Clerkenwell is one of my favourite parts of the capital. It’s changed a lot since I arrived there to take my first ‘proper’ job twenty years ago, but it retains a character that might still please Geoffrey Fletcher. Back then – and I can hardly believe this – my drink of choice was Kronenbourg, usually swigged at a bar called The Harlem Yacht Club. I learnt though, and soon enough it was all about Speckled Hen (still then brewed by Morland) at the Three Kings, with its papier-mâché sculptures, bearlike guv’nor and an arthritic rug of a dog which would wander in from the oily and ancient car spares place next door – a shop i’d entirely forgotten about until I saw it in John Londei’s book a couple of years ago. I later worked up the road in Hatton Garden in an office which fulfilled every stereotype of the Media industry. It became a feature of the job to see the (famous – you’d know her) harridan director’s PA fleeing in a shriek of tears. Due to the management’s chronic and often breathtaking incompetence we were all made redundant after six months (the director by then had got through eight PAs), and the company still owes me three hundred quid. Clerkenwell has a lot of memories, and it was good to find myself cycling down there yesterday to try out the Craft Beer Co, a new venture by Pimlico’s bang tidy Cask Pub And Kitchen.
When I worked round there, what is now Craft was the Clock House,which I chiefly remember as being a pub for the Leather Lane market traders and the sort of bloke who spends his days darting between a tepid Carlsberg and nearby bookies. I couldn’t tell you what it was like inside before, but I bet it didn’t have a mirrored ceiling. And it definitely wouldn’t have had 16 pumps and (a claimed) 21 keg founts, which is what confronted me as I stepped in through the sun-flooded corner door. On handpumps were old friends from the likes of Dark Star, Cotleigh and Redemption, priced from £3.40 to £4.50 depending on ABV. I kegged it, choosing a Drink’in The Sun, one of about five Mikkeller brews. At a stiff £3.95 a half (or eight quid a pint, if you like) it’s one to savour. Opaque, lemony, bitter and refreshing – exactly what I needed after fixing a puncture in the midday sun. Next was Clerkenwell Lager, brewed by Mikkeller exclusively for Craft. This was a stealthy 5% – syrupy, hoppy and full of lasting bite. A big drink, and good stuff it was, too. Sat there supping was like watching a documentary about the changing face of the ale drinker – along with a couple of CAMRA diehards were a group of elegant ladies in floaty dresses, young couples and even a well-behaved and discerning (‘No, you can’t have Stella, Dave’) stag party. The welcome distractions of fatherhood led me away, otherwise i’d have been happy to stay all afternoon.
I suppose Craft’s main rival is the Euston Tap, a 10 minute bus ride away. My only real gripe with the Tap is that it’s not a place to linger. Craft is properly comfortable – full of natural light and with wide cushioned benches lining one wall – in a way the Tap (excellent in every other respect) just ain’t. It’s an unavoidable factor in shoehorning a pub into the Tap’s tiny, grade one listed building. But that’s churlish – with new breweries and quality pubs opening all the time, what really matters is that we can say that London is finally a genuinely great town for beer. It’s been along time coming.