Things We Learned About London's Beer Scene In 2014

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 36 months ago
Things We Learned About London's Beer Scene In 2014

It's been another vintage year for beer in London — and we'll be the first to admit we've imbibed a fair quantity of it. But Londonist hasn't just been slurping down gallons of the hopped nectar — we've also been supping from the fountain of (London beer) knowledge. Here's what we've absorbed.

An average night out for the Londonist beer writer.

The old hands are caving in to craft beer

There will always be a warm pint of Pride or Wandle waiting for you down the Generic Arms. But now London's bigger and older breweries — traditionally purveyors of cask ales — are buckling under the pressure of sparky microbreweries and creating their own craft beers. Londonist was chatting with someone at Sambrook's Brewery a couple of months back, who defiantly declared it wasn't a craft brewery. Thing is, if you go to the Sambrook's website now, they're calling themselves a 'London Craft Brewery'. Then there's Fuller's (est. 1845), who have come up with Frontier — a 'new wave craft lager'. Don't think we're scoffing — the Sambrook's kegged range is very decent and Frontier is not half bad either. And after all, London is well-versed when it comes to the old traditions rubbing shoulders with new concepts.

Serving a pint of Frontier, the new craft lager from Fuller's.

Saison has reached peak hipster

There was a running joke between beer-supping Londonistas that the craft scene would reach 'peak hipster' on arrival of the black saison. Recently, we FOUND that black saison at The Castle in Farringdon (admittedly the beer itself was from Wales — namely Saison Obscura). Generally, London's-brewed saisons now range from the bold to the ridiculous, and we LOVE it. In 2014 we revelled in a mirabelle and calvados saison from One Mile End (they also had a beautiful cherry saison on draft), a Burgundy cask saison from By The Horns and The Experimental IPSaison from Anspach & Hobday. Kudos also to Beavertown, whose Quelle Saison not only tastes like sunshine in a can — said can comes with a matte finish. Hipster? Yes — but when a beer looks and even FEELS as wonderful as it tastes, we ain't going to knock it.

This is a Christmas saison. Get over it.

Beer cocktails: not (necessarily) a gimmick

When you think of beer cocktails, three words enter your head: Why, why, WHY? This year, though, we broadened our minds. Take Underdog — Shoreditch BrewDog's speakeasy — where we revelled in the Dog Julep (single malt whisky, elderflower liquor, saffron-infused Riptide imperial stout, peach bitters and fresh mint). Meanwhile, at joints including Satan's Whiskers and Meat Liquor, there's something called the 'Lagerita' — maybe not one for the traditionalists, but undeniably refreshing. To be fair, there are plenty of other beer cocktails we've baulked at this year — we're just saying we now accept they CAN be good. On the subject of mixing beer with spirits, we've also noticed a few boilermakers being served up around town. Will 2015 be the year we all start pretending to be depressed Americans?

Pumpkin beer is 'kin popular

It's been possible to source the odd imported bottle of pumpkin beer in London for a while now. But 2014 was the year the esoteric autumn brew really arrived on the scene. Not only were many of London's boozers overflowing with pumpkin beers, multiple London breweries concocted their own batches, including Camden Town's Pumpkin Spiced Lager and One Mile End with their Pumpkin Pie.P.A. Our prediction for autumn 2015? Twice as many London pumpkin beers, and the advent of the pumpkin saison. It's going to happen.

Battersea Beer Festival. Photo by Dave McGowan, in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Hello, good rye

Rye beer has had a prolific year too, popping up in sundry boozers and bottle shops like never before. We supped on Moncada's Notting Hill Ruby Rye, Battersea Rye from Sambrook's, Belgian Red Rye from One Mile End and Himalayan Red Rye Ale from Bear Hug Brewing. While not all these brews were dreamed up this year, they've certainly been bandied around the capital much more so than in 2013.

Craft beer: best served under a railway arch

Not long ago, loitering under a railway arch with a beer in your mitt was frowned upon. Now it's de rigueur practise of a Saturday for any self-respecting beer connoisseur. True, places like Kernel and London Fields have been ushering us underneath the arches for a while now — but with the opening of the likes of Brick Brewery in Peckham, and Anspach & Hobday in Bermondsey (another addition to the Beer Mile), we reckon there will soon be more brewery taps under arches than not.

Have we missed a 2014 London beer trend? Let us know.

Last Updated 20 December 2014

Charlie Pountney

The

Charlie Pountney

The saison was clearly the beer of 2014! Great to see new styles being brewed by cutting edge breweries and more people embracing trying new beer and new styles! The coffee beer was huge in 2014 breweries and roasters collaborating to produce both dark and pale beer using coffee. Weird beard, Brew By Numbers, Brixton, Kernel to name a few. We see the beer market aligning more towards coffee with a focus on quality, authenticity and provenance. Check out bottleandbean.com

London Beer Runners

Great article!

This year really has been fantastic for both craft beer and real ale. Two to look out for in 2015 has to be Orbit Beers near Elephant & Castle (surprisingly situated in a railway arch!), and Big Smoke Brewery with their pumps at The Antelope in Surbiton. Would be interested to hear what other people’s 2015 tips are?

Happy Christmas drinking!

Paul Herbert

Forget Autumn 2015, Kent Brewery did a Pumpkin Saison for Craft 100 in September. Just thought you'd like to know... Brilliant roundup though.

David Charnick

Please - there is no necessary distinction between craft beer and cask beer (aka real ale). Craft refers to how it's made; cask (or bottle-conditioned) refers to how it's stored and dispensed. And please don't knock Fuller's - they've done much to keep the truly generic beers at bay. The 'Generic Arms' won't be serving anything from a real brewery, just the usual pasteurised keg beers which don't have the secondary fermentation in cask or bottle that makes proper beers so individual.

John Hobday

Good read. Any thoughts on next year? Year of the can? Friend of mine brought a can of Rodenbach back from Brussels recently!