Real Ale Trail: Where To Drink The Best Cask Beer In London

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 7 months ago
Real Ale Trail: Where To Drink The Best Cask Beer In London

Warm Doom Bar pumped through dirty pipes, be gone! Gallons of delicious, fresh cask beer can be found across London these days — you just need to know where to look. Here's a round up of the best places in London to drink a range of exciting (and exceptionally kept) real ale.

Taprooms with great cask beer

Old Fuller's pub signs hanging from a beamed ceiling
The Fuller's brewery tour includes the chance to sup cask from the source. Image: M@/Londonist

London's many, many taprooms are largely geared towards craft beer that comes in kegs. However, some of them focus mainly, or solely, on cask (that is, beer that's still 'alive', and is usually sans fizz). For our money, these are the best taprooms for cask:

Beerblefish, Walthamstow: While the Blackhorse Beer Mile's focus is largely on kegged beer, Beerblefish offer a few of their own brews on cask — and even have mini casks for you to take away, from their industrial taproom in the Walthamstow hinterlands. Nearby Truman's Social Club tends to have a couple of its own real ale casks on too.

Bird & Barrel, Bexleyheath: The synonymous parakeet of Bexley (and to be fair, most of London), adorns the badges of Bexley Brewery's Bursted Bitter, and Hukins' Bullion Green Hop Ale — which you'll find on tap at their cosy micropub, the Bird & Barrel.

Brockley Brewery, Brockley and Hither Green: The reassuringly simple assortment of cask beers at Brockley's two outposts includes four seasonal beers: Spring Ale, Summer XPA, Autumn Amber and Winter Gold (just like breweries did in the old days). The taprooms, on the other hand, are pretty hip. Smashing mix.

Fuller's Griffin Brewery tour, Chiswick: Scoff all you like at London Pride: Fuller's is an integral piece of the city's brewing history, and the tour of their Griffin Brewery is probably the most interesting brewery tour going in London. It also gives you the chance to taste iconic cask beers from the source.

Redemption, Tottenham: Only open on Tottenham Hotspur match days, you don't need to be a Spurs fan to come and enjoy a pint of the Hotspur amber ale at Redemption. No spirits are served: this place is all about the real ale. For more regular Redemption supping, the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham usually has a couple on.

Sambrook's, Wandsworth: Sambrook's — creators of the famed Wandle pale ale — may have relocated to the bougie Ram Quarter development, but they've got nano brewing legend John Hatch on their side, and still serve cask alongside trendier beer varieties.

Southwark Brewing, Bermondsey: A friend of ours went to a Tuesday running club that always ended up at Southwark Brewing, and inevitably woke up with a hangover the next day. To be fair, it is difficult to resist real ale classics like Southwark Blonde and Routemaster Red, and the lack of fizz makes them go down all the easier...

Spartan Brewery, Bermondsey: Perhaps the Bermondsey beer mile's most unassuming taproom, Spartan does a small line in excellent cask beers, including its own stuff (like the Cerberus export porter), as well as guest casks, like Oakham Citra.

Temple Brew House: Proudly declaring itself 'London's most central micro-brewery', this subterranean bar has a great line in self-brewed cask beers, from a quaffable pale ale to a gluten free porter. Temple Brew House is a good little post-theatre drinking den, which your cask-loving mates will be impressed you know about.

Twickenham Brewery: You may well have seen Twickenham's superb Naked Ladies golden ale on bars around town; at their taproom on selected dates you can sip it in the place it's made, while watching the rugby on TV. Otherwise, hit up the brewery pub, the Rifleman.

Up The Creek Brewery, Greenwich: The comedy at Up the Creek is live, and so too is the beer; they've got their own microbrewery setup going on, making cask beer only. Top up at the interval with a Hairy Eyeball Amber Ale or Truth Serum IPA.

Micropubs with great cask beer

A selection of beers and cheeses with crackers on a wooden table
Kentish beers (and Kentish cheese) await at One Inn the Wood. Image: Londonist

The homey micropub is a genre unto itself, where much of London's best cask (and sometimes gravity cask) beer is hiding. Most of these pint-sized beer parlours reside in the outer reaches of London, but all are worth the journey:

Broken Drum, Sidcup: They keep it local with the ale at this beloved little boozer: Kentish and Surrey-based breweries are usually being poured, with the likes of Titsey, Musket and Surrey Hills providing the golden/bitter/pale liquid goods.

Dodo, Hanwell: We were last at the Dodo when (futilely) searching for the nearby grave of the great Ian Nairn. The small but well-curated cask selection — featuring the likes of Tiny Rebel, and locals Weird Beard — was a welcome sight for sore eyes/taste buds.

Door Hinge, Welling: We also once spent an incredible Sunday afternoon in this suburban pint-sized boozer, welcomed by the locals with open arms, homemade rhubarb gin and boiled quail's eggs of all things. The cask beer was good too. As far as we remember.

Golden Ark, Selsdon: Hip craft beer drinkers will be happy with the Golden Ark's selection of cans and bottles, but so too will traditionalist ale drinkers who are spoilt with milds, bitters, porters and the like. The snack selection is, may we say, top-notch.

Hackney Carriage, Sidcup: Even if the beer was rotten, surely you'd come to a pub which hosts a weekly 'Courtesy Cheese Sunday'. And anyway, the cask beer at Hackney Carriage (named after co-owner Mark's profession as a cabbie) is never short of excellent.

Halfway House, Sidcup: You have to keep your voice down when discussing answers at the Halfway House's Tuesday pub quiz; the compact nature of this micropub doesn't lend itself to keeping secrets. It's no secret, however, that the cask game here is strong: with Verdant, Tiny Rebel, Mighty Oak and Vibrant Forest often on the pumps.

The blue, steam-up facade of a micropub at night, filled with punters
The Owl & the Pussycat specialises in cask beer from Ealing Brewery. Image: Londonist

Hop and Vine, Ruislip: You'll usually find four casks, four kegs and a couple of ciders for good measure on tap at Hop and Vine (plus plenty of good bottles of wine, hence the name). Cask offerings might include Arbor, Turning Point or Marble (among many others), with a pint setting you back a very respectable £4.60.

Hop Inn, Hornchurch: An excuse, if ever there was one, to venture eastward to Hornchurch, the Hop Inn does the usual micropub thing of eschewing TVs and mobile phones, in favour of old school chit chat. Find your stories and gossip becoming more embellished, as you lubricate your throat with glasses of Black Sheep bitter.

Little Green Dragon, Green Lanes: Winner of a slew of CAMRA awards, the Little Green Dragon is a pretty little shop-like setup with stained glass and exposed brickwork. While you won't find a slot machine to accompany your pint of Citra, you will end up getting hooked on the bar skittles.

Long Pond, Eltham: Bitters, stouts, pales: the Long Pond has it all on cask, poured on gravity from a little back room (which is the case with many of these micropubs). If you're lucky enough to live locally, they'll deliver five-litre mini casks to your door.

One Inn the Wood, Petts Wood: No amble in the boskiness of Petts Wood is complete without a reviver or two at One Inn the Wood. They're supplied by a staggering number of breweries — from Acorn to XT Brewing Co, and on our visit there was a smashing Kent cheeseboard to go with.

Owl & the Pussycat, Ealing: A quaint little boozer featuring murals of the eponymous Edward Lear poem, the Owl & the Pussycat specialises in cask beer from Ealing Brewery. Go for a post/pre-pint curry at the superb Patri, just across the way.

Five glasses of half drunk beer
Image: M@/Londonist

Penny Farthing, Crayford: Cocktails and wine might inhabit the menu of the Penny Farthing, but so too does plenty of excellent cask ale. The sheer range of beers they get through here is evident from the badges plastered all over the walls. To go with your pint, there are cheese boards, porks pies and itinerant seafood sellers. This is what pubs are all about.

Radius Arms, Whyteleaf: You know a micropub's good when it doesn't even have a proper website. Bestrewn in old beer clips and hoppy shrubbery, the Radius Arms is the perfect suburban hideaway to sink a cask Barsham or two. Strictly speaking it's just outside the Greater London boundary, and strictly speaking we don't care.

Real Ale Way, Hayes: Given its location on the cusp of Kent, it stands to reason that the herringbone-bricked Real Ale Way has a focus on Kent-brewed cask beers, from the likes of Larkins and Tonbridge. It's basically like being in Kent.

River Ale House, Greenwich: One of London's more central micropubs, the River Ale House offers refuge from the surfeit of fizzy Meantime beers in this neck of the woods, offering excellent cask ale from the ilk of Kent, Salopian and Iron Pier.

Upminster Tap: Cask upon cask of delicious beer awaits temptingly behind the glass at Upminster Tap (Wantsum, Redemption and Titanic among the big-hitting breweries). If you can, come along for one of the BYO vinyl nights, so you can geek out to cask beer AND old records.

Dog House, Beddington: A relative newbie on the scene, opening in 2022, the Dog House has everything you want from an shopfront micropub: superb ales (inc. the semi- local Titsey), lovely bar staff... and a group of mummers, who come and perform in here each January.

Traditional boozers with great cask beer

A row of cask pumps
Cask offerings at the Green Dragon in Croydon. Image: Londonist

Finding a great traditional London boozer serving a genuinely brilliant range of cask beers isn't all that easy. We've not included your average Fuller's/Youngs/Nicholsons/Wetherspoons etc, here. While you can certainly find a decent pint of cask in these, the consistency isn't there, and neither's the eclectic selection:

Blythe Hill Tavern, Catford: An Irish pub (with servers snappily dressed in shirts and ties), many come here for the Guinness and Taytos. However, the Blythe Hill Tavern are also proud custodians of cask; settle into the plush red seats of this welcoming boozer, sup a couple of Hopheads, and everything's right with the world.

Green Dragon, Croydon: Live football, a pool table, decent pub grub, a view of London's dullest plaque... the Green Dragon has it all. Add to that an admirable range of hand pumps, offering classics like Redemption's Trinity, and lesser-known brews from the likes of Mobberley Brewhouse.

Harp, Covent Garden: One of the finest places to drink cask beer in central London, the Harp proudly flaunts its well-deep knowledge of cask, with the sundry beer badges peppered above the bar. As you order your pint of Mad Squirrel or Saltaire, you may worry there's nowhere to sit; but the clientele here are in constant rotation. Wait two minutes, and your space will materialise.

Hope, Carshalton: To give you an idea of the kind of establishment the Hope is, some of the punters keep their own drinking vessels behind the bar. Described as "By beer enthusiasts. For beer enthusiasts", this village-esque boozer has seven hand pumps on at a time, offering a mix of dark and light beers — and usually Windsor & Eton's Knight of the Garter golden ale.

Ivy House, Nunhead: Loud and proud about being London's first community pub, the Ivy House welcomes punters local and from further afield, with pints from the likes of Salopian and Dorking breweries. Sunday afternoons with live music are particularly fun.

A pint of beer held aloft in front of a neon sign declaring 'world famous night club'
Enjoy your cask while Soho goes by outside the window, at the Lyric. Image: Londonist

Leyton Orient Supporters Club: While all-too-often, going to the footy means forcing tasteless pints of mass-brewed lager down your gullet, Leyton Orient Supporters Club (built into the club's actual ground) is a CAMRA member's wet dream — serving nigh-on a dozen cask beers at a time (from the likes of Titanic, Bristol Beer Factory and Marble). Snackage is filling and cheap (think cheese rolls), and they even did a raffle last time we were there.

Lyric, Soho: There's always a line of interesting and well-kept cask offerings in this lively West End boozer (we recently had a Thai PA by Tiny Rebel, for instance). Pull up a stool in the window, and watch Soho go by while you sup.

Express Tavern, Kew Bridge: We know someone who travels miles across London for the Express Tavern's pints of Bass, but there's plenty more pouring too — often 10 cask ales in all, and in fine condition too. If you're on your way home, note that they do two pints of takeaway ale for just £5 — bargain!

Mitre, Richmond: This smart, stained glass boozer takes its cask seriously, pulling pints from the likes of Exeter Brewery, Quantock Brewery and Bellfield Brewery — a million miles from your usual Fuller's/Greene King stuff.

The alluring glow of the Express Tavern and its draught Bass. Image: Londonist

Old Fountain, Old Street: Round the corner from the old Londonist offices, the Old Fountain hosted one or two editorial meetings in its time — and no doubt the immaculately-kept pints of Oakham and Thornbridge (nicely chalked up on hand-written beer clips) helped give us some of our best ideas for articles.

Royal Oak, Borough: A cosy backstreet boozer run by Harvey's, the Royal Oak feels like stepping back at least a few decades, and in a good way. It'd be rude not to pair your bitter or old ale with one of the legendary roast dinners, featuring everything from partridge to beef wellington.

Sultan, Colliers Wood: You couldn't find a less pretentious place for a pint than Hopback Brewery's Sultan pub — a simple, carpeted, suburban affair where you come to chew the fat with good friends, or crack open one of the board games with a pint or two of Summer Lightning.

Southampton Arms, Gospel Oak: Or the Southampton Arms Ale and Cider House, to give it its full name. This restful corner pub, adorned with vintage brewery mirrors, boasts no less than 18 hand pulls of real ale (and cider). Nestle in here after a brisk walk on Hampstead Heath, and get dug into a cask you've never tried before... and maybe a pork bap too.

A pint of Hopback beer
You couldn't find a less pretentious place for a pint than the Sultan in Colliers Wood. Image: Londonist

Sussex Arms, Twickenham: Wood-pannelled and log-fired on the inside, and with a capacious beer garden out, the Sussex Arms is a superb spot for supping cask beer year-round. Plus the selection's one of the finest in south west London — with 10 or more hand pulls on offer.

Sutton Arms, Clerkenwell: Like a local village boozer that got lost in central London and decided to stay, the Sutton Arms is legendary among those who know it: the welcoming bar staff always have something interesting to serve; we once had a Kendal Mint Cake porter on cask here.

Tapping the Admiral, Kentish Town: Sunday afternoons are made for places like Tapping the Admiral, where one of the best roast pork dinners we've had in London comes paired with cask in jugs from the likes of Siren, Ilkley and Burning Sky. You will not just be stopping in for one.

Wenlock Arms, Hackney: Siren, Darkstar, Five Points, Oakham, Salopian and Bristol Beer regularly feature on the Wenlock's 10 cask ale pumps. This off-the-beaten-track boozer is dark and atmospheric in all the best ways. Great for wintry meet-ups... we may have had one or two Londonist rendezvous here too.

Craft beer pubs with great cask beer

A huge board naming lots of beers
Plenty of cask among the keg at the Earl of Essex. Image: Londonist

Black Dog Beer House, Brentford: A real treasure of a pub, not far from the enchanting Musical Museum, the Black Dog is a gastro/craft beer mash-up — with fab food, and a foliage-ensconced beer garden to boot. While the kegged beers can be a tad spendy, the cask is naturally cheaper: you'll find at least four on at any given time, including beers from London's Wild Card, and Twickenham breweries.

Cask, Pimlico: One of the pioneers of London's craft beer scene, Cask stays true to its name, offering an array of hand pumps (among all the kegged, canned and bottled beers). In fact, you're treated to 10 cask ales at any given time, suppliers including Dark Star, Acorn and Kent breweries.

Cock Tavern, Hackney Central: A well-turned out wood-walled pub which straddles the trad and the hipster, the Cock has an irresistible array of a dozen or so pump beers, from Wild Beer, Leigh on Sea Brewery, and Redemption, among others. Dare you to call in and not lose all track of time.

Earl of Essex, Islington: On entering the Earl of Essex, you'll be momentarily dumbfounded by its chalkboard covered with beer options. Although many are of the kegged variety, there's a good little selection nof cask too, often from 'trendier' breweries like Five Points, Kernel and Salt.

A green tiled pub with 'The Shirker's Rest' on the front. A man sits on a chair outside with a pint
The Shirker's Rest have their own cask bitter, which is less than £4 a pint. Image: Londonist

Shirker's Rest, New Cross: This new kid on the block is already perma-packed with beer lovers, many of whom choose to sup on the small, but ever-rotating selection. They also have their own cask bitter, which is less than £4 a pint(!) Here's the really exciting thing though: the Shirker's is the only pub we know in London where you can choose to have sparkler or no sparkler on your beer. Sold.

Star & Garter, Bromley: Anyone in the know about beer has the Star & Garter on their radar; a grand mock-Tudor facade gives way to a grandiose beaut of a boozer plastered in Belgian beer signs, and replete with so many beer taps, you'd be silly to try them all in one go. There are cask beers aplenty too, which may include Verdant, Marble, Thornbridge or Fyne.

Stormbird, Camberwell: Don't be fooled by the art students chomping on their order-in falafel wraps, and quaffing thirds of milkshake IPAs. Yes, Stormbird serves some super quirky, super strong craft beers for hipsters. But its cask selection is also spot on (and affordable). No wonder either — it's the Star & Garter's sister pub.

Queen's Head, King's Cross: Serves of Philly cheesecake sour nudge the Queen's Head into the 'craft beer pub' camp on this list — but there's something delightfully old school about this snug Victorian boozer, not least its small but well-maintained selection of cask ales, served in a jug if you so wish.

Beer festivals with great cask beer

A man in shirt and tie serves a pint of ale
Yes, you really can get a cask beer on a heritage railway in London. Image: Londonist

A slew of CAMRA beer festivals pepper London's calendar, meaning the cask beer keeps flowing in great quantities throughout the year. Your best bet is checking CAMRA's website to see what's on the horizon.

We will, however, highlight the Great British Beer Festival, held at Olympia London each August. As the name suggests, this is the king of beer festivals, and most of the brews are on cask. Aside from favourites (and rarer offerings) from UK breweries, the international section reveals some super thrilling cask — often shipped over here Europe, and even the US.

We'd also advise you to keep an eye out for beer festivals on the Epping-Ongar Railway, where some of the cask beer is poured on board the train!

Got a suggestion? Drop it in the comments below.

For more adventures in beer, we recommend London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars by Des de Moor, which has led us to some exceptional drinking holes.

Last Updated 20 September 2023

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