Winter Ale Festival at The Gun
Craft beers and real ales are on the up, and 2014 looks like it’s going to be a bumper year for new beers from small breweries all over the country. Try a whole slew of amber nectars and get your first taste of lingering bitterness, upfront hops and lengths of flavour (yes, it’s as complex as wine terminology) at the Winter Ale Festival at The Gun (pictured) from Thursday, January 30 to Saturday, February 1. More than 30 cask and keg brews are there for the tasting - from Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell, Derbyshire, to the Windsor & Eton Brewery in the Queen’s local town. The festival has thoughtfully put on food as well; go for the Homage to Fromage cheese board for two, which pairs different miniature bottles of beer from The Kernel Brewery down in Bermondsey with a cheddar, a blue and a British territorial like Lancashire and Caerphilly.
Get yourself clued up on the latest beer with the official London launch of Gyle59 from Dorset. The brewery's beers lack Isinglass finings, which are made from the swim bladders of fish and remove the cloudiness from the beer. So the pure mix of spring water, top malts and great hops appeals to vegetarians and vegans as well.
If you miss the Festival, try the following:
Brewdog, the Scottish brewery that claims to ‘brew hard-core beer for punks,’ has found a natural home for both - and other eccentrics - in Camden at its eponymous pub where kind bar staff will help the uninitiated. The pub has all the Brewdog beers on keg draught, from Californian Pale Ale Dead Pony Club (at 3.5%, this is good for beginners) to limited-release varieties like Watt Dickie, which, at 35% ABV, is not to be drunk lightly - Brewdog sells it only in 60ml bottles. The brewery also has international names from mainly U.S. microbreweries like Evil Twin and Anchor.
The Draft House in Fitzrovia, one of a group of five small and friendly local pubs specialising in craft beers, offers a great range from native tipples like London Lager from the Meantime Brewing Company in Greenwich to Einstock Icelandic White Ale, a Belgian white-style beer made in Iceland with glacial pure water. You can also get U.S. beers like the barrel-aged, rich and sweet Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter from Maryland, which weighs in at a massive 9.2%.
It’s not just pubs that are championing craft beers; smart Merchants Tavern (pictured) has a range of craft beers that includes Ceilidh (pronounced Kayleigh), a Scottish draught lager from Williams Brothers that is made with: Hallertau hops from the Czech Republic, Amarillo hops from the U.S., Belgian pilsener malt, German yeast and that all-important Scottish water. Also on offer is a hoppy Camden Pale Ale from the Camden Town Brewery, which uses six different types of hop and four types of malt to give it a taste of the great U.S. pale ales.
Other places where top craft beers match top food include the Paternoster Chop House (pictured) where the likes of Meantime London Pale Ale, Camden Hells Lager, Hoxton Stout and the Wychwood Brewery's Wychcraft complement the hearty tastes of calves' liver with champ mash, onion rings and bacon and a range of ample bar snacks including their now-famous pork and black pudding scotch eggs.
West Londoners flock to The Princess Victoria in Shepherd’s Bush for its gastropub menu and beer garden where, on a summer’s day, there’s nothing more refreshing than a glass of hand-pumped Sambrook’s Wandle Ale (the first beer that the Battersea brewery produced), a soft, malty Twickenham Redhead or a Portobello Pale from the rapidly growing brewery in Notting Hill.