A while back, I wrote about London beer as a bittersweet experience. I also called that post preliminary thoughts, so I thought I’d come back to it. To summarize the first post, I essentially stated that bitters dominate the landscape of London. If you plan on visiting England, go to London for sure, but make certain that you are a ambulatory when it comes to the rest of England. Time and again I’ve been told that you’ve got to explore smaller areas and towns to really get the whole ale experience. Having said that, let me recommend a couple of places to obtain beer in London, should you visit:
The Lowlander specializes in Belgian Ales. Many of the better/more unique beers that I tasted in London were at this location. I drank some sours, lambics, and some triples. Unlike the lower alcohol beers that dotted the landscape, the Lowlander had some fairly big beers. Of course, you are going to pay for them. This is not only due to the fact that more ingredients and time went into the beers but also because many places in Europe base taxation of beers on their alcohol content.
The Museum Pub: It seems to me that this was the name. Some of the more familiar brands can be found there: Old Speckled Hen, Hobgoblin, and Old Peculiar. These are beers that defy many of the normal bitters in the surrounding area. Either way, it is right across the street from the National History Museum in London…you can’t miss it. Don’t forget to buy a sausage with onions from a street vender before or after a pint or two.
Samuel Smith’s Pubs: There are several Samuel Smith’s pubs in the London area. The nice thing about these is that you can get a Sam Smith’s Extra Stout, which is a lovely respite from the ubiquitous Guinness (otherwise you might not be able to find another stout). There is a particular Samuel Smith’s pub location (obviously, it wasn’t a Samuel Smith’s pub then) that Charles Dickens used to visit (it is singularly odd to walk into pubs, with all their tight quarters and old architecture, that are older than the United States as a country. I think this is one of the great charms about drinking beer in London). This pub is called The Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. They also carry many of Samuel Smith’s other products, including lagers, pale ales, and ciders…but, sadly, they didn’t have the Taddy Porter.
The Rake: If you are missing the United States, find The Rake. They specialize in carrying American craft beers. You can find selections by Left Hand, Hebrew/Schmaltz, and plenty of Stone. In fact, the only place I’ve had Stone’s Russian Imperial Stout on tap was at the Rake. It’s worth checking out because of all the interesting choices and the novelty of seeing an “American” watering hole in London.
I hope this will help interested beer drinkers on their way to London. Two points are worth reiterating: one, explore the beer in London. Two, don’t simply explore the beer in London. I hope to write about my experiences elsewhere in Europe before too long.
***One more good tip I can offer is to order half-pints of beer. If you want to try as many as possible, this is a good way to do it.***
That’s a good start Nate, I would also add The Cock on Great Portland Street and The Glasshouse Stores on Glasshouse Street. The first is only five minutes from the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus, the second only minutes from Piccadilly Circus.
And both are great examples of traditional (although different) Victorian pubs with acres of polished mahogany and etched glass. The Cock does pretty good grub upstairs at lunchtimes too.
Oh, and bear in mind that English pints (and halves) are 20% larger than their American equivalents, small compensation that almost everything else in Britain (portion sizes, cars etc.) are smaller.
Thanks, Bob. I’ll head to a couple of those places when I go back, which will happen. The pint size is also good to bear in mind. Although the alcohol is generally at a lower level than many American beers, it’s prudent for me to drink smaller amounts if I want to taste anything. Honestly, if I did over indulge I had less of a headache…probably because of carbonation issues. Thanks for the feedback. A native gentleman is the best enquiry.
Welcome to London. Good job on going to the Lowlander. Definitely a good choice. And Cheshire Cheese is always a good one.
If you would like to try a lot of different beers (and not just Benelux ones like the lowlander) I suggest the Porterhouse Brewery near Covent Garden (http://www.porterhousebrewco.com/coventgarden.html). Their beer menu is extremely good.