It’s Saturday afternoon inside a brick-built railway arch in sunny southeast London, England. This kind of white-painted, tunnel-like lockup typically houses garages or workshops, but this one is different: it’s crammed with chatty drinkers sipping tasty beers made on-site by Southwark Brewing Co.
“We specialize in traditional cask beers, adding a modern twist of new hops and other ingredients for more varied flavours,” says the microbrewery’s founder, Peter Jackson, who recommends starting with Bermondsey Best, a smooth English bitter.
With a busy bar and surging production, Southwark is one of many new beer-makers that have arrived on the London scene in recent years. Britain has been a booze-making behemoth for centuries, of course, but the global latter-day microbrewing movement has inspired dozens of new producers to launch in the capital.
As in other craft-beer cities, lower-cost, once-grungy neighbourhoods are preferred, including increasingly developing London areas like Bermondsey (Southwark Brewing’s home) and Hackney. Railway arches and industrial units are commonly colonized, restoring underutilized spaces to thirst-slaking good use after years of neglect.
Near Hackney Wick railway station, Crate Brewery operates in a century-old former print works factory building. Alongside a canal—summertime’s alfresco tables are highly sought-after—its chunky rail-tie bar serves gourmet pizzas (try the Kashmiri dahl) and intriguing house-made beers to friendly, hipster-bearded locals.
“We opened the bar on a shoestring budget,” says co-founder Jess Seaton. “But we were determined to involve the community from day one. We’ve now become a gathering place that many people around here feel part of.”
The siren song of great beer helps, of course.
“We have a strong core range, but we also have seasonals and a Brewers Tap that allows us to try fun and crazy beers—including refreshingly tart sours,” says Seaton. “We’re aiming to make interesting beers accessible to those who want to experiment.”
It’s these curious quaffers that help drive the London scene. Locals often have preferred producers—from Kernel Brewery and The Five Points Brewing Company to Brick Brewery and Beavertown Brewery—but summer is an ideal time to discover new favourites, like Bermondsey’s Fourpure Brewing Co.
“Our top-sellers include the hoppy, really drinkable Pils Lager, American Pale Ale and our flagship Session IPA,” says Fourpure co-founder Daniel Lowe, adding that summer visitors to their tasting bar should also save room for Southern Latitude, a New England-style session IPA.
For Lowe, the city’s effervescent ale scene is part of a deeper grassroots movement here. “Londoners are embracing quality: buying less but also buying better and buying local,” he says. “New venues that focus on local craft beers, gins and artisanal products are opening almost daily. Things are only just getting started.”
Try these craft beers:
Crate Pale Ale
Shape Shifter IPA
Pale Ale, Citra Simcoe
Getting there: WestJet flies to London four times a day from Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and St. John’s.