Perfect Pint: Hackney Tap
As part of our Perfect Pint series, we visit Hackney Tap for a pint of Small Beer Session Pale and gyoza with bar manager John Palmer.
In the heart of Hackney Central, there’s a stately looking building that has welcomed East Londoners for over two hundreds years: first as the original Hackney Town Hall, then as a bank, before it was converted into a betting shop in the last decade.
Refreshed and reopened in April 2021, it’s now home to one of London’s finest craft beer pubs, with 22 beers on tap. John Palmer, a Yorkshireman who has lived in Hackney for the last six years, started working behind the bar and quickly took over the running of the pub, which he says happened "by osmosis."
John learned on the job, curating an extensive beer list, and shaping the space not only as a great beer pub, but somewhere you can attend intriguing events, watch the Six Nations or the World Cup, or grab a bite to eat.
INSIDE HACKNEY TAP
On the afternoon of our visit, John is pouring a half-pint of Small Beer Session Pale from behind an ornate bar that was used as a banking console throughout the 20th century.
On one of the walls there’s a golden plaque to commemorate the fact that "Sir John Cohen, founder of Tesco, opened the company’s first bank account at this branch on 27th November 1920."
The interior feels a little like a German beer hall, with wooden panelling, high ceilings and arched windows that let in plenty of light. It’s a nod to the pub’s allegiance to the Bavarian breweries who produce world-leading lagers and wheat beers, and a theme that's shared by its sister pubs, including the Euston Tap in North London and Piccadilly Tap in Manchester.
Like many pubs, Hackney Tap will celebrate Oktoberfest this year, but they are also want to host a German techno night, which John hopes will lead people to realise that there’s a lot more to German culture than lederhosen and oompah bands.
Earlier in the summer, John and his team hosted their very own Lager Festival. Before that, there was a celebration for Japan Week, with several Japanese lagers on tap, gyoza served hot and a band of drummers positioned in the large adjoining beer garden, where wooden benches line the pavement, and parasols provide shade from the afternoon sun that hangs overhead.
Gyoza are a fixed staple at the pub, with a menu that includes four tasty varieties, including vegetarian and gluten-free options. "It’s good beer food," says John.
WHAT TO DRINK
The choice at the bar is almost overwhelming: there are four hand pumps and a revolving selection of lagers, pale ales, sour beers and ciders. John ensures there is at least one lower ABV option at all times to meet the growing demand from his patrons.
"People used to think about lower ABV beers as something that you serve in January and during the quieter months, but that’s changing as pubs are realising that they sell," he says. "As an area, Hackney is very independent brewery-centric and I think the people we get here are generally a bit more open-minded. They don’t have trepidation about trying something new."
Further reading: What is Lower Alcohol & Low ABV Beer?
Visitors to Hackney Tap like to sample different styles and will switch between high ABV beers and lower ABV beers. To reflect this curiosity, John wants to start selling flights of beer, where patrons can sample smaller quantities of different styles and strengths.
CHAMPIONING CASK BEER
Outside the rather grand windows, a heavy rain shower makes its way through Hackney, punctuating the end of summer, which for John and publicans across the country, means a change in focus: the upcoming festive season, the first ever winter World Cup and a shift towards different beer styles. As a lover of cask beer, the transition is something that John welcomes. "The cask beer here is my baby," he says.
"This summer was unusually hot, so it was very lager-heavy," says John. "As the temperature drops, people turn towards cask and pales, because the flavours are fuller. But we always have cask on tap, whatever the weather. Even during the height of summer, I’d still drink Best Bitter," he chuckles.
To learn more about the pub or to make a booking, please visit the Hackney Tap website. If you want to make a day of it, London Fields and Victoria park are both nearby and so is Hackney Empire, a similarly historic building where you can see top comedians.