Craft beer takes off in East London

Tap East Microbrewery. Photo: David Whitley
Tap East Microbrewery. Photo: David Whitley
Cock Tavern. Photo: David Whitley

Cock Tavern. Photo: David Whitley

Cock Tavern. Photo: David Whitley

Cock Tavern. Photo: David Whitley

Underneath the railway arch, 23 unlabelled taps are lined against the back wall. On the top of the bar, a piece of A4 paper wafts gently. It is the beer menu, and it changes daily, hence the lack of presentational flair.

Mother Kelly's has a bit of a New York hipster vibe going on – aided somewhat by the street mural of a yellow taxi on the corrugated wall. But this is London's East End rather than Manhattan's East Village – and the craft beer movement that first took hold in the US is now in full swing in the British capital.

So often the trendsetter, London lagged behind the rest of the country somewhat when it came to the microbrewing revolution. The likes of Thornbridge in Derbyshire and Brewdog in Scotland were causing waves a good couple of years before London clicked into gear. But the most heartening thing about Mother Kelly's is not that there's an excellent craft beer bar in Bethnal Green – it's where its beers come from.

The barman reels off the birthplaces of the brews on tap. "Pressure Drop Pale Fire – that's Hackney. Beavertown Power of the Voodoo IPA – that's Walthamstow​. Redchurch Tartelette – that's literally just around the corner."

East London isn't just drinking lots of experimental beer – it is making it too.

Nowhere is the switch more apparent than the Cock Tavern in Hackney, which in many respects is a classic scruffy boozer. A sign by the door says it only accepts "real money", although the barman clarifies this by saying: "We also accept blood diamonds, bribes and sexual slaves."

Inside, it's all faded, scratched wood panelling and furniture that looks like it has been pulled from a skip. But there are also 24 taps laid out around the bar, many of them serving up the Howling Hops beers that are brewed in the basement.

There's an admirable nerdiness to it – all the tap labels state which hops were used in each beer, and there are some interesting experiments in the mix. The 7.5 per cent Scotch Spiced Ale, which is slightly peated and spiced with coriander seeds, is a notable tangent from the norm.

The operation seems to have worked too well, and a new premises in Hackney Wick has been bought to allow larger quantities to be brewed. This will take pride of place next to Crate – a canalside brewery and pizzeria that feels the very epitome of the East London scene. It's all paint-splashed foam sofas, bushy beards and skinny jeans-sporters on iMacs.

But the tanks where the beer is brewed are proudly on display, and of the home-made efforts, the pale ale has a distinctively smoky taste and the Small Beer is deliberately designed for sessions.

For the biggest indicator of craft beer's unstoppable victory march in the area, however, a trip to the Stratford Westfield shopping centre is required. Tap East occupies a rather unlikely place in the mall between a Premier Inn hotel and Waitrose supermarket. By rights, an utterly generic chain bar should be there.

But Tap East's wall is covered in tap labels and bottle stickers from around the country. Harviestoun Schiehallion​, Thornbridge Brother Rabbit and Harbour Brewing Co Porter No. 1 are among the more familiar. Three of the 16 taps are given over to beers brewed on-site in the mall – the copper tanks can be seen through a glass door next to the bar. The Tonic Ale is outrageously hoppy and flavoursome for a 3 per cent beer, while the Jonny Park Bitter (named after the brewer) is beautifully rounded.

In between slurps, bar manager Joe Kearsey explains why it is East London that the scene has taken hold in. "We already had the food and craft markets here, and the specialist coffee joints. So it's something of a logical progression." And in Tap East, even the least trendy part of what Joe calls "trendy East London" has succumbed.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Qantas flies to London Heathrow from Sydney and Melbourne via Dubai; see qantas.com.au.

DRINKING THERE

For the breweries here, see: motherkellys.co.uk; thecocktavern.co.uk; cratebrewery.com; tapeast.co.uk.

STAYING THERE

Amba Hotel Charing Cross is fourth on Tripadvisor's London hotel rankings – beating out much more famous names with its slick four star offering. Doubles from $585, see amba-hotel.com.

David Whitley was a guest of Amba Hotel Charing Cross.

This story Craft beer takes off in East London first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.