American Craft Beer In London: Drinking Across the Pond

By John Holl

On a recent spring afternoon, it was just beginning to get busy at The Bull, a bar in the Highgate section of London. It was unseasonably hot for the city, and folks were coming to cool off with hand-pulled pints of the house made bitter. Taking a sip, my eyes wandered the bar and settled on a familiar neon beer sign for the Brooklyn Brewery, but something seemed off. Having seen that sign hundreds of times, it took a moment in my jet-lagged mind to understand why it was so peculiar: I was in the heart of London looking at an American beer advertisement. Mentioning this to my drinking companion, I was startled by his reply.

He explained that any bar that carries a Brooklyn sign is a mark that they carry great American beer, and that people seek out that neon to drink.

Yes, American craft beer is flourishing in London. Whereas brewers in the U.S. once looked to London and the U.K. for inspiration, the tables have turned and not only are drinkers embracing beer from our side of the pond, a new generation of British brewers are taking cues from their Yankee counterparts and incorporating American innovation into their recipes.

According to the Brewers Association’s Export Development Program (EDP), roughly 30,000 barrels of American craft beer were exported to the U.K. in 2011, making it the second largest importer after Canada. “We have more importers trying to partner with brands than capacity,” said Bob Pease, COO of the Brewers Association.

“The Export Development Program has had a leading role in facilitating the growth of export of American craft beer to the U.K.,” said Pease. “We have helped educate American craft brewers and decision makers in the U.K. about the quality, flavor and diversity of American craft beer.”

A New Generation of London Beer Drinkers

The London drinking scene is changing. A new generation of drinkers is happy with traditional cask ale, but also favor something a little different. That could be why a number of new-ish bars in the city are offering a dizzying array of U.S. beers in their coolers.

Take for example Cask Pub & Kitchen, a gastropub in the Pimlico neighborhood of Westminster, which has more than a half-dozen well stocked coolers behind the bar. During a visit in May, I was surprised to see beers from U.S. breweries that have limited distribution in their home country.

“We take great care to make sure that we get the very best,” a bartender said while opening a bottle of Shorts Brewing Co.’s The Magician. While it’s nearly impossible to find it in the states—except in Michigan—shockingly the dark red ale was available 3,700 miles from the brewery.

Better packaging and shipping methods mean that craft beer can travel farther and tempt consumers a greater distance from its origin. Some breweries however are cutting out shipping and just brewing across the pond.

Brewing Across the Pond

Doug Odell of Colorado’s Odell Brewing Co. makes frequent trips to Britain. After visiting many breweries and immersing himself in the culture, Odell forged a partnership with Thornbridge Brewery in Bakewell to create a collaboration beer called Pond Hopper (VideoPond Hopper: Odell Brewing & Thornbridge Brewing). It’s brewed with English malts and American hops, a collaboration that Odell feels highlights the best ingredients each country has to offer.

Another American standard, Boston Beer Co., recently announced they will be brewing Samuel Adams Boston Lager with the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham. History seems to have been forgotten (or at least put aside) as Boston Beer’s flagship brand–named after a leader in the Revolutionary War–is now being brewed in Great Britain.

“We were in constant touch with the Boston brewers during the trials and the process culminated with a visit from their brewing director towards the end of April to sample the first batch filled into kegs,” wrote Richard Frost Shepherd Neame’s head brewer. “It was a real Man from Delmonte moment when he tasted the beer and pronounced it matched the U.S. beer perfectly and could be sent out to the pubs.”

Given the impact that the U.S. craft beer has had on London, it is now possible to enjoy a beer that tastes like home, but is locally brewed in Britain.

American Influence: The Full Circle Effect

Whether officially training in the U.S. or merely visiting on business, many British brewers have been bitten by the proverbial American beer bug. Steve Schmidt cut his teeth working at breweries throughout New England, and is now brewing barrel-aged beers and high alcohol wonders at London’s Meantime Brewing Co. The Kernel Brewery got its start when Founder and Head Brewer Evin O’Riordain discovered good beer while on a trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. He’s now serving up hop bombs and beers with a decided American bent to customers who are lining up for a chance to taste his creations.

Pease calls this the “full circle effect,” with America’s breweries now influencing taste buds in areas that once influenced ours.

“It’s rewarding to see this happening throughout the world,” said Pease.

As attention shifts to London in the coming weeks for the XXX Olympiad and millions of people stream into the city to witness the games in person, there will be many chances to not only sample locally-made beers, but also enjoy a taste of home with some of America’s best craft beers.

Find American Craft Beer in London

If traveling to London for the Summer Olympics, here are a few pubs with extensive American craft beer menus. Please include others you may know of in the comment section below.

John Holl is the editor of All About Beer magazine and author of The American Craft Beer Cookbook: 155 Recipes from Your Favorite Brewpubs and Breweries.

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