on the Jolly Butcher and the Rake, for instance, seems like quite the oversight! The new BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush is probably a better bet than Camden too, since it’s so much bigger and has 40 draught lines/even more bottles. But as far as good beer is concerned, still heartening to see so many exciting places in town.

    • Dave H

      Hi Claire, thanks for your comments! I tried to avoid getting bogged down in the ‘craft beer’ definition, choosing to use a fairly liberal interpretation of the term (which is rather vague anyway). I think that most lovers of ‘craft beer’ are mainly looking for great beer, made with passion, by (relatively) independent brewers, so that’s what I’ve focussed on here.

      I also love the Jolly Butchers and the Rake — we visited them a few years ago as part of our London Beer Quest series (and the Rake also features in our pub crawls eBook). Unfortunately, with only ten spots available on the list, not all of London’s great beer pubs could make it into this article.

      You might have a point with the Shepherd’s Bush BrewDog — it looks great doesn’t it? But it’s still a bit early to tell how well that one will work out, so I thought I’d stick with the tried-and-tested Camden branch!

      • MagicRockStu

        Real ale is Craft Beer too!!!!!!!!! FFS

        • Dave H

          Well it certainly can be, indeed!

  • James Mullarkey

    For ale the Grape and Grain in Crystal Palace is as good as anything you will ever find anywhere. To be bigging up Westow House above it is an absolute scandal. How much did you get paid to write that?

    • Dave H

      Hi James, thanks for your comment. Like I said in the article, for a pub to make it into this list it needs to tick a few more boxes than just serving good beer (although this is obviously essential). I personally find Westow House to be a much more pleasant and enjoyable drinking environment than the Grape and Grain, and every bit as good in terms of the range and quality of beer, which is why it made the list.

      It’s a shame that you think that this is an “absolute scandal”, but take solace in the fact that you can always choose to numb your outrage with a few pints in whichever pub you prefer.

      • Pete

        I think its great Westow is getting the recognition it deserves. Grape is very sterile and has gone rapidly downhill in the last 12 months since the previous owner left.

    • hostile_17

      And how much did you get paid to mention the Grape and a grain?

  • Never Youmind

    Can’t BELIEVE you missed the Jerusalem Tavern, the only St. Peter’s pub.

    • Dave H

      I love that pub. But as I said in the pedantry near the start, this article is about great London pubs that serve beer from a variety of different independent brewers, and the Jerusalem Tavern is pretty single-mindedly focussed on just one brewery (albeit an excellent one). It’s the same reason that the Royal Oak (Borough) didn’t make the list.

  • Mickey Onions

    If you find yourself out that way, The Sussex Arms in Twickenham is a very decent pub with a good array of taps. More akin to The Harp than some of the others on here.

  • makapala

    Jerusalem Tavern, Farringdon of course!

  • TheGuestAle

    No mention of The Rake in Borough Market, which was serving “craft” (i.e. non-mainstream) beers for longer than pretty much anyone else in London.

  • James S

    The Barrel and Horn, Bromley is a hidden little gem down in SE London.

  • Andy K

    Plenty of others – Old Fountain, Wenlock Arms, Stormbird, all of the Draft Houses, Well & Bucket… It’s nice to have such great choice these days.

  • LordHackney

    Clapton Hart right on the Lea bridge roundabout

  • Karolina

    The best is Flying Pig in East Dulwich!!!

  • theboyknowsclass

    Old Red Cow seems to have lost its way a little bit