In the 1970s, only 11 commercial breweries were active in the Greater London area. Most of these were mass-producing pasteurised keg ale and lager of mediocre quality. But the beer scene was changing. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) was formed in 1971 as the Campaign for the Revitalisation of Ale – a rebellion against the status quo of beer mediocrity.
Rise of the London Craft Beer Scene
Although there were few breweries in London almost 50 years ago, the amount of beer produced was several times greater than today. Since then, quantity has gone down and quality has gone up. Maybe the lobbyists won. But there have been a lot of pub closures, too. More and more people drink at home, and many have switched from beer to wine.
Aside from hitting the pub industry hard, of course drinking at home has implications for people’s health. With less financial constraint, they are liable to drink more freely. Anyone worried about a drinking habit can use an app to discreetly see a GP online about their health problems. Drinking socially and secretly are two very different things.
During the early 2000s, the number of London breweries in operation had dipped to nine with the closure of Young’s Ram Brewery in Wandsworth. Today, even with many pubs struggling, there are over 120 breweries in London.
To Name but a Few
The full list of London breweries and brewpubs is too long for inclusion here. Nevertheless, here are five notable London breweries:
- Brixton Brewery; founded in 2013, Brixton Brewery is a microbrewery which is well known for its commitment to the community. Its Effra Ale uses hops grown less than a kilometre away.
- Crate Brewery; a combination of beer brewed on-site and freshly baked pizzas are offered by the Crate Brewery beside the Lea Navigation in Hackney Wick. The brewery was initially founded in 2012 by three locals. Among its beer selection is the award-winning Crate Session IPA.
- Fourpure Brewing Company; founded by two brothers in 2013, Fourpure takes its name from the four main ingredients of beer; grain, yeast, hops and water. This Bermondsey brewery won the UK Brewery of the Year title in 2017.
- Fuller’s; by far the oldest brewery in London, Fuller’s was founded in 1845, and its roots go back further still. It was sold to Asahi in 2019, but beer is still made at the historic Griffin Brewery in Chiswick. The most popular Fuller’s beer is London Pride, but the brewery has several other award-winning ales to its name.
- London Brewing Company; founded in 2011 at the Bull pub in Highgate, the London Brewing Co has won several CAMRA and SIBA awards and specialises in high-quality craft beers and real ales. Among its successful creations are 100 Oysters stout and Beer Street best bitter.
A Bright Future
After a lull in quality during the mid-20th century, beer has become a drink to admire again. The industry has moved away from domineering brewery groups, mergers and acquisitions. It’s now in the hands of craftsmen and enthusiasts. Nowhere is this more the case than in London.