Words by Matthew Curtis
As part of the Manchester Beer Week City Clash, which will see six brewing teams from five cities go head-to-head in a unique competition, we asked beer writers from around the country to tell us what makes the beer scene so special in their cities. This week, the UK editor for Good Beer Hunting, Matthew Curtis, makes the case for London.
Manchester has been good to me, and each visit is seemingly more enjoyable than the last. I even have my routine down to the minute. I usually hit Bundobust just moments after alighting my train at Piccadilly Station and then I’ll nip around the corner to Marble’s Beerhouse at 57 Thomas Street for a quick pint, before marching onwards for more of the same at The Marble Arch. Then I’ll spend the remainder of the day flitting between pubs, bars and breweries under the arches until I’ve had my fill. In the morning I’ll wander around the football museum until the pubs are open again.
I’ve been lucky that work brings me to Manchester often. And now my sister has decided to make her home in Salford, I’ve even more good reason to visit. However, as much as I love this city, nothing beats the feeling of returning home to London. Whether it’s stepping off a train and into the welcoming embrace of Kings Cross or Euston Station, or onto the tarmac at Heathrow, I feel a little buzz of contented excitement when I do, because I know I’m home.
I’ve lived in London for almost 13 years now. I moved down here in October 2005, just months after the tragic bombings which took the lives of 52 people. My mum implored me not to move down, but I did it anyway. It feels all the more poignant because in the days following the attack I saw New Order live at T in the Park (when Bernie and Hooky were still mates), with a stage draped in banners that read “LOVE TO LONDON”. It’s a memory that has stuck with me to this day, and one that often recurs when I think about my reasons for moving here.
My affection for this city has only grown over the years. The longer I’ve lived here the smaller the city feels. These days I rarely bat an eyelid at having to take a crosstown train on a journey that’ll take me at least an hour because it’s all par for the course now. Food and, most importantly, drink, have been the real galvanizers of my feelings for London though—and beer in particular. As my love for beer has grown, so has the culture that is made up of its ebb and flow. There’s been a strong traditional pub culture in London since long before I moved here, but it’s modern culture is something that we’re all still trying to figure out and mold into something that’ll last.
The last 12 months feels to me like that beer scene we’ve been trying to shape is beginning to set fast. Breweries are expanding gracefully, because they’re not just chasing capacity, they’re also adding laboratories and conducting regular sensory panels. It’s significant that we’ve seen the number of breweries in London rise from 10 to 110 over the past decade, but that’s nothing compared to how these breweries are now investing in people, quality and process. I’m proud to live in a city that boasts a collection of breweries, which these days are recognised as making some of the best beer in the world.
But this culture extends beyond the breweries. It also exists thanks to the distributors investing in cold storage, the independent bottle shops working tirelessly to improve their offering and the bars installing state of the art draft systems. Most importantly though, the consumer, folks like you and me, are reaching a state of maturity and understanding which reaches all the way back to these breweries. By increasing our knowledge, either studiously or organically, we’re learning to love beer more than ever before. And London’s beer scene is all the better for it.