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Kentish Town: real ale capital of north London?

13:00 21 September 2013

Joel Czopor and Susie Clarke, owners of The Grafton in Kentish Town, with real ale.

Joel Czopor and Susie Clarke, owners of The Grafton in Kentish Town, with real ale.

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If you’re looking for somewhere in London to try a wide selection of real ales all in one place, Kentish Town may not be the corner of the capital that first springs to mind.

Real ale and craft beer

Real ale and craft beer

n The term real ale was coined by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the early 1970s to distinguish between lagers and beers made using traditional methods.

n Real ale is considered “real” when it is brewed using traditional ingredients and left to mature in the cask, where it ferments.

n Real ales use different yeast to ferment than lagers. Ales use top-fermenting yeast and require a higher temperature to ferment.

n Real ale is also known as cask beer, cask-conditioned ale and sometimes real beer.

n Craft beer is produced on a small scale by independent breweries using traditional methods and ingredients.

n There are more than 30 London breweries, with over 1,000 producing beer in the UK.

n CAMRA claims that more than a fifth of its members are women, an increase of 20,000 in the past decade.

But its often scruffy streets are fast becoming lined with quirky, high-end pubs serving quality food and a much wider range of beers and ales than the usual offering of Carling or Guinness.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) north London branch covers the boroughs of Camden, Islington, Hackney and Haringey. But in the last three years, it is Kentish Town pubs that have won CAMRA pub of the year awards.

Chairman of CAMRA’s north London branch, John Cryne, thinks Kentish Town has become the capital’s newest real ale hotspot because the pubs “spark off each other”.

He said: “When it’s just one pub offering it, the pub struggles, but when more start, they all do well off each other and it encourages people to go there.

“Kentish Town has The Forum, so you get people coming for the music and it’s now competing with the revitalised area at the top of Euston Road.

“It now must be one of the best areas in London to go to for a real ale pub crawl.”

The Southampton Arms, between Gospel Oak and Kentish Town in Highgate Road, Tapping the Admiral in Castle Road, and The Pineapple, in Leverton Street, have all won CAMRA north London’s pub of the year award, with The Grafton in Prince of Wales Road winning pub of the season last month.

They are all very different establishments, with The Pineapple serving up Asian food, the Southampton Arms only selling ales and ciders from independent breweries and The Grafton having a modern gastropub twist on traditional pub food.

But the pubs have two things in common: they all serve a selection of real ales and they are all Kentish Town locals.

Last year The Grafton’s co-owner Susie Clarke transformed the pub into a slick, modern gastropub with partner Joel Czopor and in August, it won CAMRA’s pub of the season.

Despite being tied to a lease, which often restricts the variety of drinks that can be sold, the pub offers a selection of real ales and craft beers for residents to sample.

This weekend the pub is holding a beer festival paying homage to London breweries to celebrate its first birthday.

Ms Clarke said: “Kentish Town is quickly on the rise as an area as there’s a lot of inventive, creative people. I’m not sure why there’s so many real ale pubs but it’s probably down to the area.”

Spike Williams, general manager of CAMRA north London’s 2013 pub of the year Tapping the Admiral, believes the intense concentration of pubs serving real ales is down to the high quality of gastronomic offerings.

“We had the evolving food scene with new flavours, looking at food in a different way,” he said.

“People interested in food are looking for something unique to drink, something new and different, somewhere where the handpumps are constantly changing as it makes life more exciting.”

But not everybody thinks Kentish Town is London’s real ale capital. Real ale enthusiast Keith Flett, who has been a member of CAMRA since 1974, believes that aside from The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town pubs cannot be considered true real ale pubs until they serve a much larger range of real ales and craft beers.

The secretary of Haringey’s Trade Union Congress said: “It’s not exactly bald pickings and there are worse places to be.

“It’s an okay place to drink but there’s not a lot of choice for people keen on beer, aside from The Southampton Arms, which is a very good pub with a wide range of different types of beer.”

But beer lovers from both sides of the argument agreed that a real ale renaissance is taking place in the capital, with independent London breweries regularly sold in drinking establishments across every borough. Mr Cryne also said the average age of real ale drinkers is falling.

“Young people traditionally don’t want to go what their parents did, who were drinking the pale lagers,” he explained.

“They’ve been looking for something a bit different, something quirky.

“There’s also been a huge increase in the amount of women drinking craft beer and they want a different type of pub, a nicer pub.”

Whatever your views on where is best to drink an unusual cask beer, real ale is no longer just confined to middle-aged men or traditional boozers.

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