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, Dave Haste and Jason B Standing visit one of a small number of London 'brewpubs'...
In previous instalments of London Beer Quest we've featured a handful of London-based breweries, and a considerable number of pubs that stock London-brewed beers. But before now we hadn't featured any specific establishments that do both at the same time – pubs that brew beer on the premises, a.k.a. 'brewpubs'.
While brewpubs are not exactly rare in London, they are certainly very far from common. There are fewer than a dozen in the capital, by our reckoning. One of this small number is The Bull in Highgate, whose in-house brewing operation goes by the enviably all-encompassing moniker The London Brewing Company. We visited a couple of weeks ago to see what's what.
The Bull was doing quiet but steady business on a Thursday evening, initially more focussed on diners than drinkers. A silent television in the corner was showing a Euro 2012 football match, studiously ignored by the clientèle. Well proportioned, the ground-floor bar's décor is smartly relaxed and comfortable, with dark wood and leather and deep purple and cream paintwork. One end of the room pays tribute to the pub's beery focus, with a large blackboard providing a diagrammatic overview of their brewing process and a variety of American and European beer-related plaques adorning the walls.
And so to the beer itself. The bar displays a balanced range of fermented products, with six hand-pumps offering their in-house cask ales (plus one Dark Star guest ale) and eight keg taps dispensing a safe selection of decent beers from America and Europe in addition to the inevitable Guinness and Aspalls. A well-stocked fridge lurks in the background, providing a further variety of mostly American and European beers comprising some of the better offerings from each continent.
We concentrated our tasting on the beers brewed on the premises, as the only drinks that are unlikely to be available elsewhere. Hops & Mops was a classically summery pale ale, with an unsurprisingly light and refreshing palate and a powerfully bitter hop finish. Beer Street seemed quite forgettable, but the Routemaster red ale was pleasantly balanced, again with a surprisingly bitter after-taste. The most interesting of the available London Brewing Co offerings was the Raspberry Wheat, managing to combine a sweet fruity aroma with a dry and slightly sour taste. We were disappointed that their Nervous Energy American-style pale ale was not available on our visit – maybe next time.
The main food menu isn't cheap, but we found it to be reasonably well-implemented, and the availability of bar snacks and sandwiches (during the day) presents some less pricey eating options. The brunch and Sunday lunch menus look promising too.
If you're looking for a selection of spectacularly challenging or eclectic beers, then The Bull might not be your first choice. But if you want to visit a relaxed, pleasant pub serving decent food and exclusive micro-brewed beers alongside a well-selected range of those from further afield, then you probably can't go too far wrong with this pub.
The Bull, 13 North Hill, London N6 4AB.
Check out more great pubs with the Londonist Book Of London Pub Crawls, for less than the price of a pint.