Review: The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars

Despite the over-burdened bookshop shelves that argue the contrary, London hasn't deserved a great guide to its pubs and bars. Compared to other capitals it seemed to have lost its beery way; lots of grand old boozers and a few smart joints but no sense of cohesion, no sense of scene, almost a lack of pride. Larger brewers and pubcos had the lockdown - or so it seemed.

But the last few years has seen a radical change. Entrepreneurs and chains alike have realised that drinkers value great places to drink beer. And brewers - including that once-endangered species, London brewers -  have realised that those drinkers are demanding great beer. With old pubs revitalised, new bars trailblazing and London brewers springing up under railway arches and in pub yards, the time has arrived for a guide that can combine traditional information with contemporary styling.

And as if by magic, here it is. Des de Moor had the unenviable task of visiting over 250 of the capital's finest beery establishments to compile The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars.Why unenviable? Well, that's a lot of pubs to cover. It's not as if he could stop in each one for a serious session.  I caught up with him over a swift drink at Gunmakers to have a chat about the Guide and how London is in the throes of a beer revolution.

As he sets out in the book's introduction, the capital had become "the new city of beer". Once-dead-end pubs have been turned into thriving craft beer outlets. Major chains such as Nicholson's and Wetherspoons have brought great ale to some of London's most historic pubs. An ever-increasing number of microbrewers are carving their niche into neighbourhoods that are receptive to small batch, high-quality beers. High rents and low economic certainty are still a challenge to publicans and brewers but there's a real sense that London is beyond the tipping point. A new breed are finding their way; the genie is out of the bottle and the hops can't be stopped.

Road-testing the Guide started at Gunmakers and continued over the next three days at a wide range of places, from the beer geekery of the Rake via the very different brewery taps of Kernel and Brodies to the grandeur of the City. The layout is fantastically clear and concise, getting across essential info such as postcode and phone number whilst still finding space for Twiiter and Facebook details. The place descriptions worked well, just the right mix of history and detail, with the 'insider tip' adding a dash of colour to the write-ups. Nearby Tube stations are noted too but as Des pointed out to me it's quicker to walk between many of them.

The area maps are clear but perhaps too much so - they don't work too well in helping a newbie navigate between pubs (no road names) and there's no indication of what an adjacent map area is. I found myself using Google Maps and the postcodes from the Guide to help me get around.

My real bugbear with a printed Guide is that it's out-of-date even before it's printed. At least Des has met the update challenge; his site has a PDF of additions and corrections that he aims to produce quarterly. That greatly improves the longevity of the book and is an approach that I feel CAMRA ought to adopt to their other guides.

The introductory essays about London as a beer city are informative and an easy read, not the often-dreary filler that other guides rehash. With a handy background to the capital's breweries and a genuinely useful appendix that lists places to drink by themes such as landmarks or transport terminals, the Guide packs in plenty of useful ancillary information.

With London's stock in the international beer world on the up, this is an indispensable guide to the capital's best beer venues.

The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer Pubs & Bars can be bought from Amazon. CAMRA members may prefer to bolster the campaigning coffers by purchasing it instead from the CAMRA shop.

Thanks to CAMRA for the review copy.