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.

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.

Quidi Vidi, Newfoundland: a brewery with a view

Picturesque Quidi Vidi in St. John's, Newfoundland is a surprising location for the province's largest craft brewery. Against the backdrop of a historic fishing village, Quidi Vidi Brewing Company has been turning out beer since 1996 and today accounts for 2% of total beer sales on the island.

Quidi Vidi Brewery

The brewery rose from the ashes of a former cod processing plant, which stood on the site from 1960-1992, when it was closed following a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery. The location plays a pivotal role to the brewery, where visitors are regaled with not only a history of the beer, but of the surrounding area. When Quidi Vidi opened its doors, founders David Fong and David Rees aimed to not only compete for a share of the market predominately controlled by Molson Coors and Labatt in Newfoundland, but to brew an exceptional range for the locals. They initially set out to reproduce a light beer that could surpass the quality of what was available on the market; Newfoundlanders, or Newfies, prefer sessionable styles in particular. Light beers make up 60% of sales in the province.

They launched Quidi Vidi Light, a 4% American style lager, as a gateway beer - one to convince and entice drinkers to shift their brand allegiances and drink from a local brewery. This crisp lager did the trick and now accounts for more than ten million dozen beers per year per capita in Newfoundland.

Quidi Vidi Iceberg

Their most intriguing offering is Iceberg Beer, a lager brewed with twenty thousand year old water from icebergs. The brewery has an iceberg harvester contracted to extract iceberg water, a dangerous process involving cranes and grappling hooks. An unfortunate effect of climate change means that Iceberg Alley, a colloquial term used for the ecozone that stretches from Greenland to Newfoundland, is replete with icebergs traversing the waters. Some have been visible from St John's harbour, according to the locals.

Iceberg Beer makes up 25% of the brewery's sales and its clean taste shouldn't really astonish - iceberg water contains virtually no impurities. In addition to this, the beer is bottled in a stunning electric blue vessel which has proved equally as popular as the beer. The brewery quickly began to run out of the bottles because they were being used for arts and crafts across the province, from makeshift vases to beach glass. To coerce the public to return them for recycling, the brewery offered them 20 cents per bottle, increased from the usual 15 cents offered .

The 1892 was their first beer, named after the year of The Great Fire of 1892, which was the worst disaster to befall St John's and said to have caused $13 million dollars worth of damage in the day's currency. A traditional ale, the beer is characterised by malt sweetness with some chewy caramel notes and nuttiness. It offers a departure from the lagers that the brewery focusses on.

If you needed further evidence of how Quidi Vidi successfully resonates with their local clientele, one must only consider the below poster, which was used to advertise their Eric's Red Ale. After being pitched inane ideas by a big city agency involving women in bikinis in the freezing waters of the Atlantic ocean, the brewery took their own approach - and it was intended to give fellow Newfoundlanders something to talk about.

Quidi Vidi Brewery

Despite the hospitality offered in spades at the brewery itself, its founders are reported to no longer be on speaking terms following a messy court battle over misappropriation of funds. There's no sign of anything amiss to visitors, but the future of the brewery is uncertain. Given its market share in the province, it's potentially an easy target for Big Beer.

Until then, the popular kitchen parties will continue and Newfie culture will be entrenched in the brewery and the beer; no matter what happens down the line, this local focus will hopefully continue, as it's been the key to the brewery's success.

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.

Shelburne, Nova Scotia: Boxing Rock is rolling with the punches

Boxing Rock Brewing Co takes its moniker from a local maritime legend in Shelburne, Nova Scotia. The story goes that the Boxing Rock was a site where disgruntled crewmen were left to reconcile their differences; they could either box each other until one survivor prevailed, or put their quarrel to bed over a beer. The association is apt, marrying the brewery’s coastal roots on the province’s south shore with the testimony that their beer is- simply put- legendary. Based on their current runaway popularity with Nova Scotian drinkers, it can’t be refuted that there’s something mythical coming out of Shelburne.

Founded in 2012, Boxing Rock aspired to balance new technology and innovation with tried and tested brewing methods. It’s not surprising that its founders, Emily Tipton and Henry Pedro, both come from an engineering background. This is a prevalent trend across Nova Scotia’s independent breweries, where the majority of brewers boast impressive academic credentials in the vein of engineering and microbiology degrees. This scientific nous has played a pivotal role in the remarkable speed at which fledging breweries are transforming the drinking culture in the province.

While a methodological approach to brewing is beneficial to guarantee consistent batches and ensure that beer is packaged and delivered to customers in prime condition, this doesn’t imply that Boxing Rock are playing it safe. On the contrary, they’ve challenged local palates with not only their collaborations- often working alongside other Nova Scotian favourites such as Big Spruce Brewing and Tatamagouche Brewery- but even their core beers are unconventional.

Their best selling beer is The Vicar’s Cross, a double IPA. Despite it's ABV of 8.5%, it's enormously drinkable with a smooth body and tempered bitterness courtesy of a lovely malt base that whispers of caramel and butterscotch. Temptation Red Ale is another highly characterful beer that benefits from strong hop flavours attributed to a judicious amount of hopping, both throughout the brew then followed by dry-hopping, which is balanced with a chewy malty backbone. The red has appeased many drinkers who don’t usually have a fondness for the style.

The Boxing Rock brewery is bordered by forest and, like Big Spruce in Cape Breton, seems to exist symbiotically with its woodland surroundings. It’s a modern construct fused with the homeliness of a timber lodge, welcoming visitors to sample beers in the tasting room and offering regular brewery tours over the weekends. There’s an on-site merchandise and bottle shop and growler station and- on our visit- a crowd of people were participating in a spot of friendly axe throwing outside. It proved the quintessential Canadian experience.

The brewhouse hosts a 17 barrel (bbl) kit and is spacious enough to sustain further growth. Unlike many rural breweries in the province, Boxing Rock had the foresight to invest in their kit from the get-go and plan for expansion; we were advised by one of their brewers that there was no immediate plan for further development aside from the addition of another bright tank and the vague possibility of another fermentation tank in the near future. The owners are satisfied with current production levels. But he admitted that over the summer of 2016, the brewery was only able to keep up with demand in Nova Scotia alone and not from the adjacent provinces of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Outside of trendy taprooms, a DIPA like Vicar's Cross is destined to be a harder sale, but that’s where the easily palatable Hunk Dory Pale Ale shines. It has manifested itself on drink lists across the province- I found it on offer in small communities on both the mainland and on Cape Breton island at restaurants purveying lobster suppers. Once again, this is an apposite analogy of the traditional clashing with the new: tourists donning ridiculous plastic lobster bibs in a rural community hall, washing down their crustaceans with the finest local brews available.

Hunky Dory is another beer that’s perfectly poised to act as a gateway into a fuller and more open-minded way of drinking. It’s bright, clean and bursting with citrus aromas and a palate of green tea with earthy and floral notes. Balanced and approachable, this beer is also readily available in the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) branches; this is significant because of how liquor distribution works in the province. The NSLC is the sole distributor of alcohol with the exception of a handful of privately owned boutique stores. Alcohol isn’t sold in grocery stores, nor do Nova Scotians have the luxury of a local off-licence.

The upshot is that the average drinker will source their domestic rations from their closest NSLC, so the local breweries represented here are those that will reach this crucial demographic. And this is the most challenging pitch, targeting customers who haven’t necessary crossed the threshold in search of local or independent offerings. The converted craft drinkers are already filling up their growlers elsewhere or fastidiously studying the shelves of specialist shops.

Despite being thrown into the ring with the big breweries in the NSLC stores, Boxing Rock has faired remarkably well. This might be a testament to the willingness of Nova Scotians to eat and drink local, a movement that's gained roaring momentum over the past few years and fuelled the ubiquity of farmers’ markets up and down the province. Halifax is home to the oldest continuously operating farmer's market in North America, which has run out of several locations since 1750 (including the original site of the Alexander Keith’s brewery, which was featured on the blog here).

Another interesting point was the brewery's preference for bottling. They've opted not to can and this looks unlikely to change in the coming months, as they’ve deemed bottles to be logistically advantageous. Their 650ml sharing bottles are popular on the shelves of the NSLC, especially in the case of Vicar’s Cross, and might be a contributing factor to its astonishing success. Customers are less wary of a fiery DIPA if they’re encouraged to split it between two- or several- friends. Again, the brewery is swimming against the tide with this approach, as many new breweries are moving straight into canning, but it hasn’t impeded their success And they’ve kept busy this year, having brewed at least 15 different styles of beer since May 2016.

While their contract with the NSLC has been both lucrative for the brewery and for boosting the profiles of Nova Scotian beer more generally, their bottles are supplied six months in advance to ensure that they can fulfil their orders and keep shelves stocked. This beer inevitably sits in a warehouse in the interim before sold to the public, giving even more incentive for aficionados to visit the brewery for the freshest examples, or to purchase it from boutique stores or taprooms, where it’s certain that beer is rotated to guarantee that it’s served at its best.

As with the majority of small breweries in Nova Scotia, Boxing Rock launched without any notion of how the local beer industry would explode or how quickly they would be embraced by imbibers. Despite this, they’re managed to keep their head above water. Unlike many of the rural breweries we visited, who are now undergoing expansion to keep up with soaring demand, it’s unlikely that Boxing Rock will change much in the coming years.

Given the breakneck speed that everything seems to be changing across the industry, a sense of continuity is novel and welcome. But don't expect the same stability reflected in their beer- it's guaranteed that the styles and iterations coming from this brewery will become more audacious with time.

Review: The Hiver Experience

Using honey in fermentation isn’t a novel or radical notion. The early Anglo Saxons imbibed alcohol made by fermenting honeycomb and today it’s added to honey beers for flavour. Hiver Beers don’t rely upon honey as an additive to their beer, however– instead, they use raw honey as sugar in the actual brewing process. This imparts a distinct flavour and buttery texture into the composition of the beer. 

Based in Bermondsey and founded in 2013, Hiver focuses on extoling the British tradition of honey beer in the most authentic way possible. Committed to sourcing all ingredients from local suppliers– and this naturally includes the pollinating bees themselves– three different honeys are used in brewing their range. Like beer, honey is best served unpasteurised and characterised by a variegated and idiosyncratic flavour dictated by the flowers local to a hive. Just as varietals of malts and hops can lend specific flavours to a beer, honey from a particular region demonstrates comparable nuanced features.

Instead of offering brewery tours, Hiver have opted to promote their beer in a more hands-on and atypical way: they have partnered with Bee Urban, a community project based in Kennington Park where they sponsor two hives, to host two hour urban bee-keeping experiences. Not only do guests become more acquainted with Hiver’s beers, the role of honey in the brewing process and the company’s ethos during a tutored tasting session, but they will interact with the star insects. Donning a beekeeping suit, they assist the project’s head beekeeper to undertake a full hive inspection.

It might sound daunting, but the whole afternoon is a tranquil and congenial event. Led by Hiver’s founder, Hannah Rhodes, and Bee Urban’s Barnaby Shaw, I experienced it as part a small group of four. Both Hannah and Barnaby demonstrated a depth of knowledge and enthusiasm that quelled any nerves before we ventured out to the garden to ‘meet the ladies’. We were given a brief entomology lesson, were introduced to the tools of the trade and the structure of the hive. We were shown the interior components, including the super frames– where honey is stored– and brood chamber– where the queen lays her eggs. Finally, we were advised to avoid obstructing the entrance of the hive and practised passing a frame from person to person. Sufficiently tutored, we were ready to suit up.

We were escorted to the hives and watched as Barnaby smoked the colony, rendering the bees more docile, before accessing the brood chamber. It’s a remarkably serene experience– we had ample opportunity to discuss the behaviour of the bees and to observe each stage of the bee lifecycle up close. Some frames boasted perfectly symmetrical combs that hosted clusters of eggs, grubby larvae and even new bees breaking their way through a cell cap. After an extensive search, one member of our group spotted the queen bee, marked with a blue dot and perceptibly larger than her counterparts.

The level of activity in the hive is staggering and we were impressed with how unfazed the workers were in spite of their sudden exposure to the sunlight and, more generally, their diligent and myopic nature. Barnaby talked us through the health assessment of the colony and what indicators he was looking for– in particular, he was searching for any signs of swarming or deformities in the larvae or new bees.

After our encounter with the hive, we were fully equipped to appreciate the fruits of the colony’s labour by sampling Hiver’s range. Hannah had set up a spread of nibbles to showcase how the sweetness of the beer harmonises with the salinity of vegetable crisps, the stodginess of a honeyed fruit cake and the intense smokey flavours of spicy sausage and charcuterie. We were invited to taste the Bee Urban and heather honeys, then raw honeycomb from the hive.

The eponymous Honey Beer is a blonde style with a malt profile of organic barley and wheat in addition to UK cascade hops. Three variations of honey, including Bee Urban’s own, English blossom and heather honeys, are used in the fermentation. The result is a bright golden beer with pleasing citrus hop aromas on the nose. Unpasteurised and using lager yeast, the beer is crisp, not overly bitter and the honey– which makes up 20% of the blonde's recipe– lends a viscous texture to the body. On the palate, the honey is tangible and tempers the bitterness introduced by the hops, but it remains a subtle component of the beer. Paired with savoury snacks, the mellow sweetness of the honey was amplified.

The second beer in Hiver’s range is their brown ale, the Honey Ale, which uses raw blossom and heather honeys in fermentation to balance the intense flavour of roasted barley malts. Boasting a burnished copper colour, the beer’s aroma is dark chocolate, espresso and mild earthiness. I didn’t pick up honey on the nose at first, but it was evident on the palate, balanced with sweet malts and some bitterness from the Bramling Cross hops used. This beer is surprisingly light and refreshing, warming up nicely in the glass, causing the aromas and flavours to become increasingly prominent. More so than the Honey Beer, I found it paired well with the salty and sweet foods in equal measures, due to the complexity of the ale.

Both styles were quaffable and categorically dispel the notion that honey beer is cloying or uninteresting. These balanced and accomplished beers are anything but. The distinctive characteristics of each honey were apparent upon tasting: Bee Urban’s honey had softer and more herbaceous notes in contrast to the creamy, pungent and floral profile of the heather honey.

The Hiver Experience was a memorable foray into both urban beekeeping and the brewery’s range. Developing an understanding of how honey is produced and how it can complement the brewing process so harmoniously, I was also inspired by Hannah’s obvious passion for her product and her extensive knowledge of brewing and beer styles. She confidently guided us through a journey from flower to pint and hinted towards exciting future growth in the range for Hiver, including the launch of a special black IPA fermented with Scottish heather in partnership with Laine’s London.

A black IPA with Scottish heather? Yes, it does sound slightly off-kilter, but that’s always been Hiver’s approach to brewing– and it only seems apt that they would turn the brewery tour concept on its head accordingly. It’s a memorable afternoon that leaves you with a newfound appreciation for the bees, the beer and the all-important British honey. Once you’ve handled live bees, the appeal of peering into the belly of a mash tun somewhat pales in comparison.

We paid for our tickets to The Hiver Experience. They can be booked or purchased as a gift here

For more about Hiver Beers, visit their website here.

 

 

The Five Points Brewing Company: the brewery tour

If you’ve ever ordered a pint in East London, you’ve undoubtedly come across The Five Points Brewing Company’s pentagon branding. A brewery with deep roots in Hackney- even taking their moniker from a nearby five way junction- the founders, Edward Mason and Greg Hobbs, both reside in the area. In three and a half years, the brewery’s success has seen it outgrow its Victorian arch underneath the Hackney Downs Overground station. As a consequence, they’ve recently moved staff and distribution to a warehouse located about 20 minutes away by foot on Mare Street. They utilise every iota of the brewery space, including its yard, where three 60 bbl fermenters tower over pallets of barrel kegs.

I was invited to take part in the monthly brewery tour by Doreen Joy Barber, the Five Points’ Community and Marketing Manager, and enthusiastically took up the offer as both a local resident and fan of their beer. Entering the yard at noon on a dreary Saturday, we stepped through the open arch, where we were warmly greeted and encouraged to have a look around. A row of banquet tables were set up in the heart of the brewery and each attendee received a Five Points chalice. In total, we were a group of 23 enthusiastic guests- only four of us had never been on a brewery tour before- and the majority were familiar with the Five Points’ range.

The Pale Ale began flowing as Doreen, Francesca Slattery and Alix Shaw were introduced and their roles explained: Francesca as the Sales Representative with a patent passion for beer and Alix as a self-described Lead Packaging Operative. The team eagerly divulged the specifics of how the brewery supports the local community and how it has gone from strength to strength since brewing its first commercial batch in March 2013.

Doreen outlined their commitment to the area, both locally and through collaboration with other independent breweries; they were the first certified Living Wage brewery in the United Kingdom (thankfully many have followed), all electricity used in the brewing process comes from renewable sources and they curate the seasonal London Brewer’s Market, where small breweries are given the chance to serve alongside more established entities.

Coming back to the beer, the reason that the Pale is the most ubiquitous offering in pubs is because, according to Francesca, it accounts for upwards of 75% of their sales. It was the first beer commercially brewed and is currently one of two beers available in cans, the other being their IPA. And in case you’re interested, the team were resoundingly enthusiastic about the movement towards the more lightweight, portable, safer and discreet vessels for imbibing and hope to focus on more canning in the future.

The popularity of their pale ale isn’t surprising. It’s a juicy, fresh and thirst-quenching beer, using Citra and dry-hopping of Amarillo to deliver glorious citrus aromas and a well-balanced bitterness. Paired with an ABV of 4.4%, this is the ideal afternoon summer beverage. The original core range was rounded off with Hook Island Red, a red rye ale, and their Railway Porter.

Curiously, Five Points didn’t launch their Five Points IPA until late 2014. Doreen explained that this was due to the brewery’s unwavering commitment to the production of consistent and perfected recipes. They didn’t opt to merely imitate a typical American style IPA. Instead, they circumvented an aggressive hop-forward assault on the palate in favour of a rounded, highly palatable beer. This is achieved with tropical notes from Galaxy hops and citrus character from Cascade, followed by a pleasant bitterness to finish. It’s highly quaffable character makes it surprising that it carries an ABV of 7.1%.

The Railway Porter is the brewery’s second biggest seller and Doreen highlighted that its recipe has remained the most unchanged over time. It uses all British malts- seven in total- and East Kent Golding hops. She also crowed that the Railway Porter is the most highly regarded of the Five Points range according to the punters on ratebeer.com, currently standing at 92. Like the London Smoke, used by local vendors Yard Sale Pizza to braise their mushrooms on their Mullered Mushroom pizza, the Railway Porter's rich maltiness marries well with a range of foods.

As we considered each beer in turn, we were provided with approximately half a glass each to swill. Questions were encouraged throughout the two hour tour and Doreen, Francesca and Alix demonstrated exhaustive background knowledge of the company and beer in general. We were whisked around the brewery floor, invited to climb ladders and peer inside a kettle, then to stick our heads inside the mash tun. We became acquainted with the bottling line, a hand-me-down from Beavertown Brewery, which Alix explained could fill up to 2,200 bottles per hour. The canning line can manage up to 3,600 cans per hour and we received an animated demonstration of how the cans slingshot through the machine.

One astute visitor remarked the presence of rows of wooden barrels in the far corner of the brewery. The furtive glances between our guides quickly waned, and a not-so-closely guarded secret was revealed: this was their foray into barrel aging, and their Railway Porter was currently encased inside red wine barrels. Already matured for eight months, this was a test batch to be blended.  This will perhaps appear as a limited batch- or merely kept for the office Christmas party.

In addition to their experimentation with barrel aging, Five Points have launched three seasonal beers this year- this demonstrates their confidence to finally veer from their rock solid core range. While these were not available to sample on the tour, we were directed towards their yard party happening the same day, a new monthly event held on the warehouse premises.

By the end of the afternoon, I had bulldozed through the entire Five Points catalogue, including the Yard Party Pils, the brewery’s inaugural lager, the special edition Ten Points Extra Pale, brewed to mark the Field Day’s tenth anniversary and only available in pubs local to the area, and the Brick Field Brown, a silky-smooth brown ale. The brewery tour was an edifying insight into how another independent London brewery quickly outgrew its confines and made its mark as an institution proffering a seminal range of beers. Lasting two hours, guests tried five beers, gazed inside the metal belly of the mash tun and were regaled with the history and legacy of the Five Points Brewing Company directly from the staff.

The highlight of the tour was the lasting impression that Five Points have their sights firmly set on being more innovative and visible on the market in the coming months; there’s a lot going on in the pipeline with the brewery and with their reputation for never jumping the gun, you know that the future is as bright as their beer.

I was invited into the brewery by The Five Points Brewing Company, but all opinions expressed are my own.

Photographs by @jack_dougherty.