Drink Articles

Best real ale pubs in London

Andrew Dickens finds out how cask beer got cool, guided by the Craft Beer Channel’s Jonny Garrett


1. The Euston Tap

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Straight home after work? On a Monday night? This isn’t Stalinist Russia. We’ve exited Euston station and worked our way to the Tap, where an adventure in real ale begins with a pint of Windermere Pale by Hawkshead – a vibrant, modern ale. “This has to be the best, busiest pub in a train station in the world”, says Jonny. “And throughput is vital to good cask beer. If it’s flying out the taps, it’s more likely to be fresh like this awesome pale.”

Best real ale pubs in London

2. The Parcel Yard

Distance travelled: 1km

In this great boozer at the back of Harry Potter’s favourite station, we drink a potion that – to many minds – magically transforms men into excellent raconteurs, dancers and lovers: Fuller’s ESB. Going strong since 1971, twice World Champion Beer, and two fingers to anyone who thinks old school real ale is for sandal-wearing geeks. Unless that’s come full circle now, in which case fingers retracted. “It’s like liquid fruitcake,” says Jonny. “I’m pretty sure it’s gonna be cool to drink cask soon. I mean everyone wears Kappa again.”

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3. The Colonel Fawcett

Distance travelled: 1.6km

I’m sure canal-side pubs were once there for thirsty canal workers. Now, they’re geographically convenient for anyone after a shopping trolley for beered-up “antics”. Not that the clientele at this classy joint would do that. We’re going very local here: Hammerton N7, brewed a mile away. Super crafty, uber trendy, and proof that breweries can make great modern keg and cask beers. “Hammerton actually aren’t one of those hyped London breweries,” says Jonny. “But they make sensational, rich, hoppy cask beers.”

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4. Tapping the Admiral

Distance travelled: 900m

A dry roasted peanut’s throw from Camden Town brewery is one of London’s finest and most idiosyncratic real ale pubs (it has a chaise longue for its cat), and a haven for fans of quality, innovative beer – ie us. “I love that specifically drinking cask gets you out of the London craft bubble,” says Jonny. “Sometimes limiting yourself actually opens your eyes to other flavours and sensations.” We line up FOUR beers, with West Berks’s Dr Hexter’s Healer and Siren’s Soundwave winning the day.

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5. The Southampton Arms

Distance travelled: 1.5km

The final stretch takes us to Jonny’s favourite pub in the whole wide London, where we catch the end of the pub quiz, won by a team that looks like they were genetically engineered for that specific purpose. We finish with Howling Hops’ Pale XX, which embodies our mission to extinguish the real ale stigma. So, is cask beer cool? Jonny says YES. “If a brewery as modern and innovative as Howling Hops deems cask beer worthy of brewing, us mere drunken mortals should deem it worthy of drinking.”

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