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 take the bus to Stokey.
When a pub (a) features a beer menu and (b) some entries are priced by the half pint, you know it’s playing a high stakes game.
Thankfully for Stoke Newington, the newly refurbished Jolly Butchers is the genuine article, lifting the area into London’s beer premier league. Just around the corner from Church Street, this knowingly back-to-basics ‘ale and cider house’ is a welcome addition to a vicinity which at times seems in danger of becoming engulfed under a wave of organic baby food and kooky home furnishings.
Known in its previous incarnation as ‘Stokie’s’, this place attracted few plaudits, while perhaps rather presumptuously adopting the nickname of a whole postcode district. But although the gratingly chummy moniker has now been dropped, the new array of beers on offer would have a much better claim to represent the eclectic and independent residents of N16. Ranging from microbrewery ales, through real ciders and perrys, to German weissbeers, Belgian kriek and quality lagers, it should provide something to slake the thirst of even the most demanding drinkers.
The pub is particularly proud to offer Shlenkerla smoked beer (made using hops dried over an open flame) and to be among the few locations that serve Vedett on tap. On our visit, the strong Jaipur India Pale Ale proved exceptionally refreshing, while the flavoursome Coffee Milk Stout lived up to its name without suffering from an overpowering sense of novelty. Both were from Thornbridge, just one of the independent breweries used by the landlord.
The bottled beers on offer include some relatively familiar names (Chimay, Delerium Tremens, and Brooklyn) as well as more unusual choices (The Belgian Fleur Chocolat, for example, is clearly for adventurous souls and remained untested by the Londonist team.)
A good range of wines are also displayed on a board behind the bar, and a reasonably priced menu of appetising (though relatively no-frills) dishes is prepared in an open kitchen in the corner. But as with other pubs in this series, the beer is the main event.
In keeping with the theme of doing things simply but well, the decor here is minimal and lets the building’s natural space and light speak for itself. The ultra-critical may carp about the lack of comfy seating or secluded corners - but we think the current open setup adds to the friendly and convivial atmosphere. The Butchers has avoided colonisation by either bearded CAMRA obsessives or painfully hip Dalstonites, and all are made to feel welcome by helpful and knowledgeable staff.
If Carlsberg made pubs, they would probably be the exact opposite of the Jolly Butchers - all the more reason to pay a visit to this excellent institution.
Review by Jonathan Knott.
The Jolly Butchers, 202-204 Stoke Newington High Street, London N16 7HU.