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From Kitchens to Cathedrals: London’s Rich Brewing Past

Beer has been a part of London life since the city was settled on the banks of the River Thames and has remained constant ever since.

Beer has been a part of London life since the city was settled on the banks of the River Thames. Flowing out from ale houses, taverns and pubs it’s been part of our history since the dark ages and our affection for the brown stuff has remained constant ever since.

Before flavoursome hops had found their way to England via the Netherlands, Londoners were brewing beer hop-free in their medieval equivalent of kitchens and calling it ale. Craft and small production reigned supreme but in the 11th century there wasn’t much else, although variations between one homebrew’s strength to another were enormous.

Eventually the monasteries took over and brewing became part of a monastic life, to the point where Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was producing 70,000 gallons of ale by the end of the 13th century. With water unsafe to drink, ale was the only option for most Londoners and this demand quickly became commercialised. In 1342 the Brewer’s Guild was founded and forty years later the city had 300 breweries.

The 1500s saw Henry VIII sauntering around with two personal brewers, one for ale and one for beer (hops had finally infiltrated the capital) who were required to produce 13,000 pints for Hampton Court each day. A century later London’s Great Fire of 1666 tragically saw 16 breweries absolutely devastated but that year was also marked by the opening of the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane which is still a landmark of modern London.

By the time of the Great Fire hops had become abundant and the traditional London hop-free ale was a thing of the past. Fast forward two centuries to the end of the 1800s and, sadly, there were just 12 brewers producing almost three quarters of the city’s beer making for a rather uninspiring scene. Which is why today is perhaps the most exciting time in London’s beer history so far.  Micro breweries are thriving, there’s genuine diversity and choice and once again this city is passionate about its natural drink of choice.