But the East End’s growing resemblance to New York’s most populous borough won’t be the only reminder of home for pond-hopping Americans. The truth (as painful as it may be for some of Britain’s beer traditionalists to hear) is that the best of London’s new breweries and pubs have taken their cue from the American craft revolution.
Exhibit One: the Kernel. Evin O’Riordain, the Irish founder and head brewer at the Kernel, says that he first realized how good beer could be while working for British cheesemongers Neal’s Yard Dairy in New York. “I was helping one of their customers there set up a cheese room in their shop,” he tells me. “The guys I was working with were very into their beer, so I would teach them all I knew about cheese during the day, and in the evening we would go out drinking and they would teach me about beer. It was amazing to discover that you could treat beer in the same manner that we treated cheese.”
This philosophy has transformed London’s beer scene. Until very recently, the city had just two serious brewers: Meantime, which has been bravely waving the craft beer flag since 2000, and Fuller’s, an excellent but largely traditional cask ale producer (even if its most recently refurbished pub, the Union Tavern in Ladbroke Grove, is devoted to London’s new craft brewers). While the rest of Britain has welcomed successive waves of new microbreweries over the past 40 years, London turned its back on beer.
Until now. Something about the American approach appears to have chimed with the capital’s younger drinkers: This might be because the emphasis is on big flavors, frequently courtesy of American hops. It might also be because there’s a sense (as in the United States) that everything is up for grabs: Britain’s best new brewers do not confine themselves to two or three styles. It’s a thrilling historical irony that London, the city that created so many of the beer styles that kick-started America’s brewed awakening (think India Pale Ale, porter, stout), has been turned back on to beer by American brewers.
The Kernel’s success has meant a struggle to keep up with demand (two years after its founding, the brewery has already had to move to larger premises), and it’s by no means unique. As a beer-lover and a Londoner, I’ve watched with delighted incredulity as this new beer scene emerged. Like flowers sprouting in the ruins of London’s East End after the war, new breweries (there are now 25, and counting) and beer-focused pubs are springing up all the time.