Sunday, 6 December 2015

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




This updated guide by Des de Moor is a much fuller update to his 2011 version. 
In the heart of Belgravia stands a floral pub called the Star Tavern. I’ve never been in it but it looks exclusive and stands behind a vehicle barrier deep in a warren of international embassies. I glimpsed it recently as my job led me to the area. If it wasn’t for London’s Best Beer, Pubs & Bars I wouldn’t have known that it was the unlikely venue the great train robbery was plotted in. Actors and gangsters alike frequented it. By location, it seems only diplomats would now. I know this background as it features as one of the Pub Trivia snippets in the book; they are scattered across the pages along with Hop Histories (short historical panels), London’s Brewing (panels about current breweries) and London Drinkers (short interviews with local beery connoisseurs).
The guide starts with a brilliantly written introduction: The City that Invented Itself.  It’s enough to bring a lump to the throat as it traces the capital’s history of business, adaptation and flux. This is followed by two sections that counterbalance each other:  City of Brewing:  London’s past as the brewing capital of the world, and The New City of Beer: London’s late but booming resurgence as a brewing epicentre. Des de Moor puts his cards on the table early and categorically states the 25 best venues before getting to the red meat of the book and dissecting London and its treasures area by area.
In my experience, there is nothing that connects Islington, Ealing, Peckham Rye or Notting Hill other than the fact that they happen to be in the same city. Each area seems more distant from the other than a foreign package holiday. Des de Moor might be one of the few people who can connect them by foot and therefore sip glass after glass, all the while taking notes as he tramples through each postcode. Somewhere under the capital a military war room was requisitioned for the planning of this book involving headphones, strip lighting and personnel advancing small models of Des de Moor across a huge map of London. I can’t conceive of how it was achieved otherwise.
The only problem with this guide is something Des de Moor can do nothing about and reflects London’s sudden and ubiquitous beer scene:  when the pages were still warm from leaving the printers, The London Beer House in Haymarket, Mondo Brewing in Stockwell, The Globe in Marylebone, The Eebria Taproom in Bermondsey and The Howling Hops Tank Bar in Hackney Wick and many others opened and instantly made this fantastic tome obsolete! 
Des de Moor might be the last man able to visit every beer bar in London in short enough a time to include them all in one contemporary book in a similar vein that Thomas Young was reputed to be the last man to be able to read everything published in his lifetime. The exhaustive upper limit must now have been reached and it seems unlikely that any future updated volumes could happen without thorough delegation. 

The last major section – Brewers & Beers - merits a book of its own but it goes in depth nevertheless. London Beer Styles is one of the most detailed chapters giving good examples of each style by a native brewer each time. There is also an innovative chapter in the appendices: Places to drink by theme. I think this is a brilliant cut-through for anyone looking for Belgian, historical, art, theatre-related or any other themed venue. I predict that in decades to come, many beer writers will be using this guide as a main source of reference as you can look up anything - whichever angle you want to come at the subject, it’s been covered. I don’t believe a more comprehensive and easy to use guide has ever been written for any city on any subject anywhere. In short, this guide definitely raises the ……. what’s the word?