For Cask and King – Beer in London, UK

Last month, my girlfriend and I had the opportunity to go to London for vacation (“holiday,” as they say over there…). We took every chance to sample the local culture – of course including the beer!

To clear up a few things before we get started:
1) I lived in London for about two years, between a study abroad program and earning my Master’s degree (from University College London, for those who care about that kind of thing).
2) Cask ale is not “warm,” but “cellar temperature” of about 55 F. Additionally, it is less effervescent, but in no way would I call it wholly flat.

With that out of the way, let’s get to it!

Camden Town

When I attended UCL my flat was right off the Camden Town Tube station. I became quite familiar with the local pubs there, and was excited to check out how these establishments aged.

While perhaps a bit… cliche, we went to BrewDog Camden Town. Known for leading the craft brew revolution in the UK, BrewDog can serve up some pretty decent keg beers. I had their flagship beer, Punk IPA. Tasty, but this lacks a lot of the hop pop that US drinkers might have come to expect from a flagship IPAs today. Though this might be a decision after a careful reading of their market – Case and point, my buddy from over there calls many of the IPAs coming out of the US “West Coast Bullshit.” Bitter, hoppy, but nothing to write home about (despite my writing here).

There was another pub close to us during our stay in Camden, The Sheephaven Bay. An actual Irish pub (in London), it has a warm charm in low lighting. Multiple rooms make the pub seem bigger on the inside, and do an excellent job of giving its patrons comfort and quiet despite the number of groups in the pub. Here, I had a few lagers and my girlfriend had a few ciders. We had a blast people watching – particularly as a rather rambunctious group attempted to play darts on a dart board… without the darts.

A quick note: Pub loyalty is a rather serious matter in the UK. While I lived in Camden, I probably drank the most at a pub in a different neighborhood (more on that later), but there were two that I might consider my “local.” Moving on.

The Hawley Arms is an absolutely fantastic little pub tucked away by the Camden Lock market. In my grad school days I spent maybe a few nights here a month, and for good reason. We posted up at a small table on the first floor. We drank Beavertown Neck Oil next to a table of rowdy rugby players. I can drink an absolutely fiendish amount of this stuff. A favorite during my grad school days, Neck Oil is a little session IPA. Some of our readers might know my affinity for this style in particular. Overall, I cannot recommend this pub enough, should you find yourself tired of the hustle and bustle in the Camden Market.

Another pub that probably was in the running for what could be considered my local was the Edinboro Castle. This pub has a bit of a special place in my heart. During the first week of my graduate school stay, I attended this pub with some people I came across walking along the canal. They were hashers, and invited me to join in. But this most recent trip did not include drinking and running. Instead, we took refuge from the chilly weather as we waited for the AirBnb check in – and of course we grabbed pints. I had a Ghost Ship – something I sorely missed back here in the states. Mind you, it’s not the best cask ale out there, but there’s something so quintessentially “pub cask ale” about it. My girlfriend, now getting a real lesson in cask, began to also appreciate the style.

Bloomsbury

During graduate school, I pulled pints for a pub at night. Both that pub and my Uni are in Bloomsbury – thus, I drank around there pretty frequently (see my discussion about most frequented vs local pub above). Naturally, I wanted to show my girlfriend all of my favorite spots from back in the day.

It made sense that the Holborn Whippet enjoy such a showcasing. I worked here, and have the shirts to prove it! We sat in the little window perch overlooking the beautiful Sicilian Ave in London… with the great view of the Pasta House that made me so angry all those years ago. Our drinks were a couple of Adnam’s Mosaic pints. Again, Europe’s understanding of hoppy ales is a departure from what we in the US might know, but it was delicious and hit the spot. I was sad to learn that much of the staff that made the pub so delightful has since moved on – and current management is a bit pricklier than it used to be.

Another pub I wanted to show off was the Resting Hare. We didn’t stay here long since it was pretty crowded, and I got a Bitburger. This is a pretty tasty German Pils, cold and wet. Sometimes that’s all you want in a beer.

Only one of the pubs in area around UCL really held up to my memory: the Euston Tap. This, despite their discontinuation of the Cider Tap. The small pub in an old gate house of Euston Station offers a wide selection of beers. So many in fact, that I honestly forgot all of the beers I drank – I know one of truly delicious ones was from Marble though. It’s the kind of pub where you appreciate the half pint norm in the UK. I got to try twice as many beers without getting too drunk too quickly. I highly recommend this pub, just go if you’re in London.

JD Wetherspoon – Shakespeare’s Head, The Ice Wharf, Sir John Hawkshaw

Any of our UK readers, or those who may have spent any amount of time in the UK, will know what a “spoons” is – for those who do not, imagine a chain pub that serves acceptable food and pulls an acceptable pint. The main attraction of a spoons is how incredibly cheap it is compared to other pubs in London. That said, if you’d accuse any spoons of being anything other than mediocre, you’d probably be wrong with some notable exceptions.

Shakespeare’s Head is not one of those exceptions. However, we wanted to get a dirty full English breakfast after our flight and before our AirBnb was ready. While we didn’t get a beer here, I thought it was only fitting that I account for all of my spoons visits. The food was as expected, but genuinely hit the spot after our travels from Chicago.

The next day, we also had breakfast at the Ice Wharf. We got essentially the same breakfast, but it a higher quality. Again, we didn’t get beer at 9 am.

On one of the last days in the UK we stopped off at the Sir John Hawkshaw – this was the only time we drank at a spoons the whole time, but as I explained before, spoons is know for their budget boozing, which does not necessarily translate to the quality of or selection of their ales. We both had a few Green King IPAs. They were fine enough.

More to come…

We also went on an entire pubcrawl with friends of ours through Highgate. As this post is already a bit long, we’ll save that for another time.

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