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Apr 20, 2012 11:39 AM

London Real/Cask Ales

I am going to be visiting London next month with a friend, and I am interested in trying some UK real (cask-conditioned) ales. Does anyone have recommendations for particular ales or pubs serving ale?

We are staying by Temple (WC2R); I'd love to find some places nearby that we might hang out after a long day of sightseeing, but I'm happy to travel for something spectacular.

I've done a little research into pubs. Nearby I've found The Harp, Nell Gwynne Tavern, Nell of Old Drury, and Ship & Shovell. Opinions and suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

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  1. The Harp does very good beer but is tiny and gets very packed.
    You're staying very close to the Blackfriars pub which is a fantastic arts and crafts pub and a must see if you want to visit pubs in London.
    The ale and service can be a bit hit and miss but they do carry a good range of real ales.

    1. Here's the link to the CAMRA website - should sort you out with all you need to know:

      2 Replies
      1. re: Harters

        CAMRA has a neat beer guide app! Does anyone have any experience using it? Has it been useful?

        1. re: caciocavallo

          Unfortunately I no longer drink alcohol so can't help with that one.

      2. The harp is great. Other places to go would be the craft beer co on leather lane, they have 16 pumps with cask and 10 with keg. The wenlock arms in islington is also a great pub with a good cask selection. The Old Red Cow is a a good beer pub in the city. You do need to be careful in London, there are many pubs which look great but don't keep beer very well.

        Des De Moor's site is a great resource for pubs as well.

        Finally, I'd say give our burgeoning craft beer movement a go. It's very contentious; I'm considering handing back my CAMRA membership over their attitude to it. Sadly they represent the encumbent brewing industry so there's a lot of hot air in the arguments. Some of my favourite breweries are Revolution, Brodies, Thornbridge, Kernel, Magic Rock and Moor Beer.

        1 Reply
        1. re: spli

          Thanks for the info! I appreciate the list of breweries; this will be a good starting point!

        2. Just so you know -- all pubs in London have real ale (not trying to be a jerk, just not sure how familiar the OP is with British beer). Obviously, some places are better than others, but if you see somewhere in a nice location it should have a decent spread.

          13 Replies
          1. re: brokentelephone

            I'd disagree with the previous poster. I'd say that a lot of pubs do not have real ale. The OP specifically states cask condition ale as well so this is an even more specific request as a lot of pub use kegged beer even though the font front is the same as a cask conditioned beer.

            Unfortunately we had become a nation of lager drinkers with land lords who had no idea how to look after cask beers but this is certainly changing.

            1. re: AWaiting

              A few places to add to the list;

              The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town is a little bit of a trek but is probably London's all round best craft beer pub. What it lacks in choice (though it still has plenty) is more than made up for by atmosphere.

              Two places worth making the short hop south of the river for are The Market Porter in London Bridge and the nearby Royal Oak, one of London's loveliest pubs which has a full range of Harvey's beers.

              Central wise, the choice is far less, the Harp as perviously mentioned is great but packed. An alternative might be The Old Coffee House on Soho's Beak Street which has a good range of Brodies beers.

              Finally, a couple in the Euston area; the brilliant Euston Tap which has a gigantic range of craft beers and the nearby Bree Louise, a long standing real ale hub

              1. re: bowlerpaul

                The Market Porter is definitely worth a visit, and if you do go down that way I'd also recommend the Rake. I think the Rake look after their cask better and whilst the Market Porter has a wider selection of beers, the Rake has much better beers. It's a tiny place, but it's fun, especially if the sun is out and you can stand on the terrace.

                I like Brodies a lot and need to get myself down the Old Coffee House. What's it like as a pub? I know they've a great selection of beer, I just never thought the place looked all that?

                1. re: spli

                  The Old Coffee House is decent as a pub if not outstanding, definately one of the better pubs in Soho at least. William IV in Leyton is your best bet for Brodies; they have up to 15 of their beers on tap, all for £1.99. Amazing value! It's a nice boozer too


                2. re: bowlerpaul

                  I've been hearing a LOT of good things about the Southampton Arms. I may have to make the trek...

                  1. re: AWaiting

                    You realize that London Pride is cask-conditioned? Every Fullers pub in England (of which there are thousands) thus serves cask-conditioned ale.

                    Casks look almost exactly like kegs but with the addition of a shive.

                    If it's pumped it's cask conditioned.

                    1. re: brokentelephone

                      "Every Fullers pub in England (of which there are thousands)"

                      Actually 367 - according to this Fullers press release

                      1. re: Harters

                        There are 367 pubs formally associated with Fullers, but there are thousands which serve Fullers beer. I am sorry I wasn't more clear. If you follow this link on the fullers website you can see that it is offered in thousands of pubs, and if you're interested, can find one local to you.

                        That said, that really wasn't the point of the post which was to outline that thousands of pubs in England offer cask conditioned ale using London Pride as an example.

                        1. re: brokentelephone

                          Not trying to be facetious as I don't drink London Pride but their website actually indicates that they do London Pride in Keg form. This backs up what I said initially that a lot of pubs have moved to keg to avoid the hassle of cask conditioned beer. I would certainly want a recommendation of decent places if I was coming to London as I don't believe that as a rule of thumb you can walk into a pub and get decent cask ale.

                          I look forward to when I'm down next to try the venues suggested on this post.

                          1. re: brokentelephone

                            I appreciate the recommendation, and I understand that there are a lot of cask ales widely available. However, I have had Fuller's before; I can get it back home, and it was popular among my friends when I studied abroad in London a few years ago. I'm interested to try some more unusual or local ales as well. Do you have another ale you particularly like?

                            1. re: caciocavallo

                              My original post was just in case you had zero knowledge of the UK beer scene and assumed cask-conditioned ale was a rare thing.

                              I used London Pride as an example and seem to have struck a chord with some other posters for whatever reason.

                              As far as my favorite places to get beers:

                              (1) I really like the Draft House in Tower Bridge (the other locations aren't nearly as nice).

                              (2) I really love going to the Cittie of York in Holborn simply for the atmosphere, though I am not a huge fan of Samuel Smith ale and usually get their lager (which I again, am not massively crazy about).

                              (3) The Rake has an amazing selection of beers and changes their ales (nearly) every day. Sort of a weird place but awesome awesome awesome for their selection.

                              (4) Ye Olde Mitre Tavern is a fantastic pub and is very very old school England. Best place to take tourists.

                              (5) Craft Beer Company in Farringdon is great for beer as well.

                              (6) Euston Tap -- I went to uni nearby so came here quite regularly. Something like 20 taps, though many are international lagers and not cask (but they do have a good selection).

                              (7) Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese -- can't even remember what beers they stock but I have been in the cask room so know they have 'cask conditioned ale.' The pub is bad-ass old school London.

                              (8) Guilty pleasure pub: The White Horse, aka The Sloaney Pony in Parsons Green. It's chock-a-block dickheads either trying to look posh, or posh and trying to look less posh. Funny haha but quite nice beers. A terrific, albeit crazy busy, place on a sunny day.

                              1. re: brokentelephone

                                When I was abroad, I spent a lot of time at both Cittie of Yorke and Ye Olde Mitre; I loved the atmosphere there. I was a little disappointed by Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. The food was subpar, the ale selection was okay, but it always seemed to be overrun by people. I did love the wood fires and the history though...

                                Edit: I just want to mention that this post is not necessarily to find pubs with good food (although that's always a plus) but rather great ales. I just happened to eat at Cheshire Cheese when I was still getting my bearings in London and that influenced my opinion of it...

                  2. Are there any places reminiscent of the Goose and Firkin and the various ales pulled from the cellar? I have a great longing for Old Dogbolter. I realise they are lon g gone. Still trying to get up the funds for a trip back.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                      There's a great article about what happened to the firkins here:


                      What was it you liked about them? For me it was my first introduction to real ale when I was a student and I'm sure there's a hint of the rose-tinted spectacles about it.

                      But you can still get dogbolter. A UK brewery has revived the beer:


                      1. re: spli

                        First visits to the U.K. was in the late seventies where I enjoyed bitter, IPA, and a few porters. Swept through Scotland, Wales, then into London. Coming from Bavaria, they were enjoyable but not memorable. Returning in the eighties, CAMRA was in full swing and I really searched for a variety of brews. Micro brews had yet to take off in North America.

                        Wow. They tasted so different. Wish I had kept a log of each one. There are only a few mentions in my trip diaries, and those got lost in the hurricanes. Dogbolter was always a favorite for the last call, as it kept us in a state of mellow euphoria on the night bus back to Crystal Palace campground or our hotel if we were splurging. Only served in half pints if I remember correctly.

                        Now I have plenty of time, but no money to get there.