Fourpure's big upgrade: the new brewhouse in Bermondsey

Last night, hundreds of industry guests packed into Fourpure Brewing Co’s new brewhouse and taproom in Bermondsey. It marked the launch of their housewarming ceremonies, which will continue this Saturday, when members of the public can step inside the space and admire the brewery’s gleaming new kit.

The brewhouse is best described as sleek and state-of-the-art, comprised of pieces from the US, Germany and China that were painstakingly assembled and wielded together. It boldly asserts that one of London’s second largest craft breweries, second only to Fuller's Brewery, is shifting gears into the fast lane.

Since 2013, Fourpure has taken the quality of their beer earnestly, but their new £2.5 million, 40hL (approximately 24 bbL) GEA Craft Star set-up will grant them with complete control over every aspect of the brewing process. In addition to this, the efficient new kit will boost the brewery's productivity substantially.

Fourpure Brewery

Staff were teeming with enthusiasm about the upgrade and renovations, offering whistle-stop tours around the brewery, beaming over their new lauter tun in particular, a piece of equipment that strains sweet wort from spent grains after the mashing process. In most smaller scale craft breweries, it’s common for the lautering process to occur inside the mash tun (the benefit here is this is one less piece of expensive equipment and it saves space in a cramped railway arch).

Fourpure Brewery

The addition of a lauter tun also accelerates the brewing process, meaning that wort can be transferred quickly out of the mash tun, freeing it up for another mashing in. We were told that this increases productivity to the extent that Fourpure will be able to brew seven ­– maybe eight in a pinch ­– times a day. Everything is automated, monitored by brewers via control panels, making the act of brewing less intuitive and more accurate. It might extinguish the romanticised image of hirsute brewers standing over the steaming mash with paddle in hand, but the result is greater volumes of beer, brewed with more consistency.

Which, given the rampant growth of the brewery, who peddled their beer at events in 15 countries last year and are currently importing their beer around the globe (Canada is next on the map), is key. Despite their international conquests, they still manage to sell up to 40% of their beer in the vicinity of South East London. The balance between local and global demand is remarkable, especially without the financial backing of Big Beer.

As the saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Fourepure brewed up six special launch beers, all on their new kit, to serve up during their housewarming event. The Easy Peeler citrus session IPA presented juicy tangerine on the nose and palate and a smooth, balanced flavour, making it an easy-drinking, zippy beer. The Beerhall Helles was a smooth, clean Munich-style Helles with a dose of bready malt. Deep South, a peach sour, was rammed with juicy, soft peaches and showcased their new kit’s capability for kettle souring. We also enjoyed the Saharan Sun blood orange saison, a tangy citrus bomb with interestimg phenolic hints from the saison yeast.

Fourpure Brewery

The beers on offer were fresh, bold and innovative – qualities already attributed to Fourpure, but will now become synonymous with the brewery thanks to their investment in brewing technology and equipment.

Tickets to the Fourpure Brewhouse Warming this Saturday are sold out, but walk-ins will be admitted on the day.

The Beavertown and Pressure Drop Tottenham experience

October 2017 saw another craft brewery open its doors in Tottenham, North London. Relocating from its arch in Hackney Central, Pressure Drop Brewing joined Beavertown Brewery in the Lockwood Industrial Estate, giving drinkers an even more convincing reason to be flocking north of the city.

The Pressure Drop story began in a garden shed in Stoke Newington. Founded by three friends, Graham Patrick O'Brien, Benjamin Jack Freeman and Sam Smith, and brewing since the summer of 2012 on a 50 litre pilot kit, they swiftly upscaled operations in 2013 to a brewhouse in Hackney Central. Their mission was always to create modern interpretations of beers to capture the imagination of drinkers. The success of their Pale Fire, an easy-drinking beer that showcases different hop pairings, demonstrates their talent for solid, accessible offerings.

When announcing their move to Tottenham Hale, beer drinkers rejoiced – it marked both a momentous step for the brewery and some relief to the increasing strain on the Beavertown taproom, which is situated just a moment’s walk away. The two breweries were quick to join forces to enhance the Saturday afternoon taproom experience for all; visitors were encouraged to amble between the two and glass deposits were waived when glasses were exchanged at the other site.

Beavertown Taproom Tottenham
Pressure Drop Taproom Tottenham

Despite the increasing number of visitors and buzz surrounding the new Pressure Drop space, it offers a refuge from the spiralling queues and heaving masses at Beavertown. Just across the lot, Pressure Drop is chilled, highly ambient and offers a reasonable chance of actually getting a seat. There's have ample space and a functional set up, where the shiny new 20bbl brewery backdrop is illuminated by colouful stringed lights.

Pressure Drop Taproom

The vast, open space is furnished with wooden tables and benches, a takeaway bottle stand and, when we visited, a vendor boasting selection of sausage rolls. It's pleasant and a world away from drinking shoulder-to-shoulder beneath cramped arches. The freshest Pressure Drop beers appear on tap, directly from their new cold-store, and they have first dibs on specials.

Both Beavertown and Pressure Drop offer great background soundtracks– yes, the music is generally on point at both sites –and environs for a Saturday afternoon brewery crawl, but you can see why drinkers have taken to migrating between locations; when Beavertown's queues become unwieldy, popping over to Pressure Drop for a breather is only sensible.

Of course, it won't always be this way, as the latter was inevitably become a destination in its own right. But take advantage of soaking in the calm surroundings before the summer rush descends upon this corner of Tottenham, especially as they have plans for a beer garden to make an appearance in the spring.

Until then, you can visit the Pressure Drop taproom from 2pm until 8pm every Saturday.

Pillars Brewery: championing lager in Walthamstow

Lager is a style often overlooked, mostly because of its emphasis on malt and clean yeast character over bold hop character. Pillars Brewery respects lager – so much so that they’ve committed their time to producing one worthy of recognition. In a city famed for porter, Pillars hopes to put London on the map for another reason: a crisp, modern adaptation on the Czech style.

Pillars Brewery Walthamstow

Based in the Ravenswood Industrial Estate in Walthamstow, Pillars is a bit of a family affair. Established by three brothers – Eamon, Samie and Omar Razaq – and friend Gavin Litton, the brewery was founded on a single core beer. The Untraditional Lager came from their tireless endeavour to create a recipe for a lager that could equal ales in flavour and complexity. The beer relies upon typical style characteristics, including soft water (as would be found in the town of Pilsen, birthplace of the golden lager), pale malts and yeast that's clean tasting.

Things get interesting when the hops come in. Instead of earthy noble hops, Pillars relies upon bold West Coast US varieties, with pronounced citrus and pine flavours. The brewery describes the Untraditional Lager as a hybrid between a pilsner and an IPA, which seems apt. On the palate, the beer is crisp and nicely bitter in tandem.

Their dedication to this cause has been meticulous, extending to their brewing equipment and conditioning period. The brewhouse comes from Italy and is designed specifically to produce the consummate lager, including a whirlpool efficient enough to ensure that the beer doesn’t require filtration, yet remains bright. Removing the need to filter the beer is crucial for its mouthfeel and even head retention, all of which enhances the drinker’s holistic enjoyment of a pint.

Pillars Brewery

Pillars currently have six fermenter tanks and are at 90% capacity, so expansion is already in the works. They thankfully have plenty of room in their spacious unit, which also houses their taproom and plenty of tables on a Friday night and Saturday afternoon, when it’s open to the public. Even though they’re only brewing two days a week, they cold-condition their beer for five weeks; this is longer than most commercial breweries, where the time might be reduced to two or three weeks.

The taproom is a vibrant space adorned with eye-catching murals and serving up small batch beers, which are mostly influenced by the German purity law, The Reinheitsgebot. This forbids any adjuncts in brewing, permitting only malt, hops, water and yeast to be present. Gavin stresses that they are not bound to this, but their second core beer – Rebell Helles, which is set to be launched next month – is another ‘pure’ beer.

Spending a Saturday afternoon at Pillars is recommended, their taproom offering a warm ambiance to enjoy some crisp beers. Comfortable and equipped with rotating food vendors and resident DJs, it’s the perfect venue to drop into – or stick around in – and make a day of it in Walthamstow and pop into Wild Card Brewery, located in the same estate and literally a stone’s throw away.

Wild Card Brewery: a brewery holding all of the aces

Tucked away in an industrial estate in Walthamstow, East London, Wild Card Brewery boasts a small Brewhouse and taproom. It began as a project for two friends from Nottingham, William John Harris and Andrew Birkby who brought in Jaega Wise, a close friend with a degree in chemical engineering, on board as their head brewer.

In the early days, they contract brewed at Brentwood Brewing Company, but in January 2014, Wild Card moved into their current premises in E17.

On a pleasant Saturday in August, tables were lined up outside, attracting a stream of thirsty locals from about noon onwards. A small, tidy bar offers a selection of beers on cask and keg from Wild Card and other local breweries. 

Wild Card Brewery Bar

Tours are kept intimate – with a maximum of eight people per session – and include a tasting of five beers alongside some food pairings. We were led by the erudite Des de Moor, Beer Sommelier and author of the award-winning CAMRA Guide to London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars, whose knowledge covered brewing history, beer styles, tasting notes and a background of Wild Card’s evolution as a brewery. Happy to take questions and engage with the group, he was a skilled guide and storyteller.

Wild Card Brewery Tasting

Wild Card specialise in contemporary and accessible beers with a core range aptly named: a Joker lager, Jack of Clubs ruby ale, a Queen of Diamonds IPA, King of Hearts blonde and an Ace of Spades porter. Each of the beers was sampled, opening on the lager as a palate cleanser and moving on to the King of Hearts, paired with crunchy corn tortillas chips. The beer is light and fragrant, but has a zippy citrus character thanks to a dry-hopping.

Their Queen of Diamonds was crowned the winner of the Beautiful Brew category at the Urban Food Awards in 2016 and is a standout beer- here, it was paired with chorizo. The Queen of Diamonds is packed with intense flavours and aromas due to its continuous dry-hopping, giving it a huge citrus profile and a refreshing bitter edge.

Wild Card Brewery Jack of Clubs

The Jack of Clubs, a red ale, is the perfect balance of sweet maltiness and bitterness, making it a commendable modern take on the style. The first sip imparts notes of caramel and biscuit, rounded off with some citrus from a bill of American hops. This was paired with creamy cheeses and was the most satisfying match, with sweetness balancing the savoury cheese on the palate and carbonation cutting through the fats. This was the first beer that Wild Card brewed commercially, a daring move given that it’s just not a boilerplate attempt at a more popular style.

Finally, our session concluded with a pairing of the Ace of Spades porter, a luxurious beer with intense cocoa notes. Rich and deep, this was naturally paired with 70% dark chocolate with a hint of salt- it was an effortless marriage of flavours.

Wild Card Brewery Des De Moor

Our tasting was briefly halted for a tour of the brewery, where we huddled among the fermenter tanks and mash tun and Des guided us through the brewing process. The site is compact with six fermenter tanks, so it’s not surprising that they’re on the hunt for a second premises in the area to grow. Today, they've launched a crowdfunding opportunity via Crowdcube for investors to assist with their future expansion plans, which includes a larger production site and bar in Blackhorse, plans to improve their current facilities and launch a barrel aging programme.

The tasting and tour sessions are an insightful introduction to Wild Card and an afternoon well spent. The beers were exceptional and we were expertly guided through each one. Following the tasting, we stuck around to enjoy another taste of the range, following suit with the locals and soaking in the easy-going E17 vibes. 

Wild Card tours are offered every Saturday. Tickets are £18 and can be purchased here.

Drinking in Manchester: great beer up north

It’s no secret that Manchester is home to a thriving craft beer scene. It hosts Indy Man Beer Con, which is now a staple event in the UK beer events calendar, and is home to a list of emerging breweries, including the widely lauded Cloudwater Brew Co.

Yes, Manchester is a bona fide beer destination city. Alongside the new taprooms popping up under railway arches, the city has a long list of exceptional pubs and restaurants to complement the mouth-watering products of its local breweries.

The Marble Arch
73 Rochdale Road, Collyhurst, Manchester, M4 4HY

Marble Arch Inn Manchester

Invariably the first pub to come recommended to any beer drinker headed up north, the Marble Arch boasts Victorian character in abundance and an exceptional beer selection on keg and cask. Built in 1888, it housed Marble Beers until 2011. The pub retains some gorgeous original features, including high ceilings, a frieze and mosaic floor tiling. The most subtle feature is the famous sloping floor, which helpfully slants towards the bar. This is one of Marble’s pubs in the city – an all star line-up that also includes 57 Thomas Street and Marble Beerhouse – but has an ambiance that can’t be rivalled.

Marble Arch Inn Manchester

As you’d expect, staff are talkative, informed and offer a wonderful opportunity to explore Marble’s range if you’re unfamiliar with it. While the pub showcases Marble beers, there’s a guest menu as well. The 20th Anniversary Series beers were tasting fantastic on our visit, including Prime Time, a sessionable kolsch with lime zest. The Dobber, a retired IPA recently resurected with the help of beer writer Matthew Curtis, was available in cans. With a kitchen on site and a wealth of cheeses available, it's tempting to pass an entire afternoon in this welcoming gem. 


Cloudwater Taproom/ Barrel Store
Arch 13, Sheffield Street, Manchester, M1 2ND

Cloudwater Barrel Atore Manchester


Recently crowned the 5th best brewery in the world by Ratebeer.com, it’s no surprise that people pilgrimage to Cloudwater’s taproom in droves. The location is modest, under a railway arch with communal tables set up inside amid rows up rows of wooden barrels lining the walls. Local bread and olives are available to satiate visitors and a rack of t-shirts and other merchandise are on display. The bar is equally as unpretentious as the space, a sole counter with a swiftly rotating chalkboard menu to order from. This is part of the Piccadilly Beer Mile, which includes five stops: Track Brewing Company, Alphabet Brewing Company, Beer Merchants, Chorlton Brewing Company and Squawk Brewing Company.

Cloudwater Barrel Store Manchester

The beer flowing from the taps is tantalisingly fresh. On our visit, the Cloudwater and Other Half Brewing Company collaboration, Tremendous Ideas, proved popular. This juicy and complex Imperial IPA contains 50% oats, is hopped with Citra, Huell Melon, Vic Secret and fermented with both US and Manchester yeasts. It was bursting with orange, mango and melon, all complemented by a understated bitterness.

Alphabet Brewing Co
99 North Western Street, Manchester M12 6JL

Alphabet Brewing Co Manchester

Continuing along the Piccadilly Beer Mile, the Alphabet taproom is spacious and doubles as a foodie destination every Saturday. Food trucks are parked outside while inside, a DJ provides an afternoon soundtrack and beers are served up. The colourful and highly recognisable artwork of Manchester based illustrator, Nick Hamilton (aka The Hammo), which also adorns Alphabet's cans, helps brighten up the space.

Alphabet Brewing Co Manchester

Juice Springsteen, a tropical IPA, was thirst-quenching on a humid summer's afternoon, packing fruit salad aromas and a crisp finish . A to the K, their oatmeal pale ale, was equally as refreshing in the heat with a nice creamy body imparted from the oats.

The atmosphere here is easy-going and accommodates large groups. There were two options for food on our visit, including some moreish pies and some Indonesian fare, and the live music made it a no-brainer site for an extended stay.

Beer Merchants
75 North Western Street, Manchester M12 6DY

Cave Direct Manchester

Moving along, adjacent to Alphabet is Beer Merchant's Manchester site. The beer distributors, who trade online as Cave Direct, offer up a range of drinks in their taproom and also host tap takeover events. Ample tables are lined up in two rows and the varied selection guarantees that palates won't tire. Even as the afternoon wore on and the evening creeped in, the ambiance remained relaxed and we enjoyed the selection of Tiny Rebel Brewing Company's beers that were featured that day until the need for food beckoned.

Yes, this only scratches the surface of what Manchester has to offer. We found that the Track taproom isn't open every Saturday (including on our visit) and sadly didn't have the time to visit Chorlton Brewing Company. But no matter where you end up drinking, be sure to squeeze in a visit to the legendary Bundobust, where you can fill your boots with vegetarian Indian street food and where the beer list just as noteworthy as the food.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: 2 Crows brewing up some joy

Since visiting Nova Scotia last summer, there's been a notable addition to the Halifax craft brewing scene. The brewery, 2 Crows Brewing Co., opened in January of this year and has already found itself stocked in Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) stores across the province. This means that their bold, flavoursome beers are readily available to all, pouring at taprooms and stacked in kitchen fridges. 

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

2 Crows was co-founded by married couple Kelly and Mark Huizink and Jeremy Taylor, head brewer. They were set on developing a range of off-kilter beers with a focus on Belgian styles with a modern twist. Taylor has a background in biochemistry and only recently uprooted and trekked across the country, moving from British Columbia to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. He's fiercely optimistic about the local brewing industry and emphasised that they’ve been very fortunate to be welcomed so warmly; their beers were stocked almost immediately in nearby taprooms, such as Stillwell in Halifax and Battery Park in Dartmouth. In return, they also champion other local breweries (and cideries) on their menu, including Tidehouse Brewing Company and North Brewing Company.

Their presence in the NSLC is particularly significant because of how alcohol is controlled in the province. Unlike the UK, all alcoholic beverages in Nova Scotia are solely distributed by a single entity, the NSLC. Currently, there are only four privately owned and independent wine specialty shops to counter this monopoly, making 2 Crows' relationship with the corporation invaluable in terms of shifting stock. However, there's a maelstrom of controversy about how the NSLC operates and their relationship with the craft beer industry in general that makes for some interesting reading.  

The 2 Crows core beers include Pollyanna, a juicy and hazy wild Northeast IPA, the Liesse, a clean and bright table beer, and Pecadillo, a pilsner made with oats. Their seasonals and small batch beers are bold – such as Angel Eyes, a brett pale ale and In the Dry, dry-hopped sour – and demonstrative of just how quickly breweries are growing up in the province and customers’ palates are maturing.

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

The taproom and brewhouse are located downtown, just around the corner from the city’s fortification, Halifax Citadel on Citadel Hill. It’s a sleek, spacious site that sees the brewery separated only by police line tape to remind visitors to not cross beyond the serving area. Punters can grab a beer and be backseat drivers to the brewing process, surveilling all from the comfort of their bar stool. There are benches to pull up to the bar, tables for groups and an outside patio to make the best of Halifax’s fickle weather.

The taproom is bright – natural light streaming in courtesy of large two-storey windows, with splashes of colour and character throughout. The staff were passionate about the range of beer, taking time to talk tourists through the different styles represented on the board. One explained that onsite training was thorough and continuous. Their beer allowance is generous and staff are encouraged to bring beer to gatherings, as word of mouth is perhaps the most effective form of marketing (and people will always ask about the complimentary beer that they're enjoying).

It was apparent that people were already drinking 2 Crows with gusto. At the end of June, they had no Pollyanna available on keg in the taproom and cans were flying out of the fridge. Because this beer was popping up on menus across Halifax, from harbourfront tourist hotspots to the city’s famed outdoor drinking patios, and with its availability both in bars and through the liquor stores, Pollyanna is already enjoying staple status. We discovered cans in venues across the city and were grateful – the huge tropical juicy hit in this smooth beer made it a sensational summer sipper.

The Fantacity also impressed, a ridiculously drinkable wheat beer with big orange and lemon citrus flavours paired with a hint of coriander. The Angel Eyes was also a hugely interesting beer with a balance of juicy and funky notes and the Midnight Porter was deliciously dank and smooth.

2 Crows Brewing Halifax Nova Scotia

The energy of the team at 2 Crows was palpable, from the staff at the taproom to their head brewer. When speaking of the brewery around town, others in the industry were quick to express their admiration for their adventurous spirit. The most impressive is perhaps to come, however: the brewery has invested in foeders, 65-year-old calvados barrels, and believe that they are the only brewery in North America to have these. With time, their barrel-aged projects will undoubtedly continue to galvanise excitement in both taprooms and patrons alike.

Finally, the origin of the brewery's name? Well, it comes from a well-known nursery rhyme that is more commonly associated with magpies in the UK:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy [...]

We also know that crows are clever – and as it transpires, so is their beer.

Windsor & Eton Brewery: a regional brewery with a twist of craft

The Royal Family, Windsor Castle and the rushing Thames: all are commonly associated with the town of Windsor, home to Windsor & Eton Brewery. The brewery is all too aware of the pressure of these affiliations and makes every effort to ensure that their beer lives up to the name.

Since 2010, Windsor & Eton have been focused on high quality beer with a local emphasis. Founded by four partners who were at the end of their corporate careers in the food and drinks industry, the brewery was established in 2010. It was self-funded by the partners – they agreed that the amount raised had to be sufficient to both build the brewery and for each to live off of for the first 12 months of business.

As part of the legal requirement to use the word ‘Windsor’ in the brewery name – it's a sensitive word under legislation that requires approval from the Cabinet Office because of the royal link – the brewing site had to be located in the town. And so a site tucked away in an industrial estate, only a ten minute walk away from the Windsor & Eton Riverside Station with a pleasant stretch along the Thames, was leased out. The team was attracted to the duality that Windsor offers as a community-driven market town and a tourist destination.

The original site was larger than what was originally envisioned, but they managed to install their bespoke brewhouse in a meagre six weeks. While they met no objections from residents when they moved in, they encountered difficulties competing against a growing list of breweries for the untied hand pulls in nearby pubs. They adapted quickly, however, carving out their niche and brewing special beers for occasions like St George’s Day. They also frequented festivals, coaxing the locals to try their range. Their perseverance paid off: while they sold 23 casks (holding 9 gallons each) in their first week, they now typically turn out 400 per week.

Windsor and Eton Brewery Tour

The brewery offers regular tours to the public and can be easily accessed via train from London Waterloo station. I travelled up on a Wednesday evening, where a group of us were led through the brewery's history by Paddy Johnston, co-founder and Master Brewer. Paddy was fiercely proud of the team and their accomplishments, but conceded that selling is still a challenge; this is indicative of the tough competition out there for independent breweries. The number of breweries in the UK has surged since 2010, when Windsor & Eton threw their hat in the ring. Back then, there were 767 breweries according to CAMRA, whereas that figure is now hovers around 2,000 - and is still growing.

Windsor and Eton Brewery

This year, they’ll be increasing their fermenting capacity by 27% and find themselves in a healthy financial position with no loans to pay off and no shareholders to pay out. They’ve also invested in a venue to put their range on full display, The George, a cosy Georgian pub situated on Eton’s high street, ten minutes away from Windsor Castle on foot. On the menu, the pub features the Royal Windsor Farm sirloin steak, where the cattle were fed the spent grain of the brewery. This full-circle demonstrates Windsor & Eton’s commitment to keeping everything as regional and sustainable as possible.

While extoling the virtues of cask beer, Paddy guided a group through the brewery’s impressive range; we started on the Knights of the Garter, a golden ale hopped with juicy Amarillo for hints of mellow citrus balanced by a light bitter finish. The Windsor Knot, a beer originally brewed to commemorate the nuptials of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton, was a bitter with Nelson Sauvin imparting a alluring tropical aromas. The Guardsman is the bitter that started it all, being the first beer that the brewery produced, using British Maris Otter pale malt alongside British hop varieties Pilgrim and Fuggles (with a dose of a Slovenian descent of Fuggle, Styrian Golding). It’s a pleasantly drinkable bitter, semi-sweet with earthiness from the hops and hints of caramel throughout.

Their beers on keg also impressed, including their remarkably smooth Republika Lager, a pilsner style lager with Saaz hops and pilsner malt. The beer is fermented at cold temperatures for three weeks and then lagered - or stored at below 2C - for 6 weeks. The carbonation is natural, making this beer a real labour of love from the brewery. It’s clean and beautifully refined.

Finally, the Uprising Craft Brewery branch of the brewery is dedicated to more audacious styles to appeal to today’s evolving tastes. The brewer in charge of these more innovative offerings is Kieran Johnson, Paddy’s son. The White Riot, a pale ale made with wheat and orange zest, was a thirst-quenching example with the creamy comfort and soft spiciness of a wheat beer. Their Uprising Scumbag Maggot was discussed, an 8.5% imperial stout with Christmas pudding flavours, juniper berries and aged in oak whiskey casks. The moniker comes from that famous The Pogues song and the beer sounds like one to try.

Taking a tour of Windsor & Eton was eye-opening and insightful; Paddy went through every stage of the brewing process – from the ingredients to fermentation. Samples were generous and the environment was convivial. Discussion veered from everything to the history of IPA and the advantages of both cask and keg. Most evident was the team’s enthusiasm and Paddy’s own assertion that as a brewery, Windsor & Eton are aiming to make beers that people like, but not necessarily love. They’ve accepted that they can’t make beers that will please absolutely everyone, but they don’t want to alienate other drinkers by brewing beers that are too unconventional for the sake of it. It might seem like they’re playing it safe, but each of the beers went down well with our tour, so the ethos appears to be sound.

Windsor and Eton Brewery Taproom

In fact, I was one of the first to disappear into the night following our two hour session to catch a train back to London. I stayed for a swift second sample of White Riot and slipped off as others lingered in the taproom, looking happy to keep working through the range.

This feature on Windsor & Eton Brewery was written in conjunction with Expedia, who recently teamed up with award-winning beer writer and sommelier Melissa Cole to compile a map of 15 of the UK and Ireland’s best regional breweries.

Crate Brewery: craft beer on the River Lea

If you think back to the summer of 2012, when Olympic fever swelled and London was inundated with tourists, you might have been too immersed in the Games to notice Crate Brewery. But it was there, popping up almost overnight in Hackney Wick, serving beer out of an old East London print factory.

Pitched alongside the River Lea, they saw very little of the footfall for the Olympic Stadium, despite being only a few minutes away. This is mostly because of how pedestrians were driven through the area. 

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

Crate is the brainchild of New Zealander siblings Tom and Jess Seaton and their business partner, Neil Hinchley. The story goes that they met at a bar in 2012, where discussions of opening a brewery ensued, and the lease was signed almost the next day. The brewery taproom set-up was swift and frugal, relying upon local and recycled materials. The actual bar was formed from railway sleepers, old bed springs are used for light fittings and wooden pallets were ideal tables. It only took six weeks to construct the space with the help of local artists and a hearty dose of Kiwi ingenuity.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

It wasn’t long before Crate became a hub of activity in Hackney Wick, driven by its sublime location, where drinkers can lounge by the canal, taking in the clash of vibrant street art and industrial fixtures. It’s picture-perfect East London. Crowds flocked unreservedly to the brewery on a sunny afternoon, making it increasingly difficult to get a seat. By 2013, I remember wait times of almost 45 minutes to get served. Thankfully, staff numbers improved as the brewery found its feet.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

From their first beer, a golden ale on cask, the brewery has come a long way. In the first six months of production, they made 60,000 litres of beer. Now in 2017, they’re producing half a million litres every six months. They’re an ABV-driven brewery, meaning that they replicate the same gravity when brewing – the gravity refers to the density of the wort at all stages of brewing, which depends on the presence of sugars. This helps determine the final alcoholic content of the beer, which generally ranges between about 4.5% in their Pale and 5.8% in their IPA.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

Crate now offers tours of their premises, which provide an interesting overview of the brewing process, their origins and the history of the area. Beginning by sipping on their single hop Pale with Galaxy, our group was led through the tasting process with a guide and taught the fundamentals of tasting beer. Moving outside the bar, the differences between dispense methods were elaborated upon as the rye ale on cask was poured. Standing in Queen’s Yard, which was once annexed to the Clarnico chocolate factory, the building where the bar is located – The White Building – was once shut down for printing illegal money. Before the regeneration of the area in 2012, Hackney Wick was said to be home to a fridge graveyard and the occasional brothel.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

Now, Queen’s Yard hosts the Crate brewshed and a number of small businesses. It’s also home to Howling Hops Brewery and Tank Bar, another brewery that moved in during the summer of 2015, who have the distinction of being the UK’s first dedicated tank bar. Howling Hops pour their beer directly from fermenter tanks lined up against the back wall. Crate now laugh off their initial trepidation at the news of the arrival of another brewery in the area; it seems that there are plenty of drinkers to share. The breweries now co-exist and lend each other a hand when they’re caught short of supplies.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

This Utopian existence can't last, however; the brewshed is set to be demolished in the next twelve months, meaning that Crate’s brewing site will have to be relocated. Their lease on the bar is secure, however, as the White Building is a listed building. They’ve outgrown the current set-up in any event and use the adjacent building to the brewshed, which hosts Mick’s Garage, a collaboration between Crate Brewery and Berber & Q, as their warehouse.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick Sour

Now with 17 fermenter tanks, each of which hold 4,000 litres on average, Crate no longer has the capacity to brew their lager on site and this is now outsourced to Antwerp. Their Pils, however, is brewed onsite, heralding the return of lager to the brewery. They use finings in their beer, making it technically not vegan due to the addition of isinglass - made from the swim bladders of fish and added to improve clarity of beer. Any of the purees used in brewing is made entirely from real fruit, however, and their sours showcase this: their Forrest Fruit Sour is intensely jammy with a nice hint of tartness, making it an easy drinking option. While the Mosiac Session IPA wasn’t to everyone's taste, overpowered by floral and pine notes, the American Nut Brown was a nice rich bouquet of flavours, from hazelnut, chocolate and strong coffee notes.

Crate Brewery Hackney Wick

A tour of Crate Brewery is a great way to glean some history of the brewery and the Hackney Wick area over a couple of hours. As you sample their beer, a good range of styles is represented and nothing is too challenging, making their beer accessible to even the most casual beer drinker. The location simply can’t be beat and, if you get there early enough, you can both find a seat and hunker down with one of their tasty wood oven pizzas. These beers are best enjoyed in situ, so when the summer finally arrives in East London, you'll find us by the canal.

Brussels, Belgium: Cantillon and the champagne of Brussels

A trip to Brussels wouldn’t be complete without an afternoon spent at the Cantillon brewery. Its proximity to the Eurostar terminal in the Anderlecht municipality of the city is opportune; unlike the Trappist breweries based in monasteries outside of Brussels, Cantillon is central and astonishingly convenient from London.

Less restrictive luggage allowances for the train are ideal for bringing back a few cases from the brewery – or even filling up an empty suitcase to capacity, an admirable feat that we witnessed on our visit.

Tourists flock to Cantillon for lambic beer, a Belgian specialty that relies upon spontaneous fermentation. In contrast to most breweries, where yeast is cultivated and large-scale production seeks consistency, lambic beers are left exposed to the air, attracting the native wild yeasts and bacteria which flourish in the surrounding Zenne valley. What effect does this gathering of wild elements have on the beer? Well, lambic is characterised by both bone-dry and sour notes. It can be like sipping a sharp, dry cider, or it can be much sweeter – but Cantillon is the authority of the lambic style and everything fermented here is flawlessly balanced. They’ve had plenty of time to perfect their technique; the brewery was founded in 1900 and has remained independent to this day, passed down through the Cantillon family line, from father to sons, then sons to son-in-law.

The Cantillon brewery is world away from the gleaming, sterile environments of most modern brewhouses. Some of the original equipment, dating back to the early 20th century, is still in use today and the crushing machines – used to masticate fruit for their kriek – look like barbed medieval torture devices. Entering the brewery, guests are thrown into the thick of palates and busy workers. Tours are offered at 7€ per person, which includes an introduction from a member of staff and a booklet for the self-guided route. At the end of the tour, visitors are able to sample 1 year old gueuze, which is both young and fresh, and one drink of their choice from the bar’s menu.

Some visitors beeline to the bar, but the tour is worth the time, allowing guests to explore the brewing area with its mash tun, then climb a set of stairs to the hop boilers, crushing machine and hot water tank. Another ascent leads to the granary, an expansive attic storage space for malts and hops; in the production of lambic beer, raw Belgian wheat, malted barley and aged hops – which have lost some of their bitter edge – are used; Cantillion use two to three times more hops than the average brewery to achieve a high level of tannin, which is a natural preservative, in their beer.

The most fascinating room held the cooling tun, which assists the spontaneous fermentation so crucial to lambic beers. An imposing rectangular copper vessel sits in a loft above the granary, like a shallow paddling pool. Also known as a cool ship, its purpose is to cool down the wort quickly across a flat surface area. The brewing season here extends from April to October because the ideal wort temperature is between 18 and 20 degrees Celsius, which is generally only achievable during the evenings in the colder months. This temperature range is ideal for the airborne yeasts and bacteria. Following this cooling period, the wort is then transferred to the fermentation vat in the room below.

From here, the wort is stored in barrels. Interestingly, the type of wood used in the casks – which are either oak or chestnut at Cantillon – doesn’t affect the fermentation of lambic beer. The process of aging the beer in wood imparts wine-like flavours to the liquid. After a few days in the barrel, the sugars present in the wort react with wild yeasts, triggering spontaneous fermentation – this results in the creation of a huge amount of carbon dioxide, causing an eruption of foam to bubble out of the bunghole in the barrel; during this reaction, 5 to 10 litres of wort can be lost per 225 or 500 litre barrel.

Following this active stage of fermentation is a slower process. After three to four weeks, the barrels are finally sealed and left to sit for three years. During this time, another 20% of the beer can evaporate inside the cask. Young lambics can be used to blend with other beers, but most brewers will wait at least a year to let the delicate flavours develop. Gueuze is a blend of one, two and three year-old lambic beers; the sugars from the younger beer trigger a second fermentation in the bottle and the older lambic imparts the complex taste profile.

As for kriek, this is a two year old lambic blended with fruit – specifically sour Schaerbeek cherries at Cantillon – where 150kg of fruit are used per 500 litres of beer. Other fruit beers include their Fou’foune, a lambic with the addition of soaked apricots, lending it a gentle sweetness. On our visit, we also indulged in the Zwanze (2012), a lambic with rhubarb, which was exceptionally delicate and refreshing.

The tour of the Cantillon brewery is a half an hour well spent, moving from the brewing area to storage and the bottling line. At the end, visitors are rewarded with a taste of young one year old lambic and another glass of a beer of their choice. From here, the natural tendency is to get comfortable next to the bar, where seats are tables are arranged around a wood-burning stove. As a group of five, we worked through the styles available on the day, taking some recommendations when it came to the rarer (and more expensive) bottles.

The 750ml bottles come wedged in a wicker basket that makes the act of decanting both ceremonious and occasionally awkward. We relished the Kriek and Fou’foune, then eyeballed the more unusual selections, such as the Saint-Lamvinus, a lambic soaked in black Merlot grapes, and the Grand Cru Bruocsella (2007), a three year lambic selected for its superior colour, taste and flavour. We concluded our afternoon on a Lou Pepe Kriek (2013), where secondary fermentation in the bottle is aided by the addition of cane sugar; this process would usually rely upon the reaction when a young lambic is added in the gueuze blend. It was intensely juicy with the flesh of sour cherries, boasting a vibrant ruby red hue and a faint pink head. Its predominantly lick-puckering tartness married with hints of lactose and funk. Not as delicate as the more subtle styles, but its robust flavour profile made it intensely memorable.

Visitors are welcome into Cantillon until 5pm and until then we stayed, sipping and savouring the champagne of Brussels.

Brixton Brewery: capturing an electric community in beer

The idea for Brixton Brewery was hatched at the old Hive Bar by two local couples with a shared love of beer. Today, the Hive bar is now a Craft Beer Co and the brewery – eventually founded in 2012 by Jez Galaun and Mike Ross – is only a stone’s throw away, almost within eyeshot from where that brainstorming session took place. Beneath railway arches in SW9, Brixton Brewery is going full-throttle and struggling to keep up with demand. The community of Brixton itself is integral to the brewery’s brand, its beers and its focus. The brewery and the locality are synonymous.

Brixton’s colourful branding is visible in a number of London’s bottle shops, but it’s not always an easy task to find them at a bar or taproom beyond SW postcodes. This could be attributed the brewery's focus on producing a range of traditional styles such as pale ale, which is a difficult style to both master and make distinguishable. Yet their pale ales are beautifully rendered, bringing together traditional methods with juicy, modern flavours. A perfect balance between malts and hops is what they strive for in their beer. And despite what the rest of London thinks, Brixton is enthusiastically embraced and enjoyed by locals.

Disconnected from the Bermondsey and Hackney brewing scenes, Brixton has avoided much of the craft beer fervour in London over the past three years. Located only a few minutes from the Brixton underground station, they are spread across three arches: one for brewing, one for stock and office space and the last for keg storage. In their brewing arch, there’s a small bar, a fridge stocked with bottles and several wooden tables to accommodate locals popping in for a pint. Those who can’t get to the brewery have a second option to source Brixton’s beers, however: Brixton has a good relationship with Craft Beer Co Brixton – the very site where the brewery itself was once conceived. Kegs can be literally run from the brewery to the front door of the bar by staff.

The brewing space is snug and Brixton brews up to seven times a week, or as often as a fermenter is available, but that doesn’t faze the team. They’re content with brewing in small batches for the time-being, but they do have three fermenter tanks siting unused in storage. If these tanks were relocated into the main arch, it would encroach upon (or completely eradicate) their intimate taproom space.

The highly recognisable branding is rooted in the area, influenced by its vibrancy, diversity and history. The vivacious colours and designs are inspired by African textiles, which are sold in local markets and displayed in the community. The iconography used also makes local references, with thunderbolts alluding to the famous Electric Avenue. Even the names of the beers are laden with local significance, such as the Effra ale, which refers to the underground river that flows beneath the streets of Brixton, and the Atlantic pale harking to Atlantic Road, where the Brixton Market began trading in the 1870s.

Even the recipes have been shaped by the area; the Electric IPA is an ensemble of pronounced flavours, its namesake is Electric Avenue, where influences of African, Caribbean, South American and Asian cultures coincide. The Effra is a meeting of the traditional and new, much like Brixton itself, modernising an English ale with a healthy measure of new world hops.

Although Brixton focus on achieving well-rounded, balanced beers, they’ve not completly adverse to experimentation. They’ve collaborated with the highly revered De La Senne brewery from Belgium to create the Brixi Saison, a modern classic saison-style beer with big juicy aromas or peach and tangerine and a sweet and mildly bitter taste. They also partnered with Chef Tim Anderson of local restaurant Nanban to produce the Brixton Market Saison, a beer that paid homage to the flavours of Brixton Market, infusing a farmhouse ale with Jamaican Sorrel and Japanese green tea.

As far as the future goes, Brixton has ordered new equipment that will improve dry-hopping and the flavour of their beers. They’re also considering an in-house yeast management programme to allow them to reuse their yeast in brewing. But they do face certain limitations due to their restricted brewing space; one such drawback includes their inability to brew anything with a higher ABV than their popular annual release, the Megawatt DIPA, which is 8%. This is down to the fact that they physically can’t fit in any more grain into their mash tun. As far as canning goes, they aren’t happy with canning technology on a small scale to date, feeling that too much oxygen is trapped in the cans. Once technology improves on this scale, they’ll re-evaluate this. And there’s always the issue of supply chain variations with the availability and quality of hops, but this seems to be improving as the craft industry in London grows.

In November, Brixton hosted brewery tours to gauge the interest of the general public to visit their compact, but efficient, brewhouse. The tour was popular and the majority of the crowd seemed to be both local and familiar with the beer. It’s evident that they’ve entrenched themselves in the bricks and mortar of the community in just three short years, which is commendable. But it’s hardly surprising, as they’ve been consistent and focused on an intensely drinkable range.

The electric character of the Brixton community is being bottled underneath the brewery's arches, so it's hardly a surprise that the beer is best enjoyed in situ. The experience is indisputably worth journeying out of East London or Bermondsey for.

I was kindly invited along to take a tour by Jez & Mike at Brixton Brewery.