London's best pubs for cask ale01 May 2015
It is London’s Achilles heel*. Yes, we may live in one of the most exciting cities in the world, full of superb bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs, museums and all that jazz. But what about the real ale? In the capital of a nation famous for its cask-conditioned beer, too many boozers serve crappy bitter. It’s either warm or vinegary or flat or a bit dull. No wonder Northerners guffaw into their shaving-foam-topped pints.
But all is not lost. Some pubs do have an idea of how to look after this most tempestuous of products. With a bank holiday coming up, now is the time to seek out pubs that serve cask ale in good nick. Here’s five of our favourites, in no particular order.
*perhaps not strictly true.
Beer Shop, Nunhead (pictured)
This part of London - between Peckham and Brockley - is rapidly gentrifying, so it’s no surprise to find a craft-beer-focused pub at the heart of it, on Nunhead Green. The man behind the Beer Shop, Lee, is a genial chap with a passion for well-kept cask ale. It’s all served on gravity here, which may be a drawback for some but it’s always been in good nick when we’ve been in.
Deep in the heart of West London you’ll find The Finborough, a beautifully renovated pub with a tremendous selection of beer. There’s a superb Italian pils on tap, Tipopils, but the cask ale may be even better. Landlord Jeff is a man of strong opinions but don’t let that put you off: he’s much less abrasive in the flesh. There’s a telly, too, generally with some sort of sport on it. Lots of Chelsea fans when they’re at home, too. That may or may not be a plus.
This central London classic is invariably jam-packed with suited gents who are here, quite understandably, for the beer. The pub’s reputation for excellent cask ale was built by former landlady Binnie Walsh; it was bought by Fuller’s last year and they’ve done the sensible thing, maintaining the quality and range that was the hallmark of the previous administration.
Jeremy Clarkson may not have enjoyed his recent visit - he moaned about not being able to smoke out the back - but there’s a reason why the White Horse turns up in so many of these lists. It’s a tightly-run ship, even if turnover behind the bar is sometimes high. Having been down into the cellar at the White Horse, we can vouch for the order that prevails there.
Tom Cadden, operation manager at the Craft Beer Co, is quite rightly known as the cask whisperer. He once explained to us exactly how you knew a cask beer was ready: I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say my experience in the pubs under his guidance has generally been good. It’s difficult to keep so many cask ales (16 in Clerkenwell) in decent nick but Craft Beer Co do a very good job. And it’s much cheaper than the keg beer.