When the London Craft Beer Festival held its first event six years ago, the city was a different place. London had just 40-odd craft breweries, only a handful of pubs and bars that took their beer offerings seriously, and one or two bottle shops.
Today, the numbers tell a different story. London now boasts over 100 breweries (in the UK as a whole, that tally has soared above 2,000), and craft beer is no longer just found in specialty venues. These days, it’s in regular pubs, on restaurant menus, and even on supermarket shelves. Craft beer has grown from a poorly understood niche—think endless clichés about hipsters and beards—to a genuine sea change.
The London Craft Beer Festival has evolved accordingly. After four years at the Oval Space in Bethnal Green, last year’s edition of the festival moved to the Shoreditch Electric Light Station. This year, the festival has set its sights on an even bigger venue: Tobacco Dock, a Grade I-listed warehouse. Its line-up includes close to 100 breweries, including some of the UK’s biggest names (Cloudwater, Verdant, Burning Sky) as well as a number of international breweries (Finback from the US, Brouwerij Kees from the Netherlands, Stigbergets from Sweden).
Then there are the festival’s food purveyors, who are set to offer more than just the expected, belly-lining fare. Instead, some of London’s top restaurants—the upscale Luca, the much-hyped Hoppers—will be represented. The entertainment, too, has pedigree: expect DJ sets from Everything Everything, Two Door Cinema Club, Hercules and Love Affair, and other high-profile acts.
The London Craft Beer Festival will be held this coming weekend; tickets are still available online. Book your place, and come ready to sip widely. If you’d like to prime your palate beforehand, we’ve also picked five of our favourite beery venues across London, which together represent the best of the city’s craft beer scene. Meet your friends and order a pint or two before the festivities begin.
Primarily a distributor and importer of various high-profile domestic and international breweries—think Cloudwater, Modern Times, and The Kernel—the BottleShop also runs a destination-worthy bar along the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Expect a hundreds-deep menu of bottles and cans sourced from its portfolio, plus an accessibly industrial vibe, courtesy of its railway-arch setting.
Mason & Company
With its blonde wood fixtures and white tile bar, Mason & Company wouldn’t be out of place in Stockholm or Copenhagen. Opened by the team behind the Hackney-based Five Points Brewing Company, the bar offers 20 taps and numerous bottles and cans. Its outdoor seating and location along the canal make it an especially good place to pause for a pre-festival drink.
The Cock Tavern
In terms of looks and atmosphere, The Cock Tavern, located on Mare Street, is a classic boozer, inviting and unpretentious. The breadth of its beer selection across both keg and cask, however, elevates it from beloved local to destination-worthy drinking den. Then there’s the fact that esteemed London brewery Howling Hops—which now has its own Hackney Wick bar—was born in its basement.
Beer Merchants Tap
The newest entry on the list, Beer Merchants Tap—which, like The BottleShop, is also owned by a beer distributor—only made its Hackney Wick debut this February, following a successful crowdfunding campaign. While its selection of 20 taps and two cask pumps isn’t the widest in the capital, Beer Merchants Tap more than makes up for it by offering an extensive array of bottles, including coveted Belgian offerings by breweries like Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen.
When it opened five years ago in a railway arch in Bethnal Green, Mother Kelly’s was one of the only craft beer bars and bottle shops in London. These days, it’s no longer alone in the wilderness, but Mother Kelly’s remains a staple of the city’s beery offerings. Stake out a seat on the benches out front if the weather behaves, browse the hundreds of offerings in its fridges, or pick something fresh from its 23 taps.
The London Craft Beer Festival will be held at London’s Tobacco Dock from 3rd-5th August, 2018. Tickets can be purchased at LondonCraftBeerFestival.co.uk.