Speaking at the launch of the award-winning broadcaster’s second book (a deep dive guide to London’s best pubs and breweries), co-founder Jonny Garrett told The Morning Advertiser that working hard on beer selection shows “a deep love of not only having a pub, but being a publican".
“What we learnt from putting together this book is that while the beer list isn't the most important thing in making a great pub, it is a good barometer,” he said. “If you have worked hard at your beer list it usually means you have also worked hard at lots of other things.
“If you really care about the beer, or the wine or the spirits you are selling, you are going to really care about the people that come in, the way you do your service and the way you lay out the pub.”
Pubs 'centre of any good community'
The new book contains profiles of more than 40 pubs and breweries across the city of London. Despite including a number of brewery taprooms in the final selection, the duo insisted that the British pub remained an important part of drinking culture.
"I still believe that the centre of any good community is a pub,” said co-founder Brad Evans. “In London everywhere is like a little village and wherever you are from you need a good boozer, so I think it definitely still has a place.”
"You go to a taproom to enjoy a certain thing, and that is super fresh beer from a particular brand,” added Garrett. “You go to a pub to experience a broader range of beers and to hang out with friends. In the UK taprooms still aren't particularly comfortable places to come and drink; you go in there purely for the beer.
“If you are worried your pub is struggling because there is a taproom next door to it, then the pub is probably not being run correctly."
Craft Beer Channel's top five London boozers
Howling Hops, Hackney Wick
"I love drinking there in the summertime. The little stubby mugs are wonderful things and the beer is so fresh, wholesome and vibrant. You've got these sharing benches so you end up talking to people you'd never otherwise chat to and there's always dogs. An afternoon spent at Howling Hops is an afternoon very well spent."
"Simply because it has beers you cannot get anywhere else. It is an incredible place, and they never use pump clips. They design their own hand-drawn ones, and it is a labour of love. You can tell when you walk in there that it is a special place and there is a sense of community."
The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town
"The beer range is wide, but not adventurous. It is beautifully kept on cask. The decor is spit and sawdust but it is so comfortable. Sitting there with a pork bap, a good pint of British cask ale and a crossword, there is no better place to be. I'd live there if their benches were a bit softer!"
Lowlander Grand Cafe, Covent Garden
"It is such a unique experience that you can't replicate anywhere else in London. If someone tried to open a specialist Belgian bar in the centre of Soho now, they wouldn't be able to afford the rents. It is a lovely place; decent food and incredible beer on tap and in bottle, and if you ask for the cellar list, things will get crazy."
Old Fountain, Old Street
"It doesn't need to be as good as it is. It could just be a city pub, but they really care about the beer there and it is always a magical place to go. When we interviewed the landlord he had some incredible stories to tell about the place, and that history and love of the pub is all over the walls.
Tied pub model threat
Garrett also voiced his concern that the tied pub model was a major threat to the future of the on-trade, but urged tied venues to improve their food and events offering to remain competitive.
“With all these freehouses now having access to this amazing beer, some of which is getting better and better in terms of competitive pricing, if you are tied you are going to endlessly lose market share,” he said. “The beer isn't the most important thing, but it is getting increasingly hard for tied publicans.
“I think it is a major reason why food became so important in pubs, because they could get a good chef in. Look at Tom Kerridge - you have to book months in advance to go to one of his pubs.
“You should be looking to advance your food offering, or trying to host events like pub quizzes and meet the brewers. In my day job we work with lots of tied pubs that have a couple of lines to play around with and it’s about what you make of it.”
On the subject of how The Craft Beer Channel whittled down its list of pubs to come to a final selection, Evans added: "It is about finding those special places, and sometimes that is unquantifiable. Obviously it is about the beer list and about how they take care of the beer, but also it is the atmosphere, the regulars and all those little things that come together to make a place special.
Garrett and Evans’ book, The London Craft Beer Guide, is available to purchase now.