Welcome to the first edition of Raising the Bar – a fortnightly review of an establishment that a beer fan (such as yourself) should really pay a visit to. Each entry in the series will lay out why said place should be on your beery agenda, giving the key factors as to why these venues are so special.
The Duke’s Head – Highgate, London
Although the name may conjure up an image of a dusty old pub where you’d be more likely to find worn-out carpets and an ageing cigarette machine than a suite of saisons, The Duke’s Head is anything but shabby. Quite the opposite in fact, its charm comes from its dynamic nature.
Set on the lofty and leafy Highgate High Street, The Duke’s Head is unassumingly tucked away amongst bookshops, bakeries and baristas. The interior continues the modest theme with simple wood being the decor of choice over the now craft beer-synonymous exposed brickwork. And upon approaching the bar, the team were quick to jump into a discussion about beer and offer samples to the undecided orderer. In a market where choice and consumer knowledge are ever-increasing, this fundamental of enthusiastic and conversant staff is what’s going to make a bar stand out above most other factors – so an early kudos for this.
It’s the taplist and food choice that gives the place its real aforementioned dynamism though. 7 casks (2 of which were cider) and 10 keg beers were available on most recent visit – with the keg list fielding a distinctively London lineup from the likes of Brew By Numbers, Affinity, Anspach & Hobday and Hammerton. The cask list wasn’t slouching either, with breweries such as Bristol Beer Factory and Five Points manning the pumps. A good marker that a bar has a strong selection game is the ability to offer frequent change and variety, whilst having consistent quality at its backbone. Looking at previous tap lists from the last month, breweries such as Siren, Beavertown, Magic Rock, Moor and Weird Beard have all featured alongside the names mentioned above. A tick in both boxes in my book.
And finally, the Dukes Head’s most intriguing feature – its monthly rotating pop-up kitchen. December 2017 saw traditional British fayre such as Braised Beef, Pheasant and festive favourites Pigs in Blankets take to the tables – with street food vendor What the Dickens! Previous incumbents of the post have been a who’s who of the London street food scene with the likes of Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen, Lord of the Wings, Prairie Fire and Deeney’s all having been in residence. A system like this does wonders for the food vendors in showcasing them to new audiences and, at the same time, boosts the bar’s overall vibe by adding an exciting dimension to what would likely just be a standard ‘burger and chips’ menu in a different venue.
So whether you find yourself round N6 or decide to head up especially, the Duke’s Head should be a guaranteed stop-off point for anyone looking for a beery adventure of an exciting and flavoursome nature.
Why you should visit in a sentence: Variety is the spice of life, and this north London beer bar may be one of the country’s most dynamic.
Where – 16 Highgate High Street, N6 5JG. Nearest Tube Stations – Highgate or Archway (Northern Line).
Selection on day of visiting – 7 cask offerings (including 2 ciders), 10 keg beers and a healthy range in the fridge.
Highlight Beer – Affinity – Parasol. A delightfully drinkable Belgian Blonde from Bermondsey’s latest arrivals.
Food Menu – A pop-up kitchen that changes every month means you’ll definitely find something you like here at some point.
Price of an average pint – Cask – £4. Keg – £5.30