Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
It's been a while since I've had a really good pint of cask beer. In fact I've been almost consciously avoiding ordering cask with such a plethora of outstanding keg beer available in London Town. The majority of my recent pub excursions have been to Brewdog's trio of London bars where the draught selection has been as exceptional as their service. Cask just hasn't done it for me in 2014 but I can't say my enjoyment of beer has been less rich because of this.
I was contemplating a twitter discussion led by Peter 'Tandleman' Alexander about how the majority of London's boozers just don't know how best to store and serve cask. The main problem being that the beer is served too warm for carbon dioxide to remain soluble and as such is as flat as a pancake. This set the mind cogs in motion. Surely this problem isn't confined to London but is perhaps more prevalent due to its size. We do have more pubs than anywhere else in the UK and probably a worse infrastructure than most other towns. I imagine many cellars are cramped, Victorian affairs with no form of temperature control and the ambient temperature being affected buy London's vicious closeness, accentuated by it's millions of citizens and ridiculous traffic. I also imagine many pubs stock cask beer not because they choose to but because they have to. Cask beer is bloody fashionable and it's all CAMRA's fault. A pub might not have the knowledge on how best to keep it but who cares when it's selling hand over fist. The minority, that's who.
London is being used as a scapegoat, a poster boy for the badly kept cask. There is plenty of great cask beer to be found if you know where to find it. In fact it was from a most unexpected drinking jaunt that I had the best pint of cask beer I've had this year, probably in over a year in fact and it was in the pub nearest to my flat. Family had just arrived after a long, long flight from New Zealand and my partner Dianne and I took them to The Three Compasses on Hornsey High Street in North London. I've always enjoyed having a beer here, it's a decent boozer with a nice ambiance, good food and six rotating handpulls.
Redemption Pale Ale from nearby Tottenham is more often than not available and on this occasion it was on blinding form. Then I moved on to the Italian Job, a pale ale from Yorkshire's Roosters Brewery. What followed was one of those beer moments that people tell you about. In fact the moment started before I'd supped or even smelled it. It looked delicious, it was golden and bright as a button. It smelled floral and zesty, like freshly picked bushels of elderflower and lavender. That elderflower note continued right through to the taste and it was joined by a little grapefruit zest which was balanced by a some malt sweetness but only enough to make sure that the hop aroma compounds were doing most of the talking. It was cold enough to be refreshing and the finish was bitter, dry and moreish. I then paid this beer the ultimate compliment, upon finishing I went straight back to the bar and ordered another.
Despite the failures of some pubs, London is a great place to get a really good pint of cask beer and here are, in my opinion, some of the best places to get one:
The Southampton Arms - 139 Highgate Road, Gospel Oak, NW5 1LE
Cask Pub and Kitchen - 6 Charlwood Street, Pimlico, SW1V 6EE
The Euston Tap - 190 Euston Road, NW1 2EF
The Harp - 47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, WC2N 4HS
The Lyric - 37 Great Windmill Street, Soho, W1D 7LU
The Craft Beer Company - 82 Leather Lane, Clerkenwell, EC1N 7TR
The Holborn Whippet - 25-29 Sicilian Avenue, Holborn, WC1A 2QH
The Three Compasses - 62 High Street, Hornsey, N8 7NX
Tap East - 7 International Square, Westfield Stratford, E20 1EE
The Pelt Trader - Arch 3, Dowgate Hill, EC4N 6AP
The Bull - 13 North Hill, Highgate, N6 4NB
The Old Coffee House - 49 Beak Street, Soho, W1F 9SF
Draft House - 43 Goodge Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 1TA
The Dukes Head - 16 Highgate High Street, N6 5JG
The King William IV - 816 High Road, Leyton, E10 6AE
The Rake - 14 Winchester Walk, Borough, SE1 9AG
The Fox - 372 Kingsland Road, Haggerston, E8 4DA
Of course there are many more great pubs serving top notch cask ale in London, if you feel I've left out someone important why not let me know in the comments below.