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London Guide: Craft Gin and Beer

03/03/2015 10:54 am ET | Updated May 03, 2015

London has been famous for its gin for centuries. But whereas the Hogarthian vision of Gin Lane was one of wretchedness, in recent years this aromatic spirit has been undergoing something of a renaissance, with independent distilleries springing up across the capital. It's no different when it comes to beer - gone are the stereotypes of undrinkable, flat, warm beer - replaced by some astounding microbreweries (often attached to pubs), creating some of the most innovative beers and lagers available to London's discerning drinking scene.


Photo: Worship Street Whistling Shop by: Jeremy Smith - Courtesy: Gogobot

The Whistling Stop introduced me to what instantly became my favorite cocktail - The Aviation. This is a gin lover's mecca - there's 30 current gins available, a library of gin ratings back up to a century, all available to taste, and their own cream gin, which they bottle and sell on site. They even make their own tonic. And the atmosphere of the place - Victorian seediness meets prohibition-era swing, adds an extra dimension to every - expertly created - drink.

Photo: Kernel Brewery by: Jeremy Smith - Courtesy: Gogobot

They are at different ends of the beer scale, but to me the definitive English beer tastes are an India Pale Ale, and a London Porter. Kernel's IPA is all I would hope for - sweet, malty and golden hued. And it's London Porter is a grown up, velvety blast of chocolate and smoke. Drop in on a Saturday (combining with a morning trip to nearby Maltby Street market) and buy direct from the brewery, or go to their website to find out where else to get your hands on this wonderful craft beer.

Photo: City Of London Distillery Ltd by: Laura Scott - Courtesy: Gogobot

While City of London makes its own gin, what sets it apart is the gin related experiences it also offers - tours, including one with the master distiller, and for those with deep pockets (it's aimed mostly at corporates), the chance to distill your own batch of personally branded gin. And aside from all that, their on site bar gives a great view of all the processes in operation, while working your way through the vast array of on site spirits...

Photo: London Fields Brewery by: enriqueCARNICERO flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

London Fields Brewery has all the bases covered. They make everything from IPAs to Porters. At the weekend their tap room lets you work your way through them all on site. They run tours of the brewery. But they also go one step further, with their Brew school offering course in beer and food matching, and a craft brewing experience day. if you've ever fancied turning your spare room over the beer production, this might be the place to pick up a few tricks to get you going.
The Craft Beer Co

Photo: The Craft Beer Co by: Jeremy Smith - Courtesy: Gogobot

You could drop into any of its three London locations to sample their house lager - but while it's a fine tipple, you'd be missing the point. The Craft Beer Co's raison d'etre is to supply not just its own beer - but the best of all British beers, which means over 400 different bottles available and an ever changing array of casks and kegs. The best thing to do is trust in their knowledge, and sign up for one of their tasting tours.

Photo: Duke's Brew & Que by: Ewan-M flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

There are two pretty good reasons to come to Duke's - it does amazing ribs. And it's the place to drink the beers from Beavertown Brewery. They create some pretty experimental beers in their Alpha range, with suitably bonkers names and styling to match - think Gamma Ray, Pigswill and The Imperial Lord Smog Almighty. Oh, and it's all the brainchild of the son of legendary led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant. And they knew a fair bit about booze too.

Photo: Sipsmith Distillery by: Jeremy Smith - Courtesy: Gogobot

Sipsmith's was my introduction to craft gin, so I've got a lot to thank them for. they also make a lovely Sloe Gin, which despite years of store-cupboard attempts, I've never really got right, and bravely, their own version of Pimm's - a summer sacrament as resistant to imitation as Heinz tomato ketchup. Their gin is widely available across London, but for those wanting to know more about the people that brought craft gin to a wide audience, their occasional distillery tours are well recommended.

Photo: Sacred Spirits Distillery by: cyclonebill flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

You can't visit the distillery of Sacred Spirits, who make award winning gins, vodkas and vermouths. This is as London-garagiste as it gets - the distillery is in a North London terraced home. But visit the website, find a local supplier or nearby bar, and enjoy one of the finest small batch gins being made today. (Personally I'd buy it from the wonderful Prohibition Wines in Muswell Hill, or drink at at the Wrestlers in Highgate, another favorite haunt.)

Photo: Jensen Gin Distillery by: Bex.Walton flickr - Courtesy: Gogobot

Under the arches on Bermondsey Street (so near craft brewer Kernel if you fancy a beer too), Jensen is taking gin back to its roots. Come along on Saturday morning and sample not just its London gin, but a rarely produced Old Tom Gin, a sweeter drink, popular in 18th Century London, but little seen today.

Jeremy Smith is a journalist covering responsible travel,  a Londoner, and a gin enthusiast. Catch up with him at http://jmcsmith.co.uk/ or on Twitter @jmcsmith.

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