Amid the waterways and warehouses of east London are the breweries and pubs that give the area its reputation as the epicentre of the UK craft beer movement
Box fresh Crate Brewery, London
Crate Brewery, Hackney Wick
The sprawling industrial estate that stretches along the Lee Navigation canal at Hackney Wick has, in recent years, been infiltrated by artists, creatives and, most recently, brewers in search of affordable space. For instance, Crate, a tap room for the brewery next door, is a stark, exposed concrete box decked-out with rugged upcycled furniture. It also has plenty of outdoor, canalside seating for summer. Naturally, its own beers dominate the bar (try the sparky, mango-tinged pale or the terrific imperial coffee stout), but Crate also carries some A1 guest beers and a truly excellent range of bottles and cans. Its fridges include selections from key craft brewers such as Kernel, Wild Beer and Evil Twin, some real connoisseurs classics (Old Chimneys Good King Henry stout), and several rare imports and one-offs from bottles of Oregon-based Hop Valleys Alpha Centauri imperial IPA to Thornbridges 10th anniversary special, Jaipur X. Such stock is evidence of how dedicated hop-heads are travelling to this burgeoning beer enclave in increasing numbers. Howling Hops also brews in Queens Yard (see entry), while, a short walk along the canal, the Plough at Swan Wharf a cafe-bar with a huge, grungy courtyard terrace serves a compact range of craft ales, including beers by another Hackney Wick brewery, Trumans (pint from 4, 60 Dace Road, 020-8525 9541, hackneyplough.co.uk).
Old Fountain, Shoreditch
This freehouse by Old Street tube station has been run by the Durrant family for the past 51 years, but no one could accuse of them of letting the grass grow. You can still get a pint of Fullers London Pride here, but the Fountains fridges and 17 cask and keg pumps otherwise offer a sterling array of contemporary craft goodies. About half the pumps are given over to London breweries, such as Five Points, Partizan and Camden Town, but, perhaps more interesting is the regularity with which less obvious brewers from across the UK are given a run out on the taps. This fly-past was notable for the appearance of a couple of beers from Macclesfields Red Willow, while you can expect to see beers from such remote craft stars as Argylls Fyne, Cornwalls Harbour or Cumbrias Hawkeshead, to name but a few. If your tastes are more transatlantic, the fridges contain plenty of US bottled beers too.
Howling Hops, Hackney Wick
Small brewpub chain Zerodegrees would probably take issue with Howling Hops claim to be The UKs first dedicated tank bar. But, that point of order aside, there is a lot to like about this venue where you can drink fresh beer, direct and unfiltered, from 10 huge steel tanks. This rough-edged warehouse space is very much a working brewery. If you nip to the loo, you might see the bottling line in action and there are pallets of malt and torrified wheat stacked by the entrance. What it lacks in creature comforts, however, this place certainly makes up for in tasty beer. Its pale XX uses citra, cascade, centennial, simcoe and cascade hops, to create a firecracker of a brew, one florid with sherbet, gooseberry and lime flavours.
Mother Kellys, Bethnal Green
If your idea of a good time is not just drinking beer, but simultaneously choosing more beer to take home to drink later, then you will love Mother Kellys. This railway arch bar and bottle shop is home to several huge fridges stacked with superb beers to drink-in or takeaway, many of them lesser-known, highly-rated imports, such as Natt imperial porter from Norwegians gir or the US Tunnel Vision IPA. That quality and global perspective continues at the bar where influential UK brewers (Magic Rock, Northern Monk) rub shoulders, across 19 keg taps, with new names such as Estonian micro, Phjala. At just 2.8%, the Siren Half Mast IPA I sampled here was one of the most layered and complex sub-3% beers I have ever tasted. Friendly staff and a warm feel mean Mother Kellys is somewhere you will happily linger, too. Although, if you want to keep moving, it is worth noting that Redchurch Brewerys nearby tap room is open Thurs-Sat (schooners from 2.30, 275-276 Poyser Street, 020-3487 0255; theredchurchbrewery.com). Where better to drink its Great Eastern? Arguably, the best British IPA.