Friday 27 April 2012

A new brewer in town

I dropped in at the Botanist brewpub on Kew Green this week to find its new brewer – or rather, one of its two new brewers – at work, having just started there earlier this month. His name is Johannes and he is originally from Bitburg in Germany, but he has just returned to Europe after two years brewing in Canada. Before that he worked in a number of other breweries including Paulaner's Shanghai brewhouse.

A lager brewer in an ale brewery? Don't forget that many lager styles, weizen for example, are brewed warm like ale and with a top-settling yeast. In any case, a good brewer – and I'm sure Johannes is that – can turn his or her hand to pretty much any style.

Johannes said he will continue brewing the Botanist's four regulars, which are Humulus Lupulus (pale ale), 391 (brown ale), Kew Green (fruit wheat beer) and OK Bitter, as well as producing specials and seasonals. Coming up soon are a Blueberry Cream Ale and a smoked amber ale to be made with peated Scotch whisky malt. Hopefully there will also be a brew of 65 Mild for next month's Mild Month.

There is some management interest in adding a lager to the range, but it would need investment to install conditioning tanks in the cellar. In the meantime, they'll continue kegging and carbonating the Kew Green and maybe also the Humulus – both unfiltered and unpasteurised – for sale as home-grown alternatives.

As an aside, the Botanist is far from alone in kegging live unfiltered beer. Many Bavarian and US craft brewers do it, say, although others do filter and chill. It shows that the oft-repeated tale that all keg beer is filtered and pasteurised is actually a myth, although of course kegging an ale does mean it won't get much if any of a secondary fermentation, and the added CO₂ means it no longer qualifies as “real”.

Anyhow, a second brewer is due to join the Botanist in the next few weeks. Is there enough work in a 2.5-barrel brewery for two? Maybe at times – apparently the management would like to be able to squeeze in an extra brew or two per week – but longer term the pubco which owns the Botanist is looking to open a second brewery to supply its other pubs, in which case one of the two would move there.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

London, City of Beer with Food

There was a bit more to the London City of Beer launch last week than I mentioned at the time: after introducing the project to the assembled media, we were treated to a London beer and food tasting – well, all the beer was from London, but the food wasn't, although it was all from the British Isles.

Lead by writer and campaigner Roger Protz, this was all about getting the message over that beer goes brilliantly with food, and is often a better match than wine. As Roger said, “I've never understood why Stilton is served with Port – it's a horrible combination. Cheese and IPA is a match made in heaven!”

He added: “The interesting thing about British beer is how many different hops brewers use for bittering, flavour and aroma. Most Continental hops tend to be a bit one-dimensional, and then the brewers only use one variety per beer.”

Here's the menu, with Roger's suggestions of what goes well together:

1. Fullers (Gales) Seafarers Ale with smoked salmon on crisped sourdough wafers – basically thin toast. Somehow the salmon brought out the fruitiness of the beer, while the beer deepened the salmon.

2. Sambrooks Junction with salt and peppered mini sausages. The beer, with its roasted barley and malty notes, cut through the slight fattiness of the sausages to reveal them at their meaty best.

3. Fullers ESB with leg of lamb, roasted pink with rosemary and thyme. The classic Fullers marmalade notes plus ESB's dark dried fruit beautifully contrasted the sweetness of the meat.

4. Meantime Wheat beer, in small champagne-style bottles, with Cooleeney (Irish) soft cheese. The spicy and faintly tart hefeweizen was an interesting match for this Camembert-style cheese. I wasn't convinced, but others thought it great.

5. Bengal Lancer with Yarg (Cornish) and Cashel (Irish) cheeses. This beer was a better match for cheese in my view, its assertive dry yet fruity hoppiness both the creamy and salty cheeses.

6. Fullers 1845 with a selection of white, milk and plain chocolate mini-ingots from Hotel Chocolat. Some people might have gone for the obvious here – a porter, Fullers London Porter even! - yet the rich fruitiness of 1845 demonstrated that sometimes a little contrast serves to show up each partner's best points rather than their worst ones.

During all this, Roger kept us entertained with a string of anecdotes and background information. For example, we learnt that ESB is a UK trademark of Fullers so there are no other ESBs made here, whereas in the US it has become a popular generic style, and that Bengal Lancer had its first success not in the UK but in Scandinavia – apparently the Fullers marketing people didn't think it would sell here, so they shipped it to Sweden instead. Bizarre.

He did also repeat the IPA myth though – that India Pale Ale was originally brewed stronger than other beers to help it survive shipping to India, which it wasn't. Sure, early IPAs were maybe 7% or 8% ABV – but so were the other pale ales of the time, according to historians who've dug into the brewers' logbooks. Pete Brown, in his book Hops and Glory, suggested that the special character of IPA may actually have come from a variety of the Estufagem baking-and-sloshing process that produces Madeira wine. I'd love to try a classic IPA that's been through Estufagem, if anyone fancies making one...

Anyhow, the food was excellent, and in the circumstances it was just as well that it was sample portions rather than a slap-up meal, as the latter would have taken longer and probably would have detracted from the beers rather than enhancing them.

Yes, a lot of Fullers beers in there, but we were in a Fullers pub! And apparently while more breweries had been invited to participate, they had not been able to do so for various reasons. I'd love to think that there will be a “next time” for them to have another go at attending. Here's hoping.

In the meantime: beer with food. You know it makes sense.

Thursday 19 April 2012

London, City of Beer

London was once the world capital of brewing. Five years ago we thought we'd lost almost all our brewing, but recent months have seen an amazing regrowth, with the number of ale breweries jumping from barely a handful after Young's closed down in 2006 to more than two dozen now.

That was the message last night from CAMRA's Christine Cryne, launching the London City of Beer project to an audience of writers and other luminaries from the worlds of food, tourism, and of course drinks. In essence, LCoB is a celebration of the city's pubs and beers. As well as a website listing beer festivals, brewery open days, suggested pub crawls and lots more beery information, there's going to be a special issue of London Drinker magazine called A Visitor's Guide to London, with lots of useful gen for anyone new to the London pub.

This magazine is intended for the many visitors who will come to the capital for this very special and busy summer, whether it's for the Queen's Jubilee, as tourists, or for some sporting event that's taking place across town. It will launch at the Ealing Beer Festival, which opens on July 4th.

“Between July and August we intend to make as much noise as possible about pubs and beer in London,” Christine said. “This is a showcase that's never going to come again.”

And of course she wants as many people to get involved as possible: on the LCoB website you can download forms to get your events put into the listings, there's a supporter's poster for download too. Sadly, none of this will be much help if you're unfortunate enough to be in the Olympics “exclusion zone” - the greedy spivs and numbskulls of the London 2012 Organising Committee have sold the “exclusive pouring rights” to Dutch lager-maker Heineken, and no other beer branding will be allowed in the vicinity.

Friday 13 April 2012

Brewers depart, breweries arrive

While the arrival of Weird Beard and Ellenbergs is good news, we've also lost a couple of brewers hereabouts. The first, Mark Wainwright, has resigned as brewer at the Botanist on Kew Green, a brewpub/restaurant which has become very popular locally. He is moving up north to join Blue Ball Brewery of Runcorn. The Botanist is recruiting a replacement; however, the new brewer they want can't move over yet, so Mark expects to be brewing there on a temp basis a few days a week for a little while yet.

He's also still going to be working as a consultant for Brewhouse & Kitchen, a new pubco started by two directors of Convivial (the company which runs the Botanist, plus other West London pubs including the White Swan in Twickenham and the Barley Mow in Chiswick), and which plans to use the Botanist as the model for a number of new gastro-brewpubs around London and the south-east.

Meanwhile at Twickenham Fine Ales, assistant brewer Josh Walker has left to join London Fields Brewery - I hear he will be rejoining colleagues of his from a previous job there.

Twickenham's Steve Brown (r) with head brewer Tom Madeiros

On the plus side, Twickenham Fine Ales is about to move to new premises and a larger brewery. It is remaining in Twickenham, thankfully, but is replacing its current 10 barrel kit with a 25 barrel one, in a bigger industrial unit not far from its current base. Brewery manager Steve Brown said they will recruit a new assistant brewer once they have moved - they take over the new premises on 1st May and can then start installing the new kit. He added that he has plans to expand the operation, with the addition of an artisanal bakery. Craft food to accompany the craft ale, I guess!

West London's brewing grows apace

So last week I took the train out to the Egham Real Ale and Cider Festival - this was as good as ever, with lots of wonderful beers on offer, including many many dark beers that I'd have liked to try but simply couldn't fit in. This time though it had the added attraction of a free beer sampling in the corner from a new brewery I'd not come across before: Weird Beard.

Its founders Greg Irwin and Bryan Spooner are active members of London Amateur Brewers, and they were dispensing samples of some of their prototype beers. They had brought 36 bottles along but had already been there for two hours by the time I arrived, so there wasn't a lot left! The one I did get to try - Decadence Stout - was rather good, though Greg said this batch had turned out a bit fruitier than he planned, due to a change of yeast.

They had planned to set up shop in a railway arch in Harrow, but due to TfL's Byzantine bureaucracy they have instead decamped to an industrial unit in Hanwell, not too far from Boston Manor Park. Greg said they're looking for a 10 barrel plant which will be shared with another LAB member who's going pro, Mike Ellenberg of Ellenberg's Brewery.

The plan is to produce a core range of four American-style craft ales, mostly bottled but with around 20% going in cask and a smaller proportion into keg. (Meanwile, Ellenberg's intends to produce specialist bottle conditioned beers such as Altbier, smoked wheat beer, black ale and stout.) Greg said the main target is central London, where craft beer is increasingly hip. If you want to catch up with them, that's where your next opportunity is - at the London Beer Festival on 19th-22nd April at the Strongroom Bar in Shoreditch.

And yes, at least one of them has a weird beard!