Monday 15 June 2015

Fourpure pushes the boat out

The evolution and growth of new London microbrewery Fourpure over the last couple of years has been little short of astonishing. Set up as an avowedly keg-only brewery with a small range of typical 'craft beer' styles to target restaurants and the like, it has rapidly pivoted not only to produce a wider core range but also the regular specials and seasonals loved by an increasingly innovation-hungry market. And while it still doesn't do cask ale, it was one of the first in the country to adopt microcanning technology, scoring a notable win very recently when Marks & Spencer added two Fourpure canned beers to its range.

Why was my Pale Ale leaning?!
When I visited the brewery two months ago, it was a far cry from the near-empty shed I recall from my first visit  back in 2013. What little space wasn't filled with brewing and canning gear was heaving with people, enjoying both the two excellent specials being launched that day, a saisonbiere called French Farmhouse and a coffee-infused pale ale called Morning Moon, and the regular beers.

So when the invitation arrived to the launch of two more new Fourpure beers, I knew I wanted to be there. We weren't at the brewery this time but at Mother Kelly's, a relatively new and very popular (except with real ale stalwarts, as it's keg and bottle-only) bar in increasingly hipster Bethnal Green. It has to be said this is a lot more accessible than the brewery, which is on an industrial site at the far end of the Bermondsey beer mile, invisible and not signposted from the road, so unless you know where you're going you won't find it easily.

The new beers this time were a draught American-style wheat ale called Skyliner, a dry-hopped version of Fourpure's well-regarded (and canned) Pils, and a semi-secret second draught beer, a 3.7% sour ale called Hoptart.

I went for the Hoptart first, finding it refreshing and cleansing, and rather like a hoppier than average Berliner Weisse. Head brewer John Driebergen conceded the latter, adding though that he while was "borrowing Berliner Weisse techniques, I'm not making a Berliner Weisse. Other aspects of it are borrowed from Session IPA, British golden ale, and so on.”

Fourpure's Hoptart
The recipe also needed to fit in with Fourpure's other brews: it was kettle-soured before boiling, so no extra microflora entered the fermentation vessels. This might give a less complex result (my words, based on Ron Pattinson's research and other stuff I've read around Berliner Weisse, not John's) but it keeps the brewery clean!

"Why not do something sessionable that's also sour? Sour beer is only going to grow," John said. "My one worry is that people jump on the sour bandwagon and send beer out that isn't ready and without knowing what microorganisms are still alive in it - those things can live anywhere, including the beer lines."

Moving on, I was expecting Skyliner to resemble the hopped-up Weizens that the Germans call Hopfenweisse, but this lacked all those fruity and spicy Hefeweizen notes. Instead it offered some grass and lemon and a bit of a grainy note, followed by an astringent bitterness that overpowered the rest. Not really my thing!

To my surprise, the star of the three was the dry-hopped Pils. I'm used to Pilsners being samey and/or relatively one-dimensional, so I rarely seek out the style, but this one was right up there with the best of the new-wave German Hopfenstopfer (dry hopped) lagers. Pleasant leafy and herbal aromas lead you into a malty and lightly bready body, with grassy and citrus hops and a firm yet balanced crisp bitterness.

Fourpure is now brewing up to eight times a week – it has a 20-barrel kit and eight fermenting vessels – and whatever it brews is already half-sold, John told me. Indeed, where two years ago I marvelled at how much empty space they had, they now need more room.

Sunday 14 June 2015

Something's brewing in Highbury

London's newest brewpub opened last week. The Brewhouse & Kitchen Highbury is a sibling to the B&K Islington, and it too returns to the city a lost brewery: in this case the brewing kit was formerly in the Lamb in Chiswick.

The Highbury pub was previously The Junction and The Tramshed, and as those names imply it was once the terminus of the Highbury to Aldwych tram line. You would hardly know that now,  though – sure, it is long, but floors have apparently been inserted above and below the current public area. (Check out the iron roof columns, which appear to run through the wooden floor, with no column bases visible.)

On our visit, which was officially a preview for the new format, the pub had just reopened after a six-week refit. The brewkit had not yet been connected up, but it should be up and brewing now in the hands of Pete Hughes who has moved up from B&K Islington. The ales were still flowing for the preview though, Pete having brewed six of the recipes designed for Highbury on his other brewkit, and the kitchen was open too, serving excellent bar snacks.

It's undoubtedly an attractive venue, done up in a sort of industrial chic style, with a long side bar, a decent sized terrace out front, and a more open space inside at the back, in front of the brewkit. Talking of which, I hope Pete has more fermenters somewhere, as I didn't see enough!

The beers we tried were good, although a couple seemed a bit thin and might benefit from a little more development. I'm sure this will sort out with time and more brews. As elsewhere, the beer names are locally themed, several for the nearby Highbury football ground but others for historic local residents.

Best of the lot for me were the Illustrator Black IPA, named for Charles Dickens' illustrator, who was local, and the No.19 Brown Porter, named for the nearby bus route, but the Goalscorer Session IPA also scored well.

As well as eight handpumps there's a bunch of keg fonts, currently mostly for foreign non-micro lagers as far as I could see, but I know they plan to brew lagers on-site too. B&K also carries a decent range of bottled beers. I used to live just up the road a few decades ago, and my, how the area has changed. But if I lived there still, I could well imagine this place being one of my top locals.

As a bit of background, the B&K story is an interesting one: the company was formed by Simon Bunn and Kris Gumbrell, two of the directors of Convivial, a small pubco which ran several London pubs, including two gastro-brewpubs, most notably the Botanist on Kew Green which pioneered the format under its then manager Mark Wainwright.

While Convivial sold out to M&B, which promptly ripped out the breweries, Kris, Simon and Mark had other ideas: they wanted to take the gastro-brewpub concept and grow it outside London. They now have half a dozen sites around southern England, with the most recent being Bristol (where I believe Mark is now brewing) and Highbury. I hope this will shows a triumph of long-term vision over short-term expedience and greed; time will tell.

Will there be more in London? Simon was a little pessimistic when I asked: "Brewpubs are the future, but it's hard to get good sites at a reasonable price in London, which is why we've done more expansion on the South Coast," he said, adding that the next planned openings are two sites in the Bournemouth area.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

American drinkers take up a British interpretation of American craft beer

If you've been in a Marston's pub* lately, you may well have seen a keg font offering a rather nice American-style Pale Ale from Shipyard Brewing Co of Portland, Maine, in the US. You might even have thought it was an American import, but it's not – it is brewed by Marston's to a recipe that Shipyard devised specifically to suit British tastes.

And in a coals to Newcastle twist, that same beer is now being brewed by Shipyard too in the US – a British version of an American beer style, brewed for the American market.

The tale, as told to me by Marston's brewmaster Simon Yates (apologies to him for any bits I've misremembered!), started in the 1980s with brewer Alan Pugsley working at Peter Austin's Ringwood Brewery, now owned of course by Marston's. Alan moved to the US to build breweries, and then in 1994 opened his own – Shipyard. Hankering after the British ales he'd helped brew, he asked to brew one of them under licence for the US market, namely Ringwood's Old Thumper. In return came Ringwood's Boondoggle summer ale, "originally brewed at Shipyard while visiting," says Simon.

Fast forward a few years to 2012, and the relationship between Shipyard and Ringwood/Marston's continues, with Alan visiting to brew a guest cask beer at Ringwood, called Shipyard Independence Pale Ale. It had a big citrus nose, and was dry-hopped with Chinook, Cascade, Columbus and Centennial, all of them American.

This was pretty popular as a guest, and it had become obvious that there's a good market for American-style Pale Ales and IPAs in the UK, so Simon and the Marston's crew asked Alan to help them create a suitable keg beer too. "The Pale Ale was a mash-up between Shipyard and Marston's," explains Simon. They tweaked Independence and did test brews, one was chosen, and it launched on keg as Shipyard American Pale Ale in May 2013, still with those same four American C-hops.

The Shipyard guys never planned to brew it in the US – the recipe was created for Britain. But then session beers (which for the US means about 4.5% alcohol or less!) took off there, so they took the Marston's recipe and brewed it themselves. It launched there last year, and is now causing confusion right across the beer ticking world, with drinkers unable to work out which one they're drinking. What jolly fun, eh?

*Or even some Wetherspoons - I saw it last week in the White Swan, Highbury Corner.