By Alwynne Gwilt.
When I was younger, I loved the idea of being a part of a secret society. Unfortunately, only me and my soft-toy dog that wore a sleuth's hat ever seemed to be members of my mystery club.
But that intrigue around becoming a "member" of something only increased when I came to London. In Canada (where I am from originally) the idea of a private members' club is minimal; at least, so far as I know. Here in England, however, clubs like these go back centuries. More often than not, these have been reserved for gentlemen: hunting lodges, filled with stags' heads in recognition of masculinity; or clubs on the Strand with roaring fires and leather club chairs, which have only opened up to women in recent years because of legislation.
So, when I stumbled upon Dea Latis - the women's only beer tasting club - I was taken aback. Not only was this flying in the face of convention by highlighting a drink normally aimed at men as being something us ladies could enjoy, but it was also clearly declaring that it was a "no men allowed" kind of space.
Named after the goddess of beer and water, the club was formed in 2010 by a group of women in the brewing and pubs world. Co-founder Ros Shiel, a PR woman by trade, says that membership has grown to 60 and is made up of beer-loving ladies who are trying to spread the good word of the drink to more women in the UK. With its mission to "bring beer to women", Ros says they're hoping to overcome the obstacles which stop women from drinking beer.
"Many brewers are doing similar work, and have proper budgets, which we don’t have, but we do think that there are times when it’s useful to have a common voice, speaking on behalf of the industry, rather than a specific brewer or beer," she told me.
I met the team at a recent beer and chocolate matching at The Draft House Tower Bridge, which brought female brewers and spokeswomen of craft breweries to London to show how versatile many beers can be. My favourite pairing? Brewster’s Chocolate Cyn, a 4.8% porter, matched with dark chocolate with orange and ginger from chocolatiers Divine. The rich coffee and chocolate notes of the porter married beautifully with the bitter bite of the chocolate: it was heavenly.
Dea Latis hosts events like these twice a year and does at least one talk with a female member of the brewing community for members.
For the future, Ros says she hopes to change perceptions about beer for women and see beer advertising shift from having such a “blokey” image in order to encourage more females to get involved.
Craft Beer Company, Clerkenwell
Based near Farringdon, the Craft Beer Company (pictured above) offers up more than 400 bottles in its cosy pub on Leather Lane. Its aim is to create a "unique beer experience" and this has found it voted as one of the top beer bars in the world by website ratebeer.com. The bar also serves up delicious pies and proper, locally made snacks so after you've had a few craft beer delights, you can fill up on something headier than crisps.
Old Red Cow, Smithfields
Also near Farringdon is the Old Red Cow (above) in Smithfield Market. With a continual rotation of quality guest ales, imports on tap from the US and a selection of tasty food bites, this pub is a great place to chill out at after a walk around this historical part of the city. Interesting jazz nights and, food and beer pairing evenings compliment the space.
De Hems, West End
A west end staple, De Hems (above) serves a fantastic roster of Belgian and Dutch beers on tap and by the bottle like Chimay and Trappist Rochefort. A large upstairs area with big, leather couches and chairs next to huge picture frame windows looking out onto China Town make this pub a great place to stop off at when your feet are tired from wandering through central London. Beware: it gets packed on Friday nights.
The Rake, Borough Market
Award winning pub, The Rake (above), is based in Borough Market and run by the team from Utobeer, a specialty shop down the road. It's tiny but packs a punch in terms of what it offers, including three real ales, five tap beers and up to 200 bottled beers and ciders.
To further discovery the best beer bars and pubs in London, follow this link.
Selected images courtesy of Flickr users Ewan-M and Kake Pugh. All others provided by the writer.