Here's a toughie: what's the best craft beer in London? We asked beer expert, Des de Moor to give us his top 10. Says Des on his picks:
"They're not only great beers, but also reflect the dazzling range of styles brewed in a city that within a few short years has become one of the world's top craft beer destinations. In 2006 there were only nine breweries in the capital — now there are over 70, a welcome return to form in a city that for most of the 18th and 19th centuries was the brewing capital of the world."
1. Anspach & Hobday The Porter 6.7%, Southwark
One among seven excellent breweries along the historic railway viaduct through Bermondsey, A&H began by winning a competition with this superb porter. A huge chocolate and malt loaf aroma leads to a luxuriously smooth and fruity palate with a light bite of roasty malt and vanilla hints in the finish.
2. Beavertown Gamma Ray 5.4%, Haringey
London’s fastest-growing brewery, founded by Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin's Robert, in the kitchen of a Hackney pub restaurant and now occupying several industrial units close to the Lee Valley Park. It's not hard to see why, given beers of the quality, consistency and depth of flavour of its flagship IPA Gamma Ray, bursting with tropical fruit, lemon and pine from New World hops — but not too bitter and matched with a grainy malt body. Perhaps best enjoyed from the strikingly designed cans for which the brewery is famous.
3. Bullfinch Milou Saison 6%, Lambeth
At first generating excitement with cuckoo-brews at Anspach & Hobday, Ryan and Carly now have their own site with a delightful taproom just across from Brockwell Park. Nodding to the original name of Tintin's dog, this tasty and cheerful golden beer laced with citrus and yeasty spice and fruit on a firm grain base is supremely refreshing despite its relatively high strength.
4. Fuller's Vintage Ale 8.5%, Hounslow
The history of London’s only surviving historic brewery stretches back at least 200 years longer than its official founding date. Fuller's has long bolstered its reputation for traditional cask ale with specialities like this outstanding barley wine, produced annually to a slightly varying recipe and capable of ageing gracefully for many years. New, it's spicy, warming and assertively hoppy; cellared for a few years, it becomes mellow and immensely complex, with red fruit, orange, tobacco and port- or sherry-like notes. A London world classic.
5. The Kernel London Sour 4%, Southwark
The brewery that founded the 'Bermondsey Mile' and kick-started the capital's craft brewing explosion is still one of London's very best. It's difficult to pick just one beer from a range that includes world class IPAs and heritage porters, but it's London’s top choice for sours too, as this Berliner Weisse-inspired beer attests. It’s a refreshing glassful with a finely balanced smack of lactic acid and lemon and hints of pomegranate, often also sold in fruited versions.
6. Partizan X Ale 6.4%, Southwark
Perhaps Bermondsey's most artisanal brewery, making small batches to changing recipes in an arch near the old Blue market. Mild ale is sadly now almost unknown in London but X is a historical recreation from the days when it was England's staple style, and rather less than mild in alcohol content. This dark glassful has cherries, liquorice and hints of chocolate biscuit, with a lasting and slightly roasty drying finish.
7. Pressure Drop Wu Gang Chops the Tree 3.8%, Hackney
Hackney is now London's second major beer destination after Bermondsey, and Pressure Drop, a small outfit that began in a Stoke Newington garage, is a local favourite. This speciality is a happy accident — a very drinkable wheat beer subtly flavoured with locally foraged bay leaves. You might also catch fennel, chamomile and citrus notes on a light, tangy base with a delicate bitterness in the finish.
8. Redemption Trinity 3%, Haringey N17
Now, like the Kernel, something of a veteran, Redemption distinguishes itself with a range of quality cask beers that please both youthful craft aficionados and old-school real ale fans. Golden ale Trinity is a little miracle, exhibiting both contemporary flair and the British brewer's traditional skill in packing a world of flavour into a remarkably low strength using three malts and three hops. It’s delightfully fresh and grassy, with beguiling notes of tropical fruit and rose.
9. Sambrook's Junction 4.5%, Wandsworth
Sambrook’s was one of the very first of the new wave of London brewers, and a direct response to the lengthy decline that culminated in the moving of Young's in 2006. It now fills a similar ecological niche, producing old-school cask beers but with a more contemporary 'craft' range too. Junction is a complex special bitter that stays refreshing while contriving to deliver a depth of blackcurrant, marmalade and gently roasty flavours. The junction in question is Clapham, Britain's busiest station, only a short walk away.
10. Weird Beard Fearless Spreadsheet Ninja 4.8%, Ealing
Lager is a style with a noble history that's been besmirched for far too long in the UK by mediocre industrial brands. Now at last it's deservedly being rehabilitated by craft brewers, including several in London. This delightful pils with a twist, from a team of fearless former homebrewers just by the river Brent, uses US hops to layer lemon and tropical fruit notes into a classic pilsner crispness and creamy background malt.
Des de Moor is the author of The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, a contributor to numerous beer publications and websites, and an international beer judge.
Agree or disagree with Des's choices? Tell us in the comments below.