Secrets in the attic: A day at Hook Norton Brewery



The museum section of Hook Norton Brewery has a lot of the antique brewing paraphernalia you might expect: black and white photos of stern-looking workers from a time when smiling for the camera was not allowed; barrels, the usual barrows, bottles (the three Bs); and pieces of defunct brewing equipment large and small, including, interestingly, an old wort cooler. It was beside this old cooler, essentially a tall, corrugated sheet of metal standing in a shallow trough, where friendly and encyclopedic tour guide Monty explained the brewery’s attempts to modernise over the years. The equipment they use now – a far more modern and typical heat exchange system tucked away in a small room on the third floor – dramatically reduces the chance of infection since it’s a sealed unit. The point was made at several points in the hour-long tour that any inconsistency between brews is a bad thing, and quite right too.

Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire
Hook Norton Brewery in Oxfordshire

Just as frowned upon now is the brewery’s one-time reliance on wooden barrels, which naturally caused some undesirable bacterial infections over time and, in Monty’s words, some ‘vinegary pints’ back in the day. Even the stocks of modern aluminium casks have been recently refreshed to ensure the beer inside arrives in the best possible condition. It might seem strange to focus on these two seemingly normal upgrades in history of a brewery, particularly one as traditional as Hook Norton, but the place had some surprising secrets tucked away. The brewery was built in 1849 and is a classic Victorian tower brewery, relying on gravity to feed the ingredients from one stage of the brewing process to the next. Its core beers are Hooky, a bitter, and Old Hooky, its best bitter. It also brews a mild, a double stout and a range a of seasonal ales. It even has a functioning steam engine, which is still occasionally used to operate the grist mill, and once also contributed to boiling the wort in the copper, heating the building and pumping liquor from the well. Shire horses are regularly used to pull a dray of beer to pubs nearby.

The original, wooden-hatched mash tun, and in the background, the newer stainless steel version.

Refurbished versions of original equipment are used in various parts of the brewery, including the aforementioned grist mill, which dates back to 1899, and the mash tun, which has wooden hatches that are still surprisingly efficient at insulating heat. There’s a sense here that the modernising of the equipment at Hook Norton happens when absolutely necessary, and even then, reluctantly. Still, it was with some noticeable embarrassment that Monty showed us the even older method of cooling the wort, on the top floor of the second-highest tower of the brewery. What I saw there took my breath away, and transported me back to a dusty attic in Brussels I’d visited just weeks before. On the brewery’s fourth floor, Hook Norton once used what they referred to as a flat cooler, but is recognisable to anyone who has visited a Belgian brewery as a koelschip.

The now-defunct ‘flat cooler’ on the fourth floor. Note the wooden slatted windows.

At Cantillon, which I’d visited most recently in February, the wooden slatted windows are opened to allow wild yeast and bacteria to inoculate the cooling wort. At Hook Norton, the windows were opened to lower the temperature inside, but this still undoubtedly resulted in infection, and unwanted foreign bodies. Specifically, the rumours among the locals at the time was that bird droppings could be in your pint. The flat cooler was decommissioned in the 1970s, and it’s easy to imagine the brewery at the time struggling to keep up with ever-consistent, box-ticking keg beer that was on the rise at that time. I couldn’t help wonder though if something had been lost, or an opportunity missed in that era.


Whilst the flat cooler is unlikely to ever see action again, wooden barrels could once more be used to contain and dispense Hook Norton’s beer in pubs. Two young chaps on the brewing team have free use of a small ‘pilot brewery’ on the ground floor near the cask racking plant, where they are currently experimenting with producing stronger ales to be served from the wood. It’s likely that these will be old ales or stouts.

After the tour, Monty took us back to the visitor centre bar and we tasted our way through small glasses of five different ales. The biscuity body and leafy bitterness of Hooky is evident in many of the brewery’s other beers, the most noticeably different being Lion, a self-consciously ‘pale and hoppy’ beer for the modern cask drinker and the Hooky Mild, which was slick, cakey but light. Two ‘Brewer’s Selection’ beers, the Double Stout and Flagship English IPA are also kegged in small amounts by contract at Cotswold Brewery but weren’t available at the time. It’s easy to be dismissive of the simple English charms of Hook Norton’s traditional beer styles, but they are good beers made well, and in the spring sunshine of the Oxfordshire countryside, they make perfect sense.


At the Pear Tree Inn just down the road from the brewery, I sat with a pint of Julie’s Jester, a pale ale brewed on Hook Norton’s pilot kit for a long-serving landlady of one of their pubs. Hopped, as the name suggests, using the new UK hop Jester, it was a very summery pint of floral aromas, simple malt flavours and citrus-peel bitterness. I enjoyed it a lot, and it hinted at an open-mindedness to new ideas and flavour profiles. But, sat there in a traditional country pub with its hop garlands above the bar, freshly made baguettes of ham and beer mustard and foaming pints of daisy-fresh cask ale, I couldn’t help but wonder, and imagine, if brewing in this country might have become something quite different if the wooden barrels and koelschips hadn’t been seen as antiquated oddities, but precious, historic and artisanal elements of brewing culture. Now that we have returned to appreciating what they can do, it seems strange we ever gave them up.


A tour of Hook Norton Brewery is £12.50 per person, including a hour-long tour and guided beer tasting. Tours must be arranged in advance.

APRIL FOOLS’ DAY: Can-tillon?

The future?
The future? Designs for Cantillon’s new packaging.


It’s still sinking in, to be honest with you.

The first time I visited Cantillon nearly two years ago, it was breathtaking. It was everything people said it would be, and more, because there is a level of sensory interaction with the place beyond smell, sight and sound that is hard to put into words. And that’s before you taste the beers themselves. All of them, including the fresh and utterly mystifying lambic, were incredible. Incredible because they provided new flavour experiences but also left questions. What is that flavour? What does this remind me of? Is this still even beer?

Like the best pieces of art, so much of what is great about Cantillon is unspoken; undeclared; nuanced and yet, vibrant. Jean Van Roy presides over one of the most highly-regarded breweries in the world. Why then, would Cantillon need to do anything differently? Why would Van Roy, one of the world’s most respected brewers and an undeniable master of his craft, need to change processes there?

“America” must surely be the simple answer. Bottles of Cantillon’s beers do not travel very far, and with a massive (and growing) population of drinkers interested in craft beer and unique, sour styles, the homegrown varieties are no longer enough. The lucrative export market, denied to Cantillon for so many years, is now finally within reach.

When I received the email yesterday from a slightly nervous man from the “Ni-san” PR agency, wondering if I could look at some proofs of designs sent to him by his client, a ‘very known Belgium brewery’, I had concerns. He seemed reluctant to show me any images without me agreeing to ‘consult’ on them. I said fine, I’ll help however I can, and the next email I received astonished me.

Cans. From Cantillon. The man had found my blog posts about craft beer in cans and thought I was a good sounding board for what would prove to be the early designs for Cantillon’s new canned beers.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Immediately my mind ran away with itself, picturing slabs of Fou’foune in my fridge, but no offer of samples was forthcoming. Indeed, the entire thing was over as suddenly as it began. A subsequent email just twenty minutes later begged me to delete the previous one with the images attached, said there was no longer ‘obligation for services’ and that I should act as though the entire thing had never happened.

How could I? Especially since, unknowingly, the PR had left the text from a previous email exchange in the footer, namely the text “NO DO NOT SHOW THESE IMAGES THIS IS EMBARGO UNTIL 1/4 12PM – J”

J? Jean?

I suppose we’ll find out at 12pm.

Clouds on the horizon, colour in the dark: Interview with Cloudwater Brew Co’s Paul Jones


Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co has launched this month to a mix of high acclaim and wary suspicion. As much of the UK beer scene, and Manchester in particular, welcomes the brewery’s plans and ambitions with open arms and eager tastebuds, a section of the beer-drinking and industry-critical public has already made its mind up. To them, Cloudwater are a slick, self-consciously ‘craft’ brewery riding a wave of hype and getting a mob of blindly-enthusiastic, instantly loyal fans raving about their beers before they have even been put on sale. This very blog post will be treated by the same people as witless flag-waving by yet another sucker. But there’s more to this new brewery than (admittedly very, very pretty) branding and big talk.

The credentials of those involved, formerly of Marble, Summer Wine, BrewDog, Port Street Beer House, and others, isn’t under any doubt. Early tastings of the first batches brewed on Cloudwater’s kit are almost universally favourable. So what’s so controversial? The brewery’s output and designs for the future are unquestionably at odds with traditional brewing industry. That doesn’t mean an eclectic core range of obscure styles, but in fact, no core range at all. Four separate, distinct ranges will release across each year, using the best available ingredients to make the most flavoursome beers that can be made with what’s available. In an industry increasingly filled with tropes and cliches, many see Cloudwater’s approach as thrilling, while others see yet one more gimmick.

The self-stated focus on “modern, seasonal beer”, deliberately side-stepping the C word entirely, is a simple, pure and impressive attitude. Why say you’re craft, when you just are?. What’s really got people talking though, is the size of the venture. The almost industry-standard approach for a financially solvent and confident new brewery is to start out with a 5 BBL (~800 litres) brewhouse. This is seen as a sizeable, serious but cautious investment. Cloudwater are starting with a brewhouse three times that size, and that’s just the beginning. In Britain, we can’t help but be suspicious and critical of those with deep pockets and high ideas of themselves.

I’ve assured myself of the quality of the beer Cloudwater has made so far (the Pale Ale and Table Beer in particular, on cask at the Wenlock Arms at the weekend, were both beguilingly clever and accomplished). What I really wanted to know was the motivation behind Cloudwater, and how they see themselves and the people who are critical of them. Paul Jones, the brewery’s co-founder, was more than happy to oblige. All the people involved in Cloudwater are heartfelt beer lovers and more importantly, genuine and clear-headed people, but Jones is undoubtedly the brewery’s voice, one that is utterly without doubt and unambiguous about what Cloudwater is.


Why have you started Cloudwater at this size, when many people would see it as safer and less costly to start small first?

“Whilst it’s true to say that a smaller brewery would have probably cost less, only a third of the cost of our set up has been spent on the brewery itself. The rest of our budget was taken up with infrastructure such as flooring, utility supplies, and the equipment and space necessary to package and store our beer well.

“In his previous brewery, James Campbell comfortably brewed on a similarly sized brewery, and built up the brewery to regional, if not national acclaim. If we would have been starting a new brewery, without a head brewer of 20 years experience, it may have been fitting to start small to see how it goes, but James’ track record is strong, and gave us the confidence (some would say cheek!) to be aspirational.

“I’d like to add that we’re not so fresh faced and youthful as we once were. Food and drink industry employees (along with employees in far too many other industries in the UK) are too often woefully underpaid, and consequently result in businesses staffed in the majority by those young enough to not have yet developed significant financial worries or commitments. If we are to be a business responsible for the long-term wellbeing of our founders and staff, we have to take rather less craft-star things like pensions, living wages, retirement plans into account as early as possible. We’re actually trying to run a business as well as a brewery.

“It would have been much safer to not start a brewery at all, but life is short, and it’s important to do what you believe in and have fun too.”


How long did it take you to decide on the size of the brewery you would be building and using?

“We asked many of our friends in the industry for their advice with regards to brew length. The majority suggested we start even bigger (20 and even 30 BBL). If you look at the successes of nearly every brewery that is making great beer right now, you’ll notice many breweries doubling in size in rather short cycles. The resounding opinion was to go for a brewery as big as we could afford.

“What followed was a lengthly process of consultation, investigation, and research as we sought to put as many strong options for our brewhouse on the table as possible.”


Did the beers you want to make determine the brewhouse, space and other factors of the planning, or did the recipe designing come afterward?

“Very early on in planning the brewery we talked about how to ensure we had a modern, technically-proficient brewhouse that would allow us to competently make ales and lagers. This very much informed what we looked for, the manufacturers we ruled out early on, and those who we attracted quotes from.

“Planning a brewery means thinking from as many perspectives as possible about space requirements – How much space is needed for raw ingredients, and packaging equipment and packaged goods? What happens if or when we need to install more fermentors or conditioning tanks?

“We poured over our floor plans as many times as we could, but we had just a rough idea of the space we were looking for. In the end, what it really came down to was the types of warehouses and larger archways that were available, and what we thought we needed to do to transform them into the sort of hygienic food production facility a modern brewery is.

“A significant ambition of ours was always to have an open brewery, somewhere we could welcome the public into regularly. To that end, a brewery in the middle of an out of town industrial estate may not have worked so well for us as a new company, so premises in and very near to the city centre was prioritised. If we can contribute to Manchester’s growing and improving food and drink scene we’ll be very happy.”


A project the size of Cloudwater’s is outside of the financial reach of many breweries when starting up. What would you say to people who think you are ‘buying’ your way to the top of the craft beer scene?

“The first thing I’d say is that life’s a little more fun with a touch less cynicism! There are no shortcuts. The craft beer scene, with the exception of a little hype here and there, functions as a meritocracy. The vast-sized family brewers and global industrial brewers are suffering market share losses despite turnovers that eclipse the craft beer scene in the UK, evidencing the fact that money won’t solve so many problems.

“The only way we’ll get to the top is with a lot of hard, considered, mindful work, as is the case even with those breweries that started out with rather less capital to risk.”


Since you’re starting at a point which many brewers would dream to be in in 5-10 years, does this allow you to dream even bigger for the future, or are you more worried about properly executing everything you plan for the present?

“We’re starting at a point that I believe our head brewer has thoroughly earned and deserves. Before there was a craft beer scene in the UK, even before I really liked beer myself, James was working hard to push the beer scene forwards, and acting as an early (some would say pioneering) champion of NZ hops, and hoppy beer in general. Whilst some brewers may dream of this point in 5-10 years, James has been dreaming of it for nearly 20 years.

“We have a list of ambitions as long as all our arms put together, but we won’t achieve a single one without careful attention to the here and now. A bright future, whilst envisioned by dreams and idealist vision, is the result of current efforts (and a little good fortune and happenstance). We’re starting a new brewery in an incredibly well-developed scene, and would be foolish to do anything other than recognise that quality is ever more important than newness or variation.

“As for worrying about proper execution, we certainly would gain rather more restful nights sleep if it was less of a concern for us, but also, we’re only human (sorry, love that song), and only just getting started. There are going to be people out there, from the cynics, the inverted snobs, right through to the fail-lovers that will cherish any mistakes we make, because of our experience, ambition, jealousy, or for no reason whatsoever. We have never said we won’t make mistakes, or that we’re going to be the best. That simply isn’t in our character at all. But I will say that we are going to work as smart and as hard as we possibly can, with the chief aim of making very enjoyable beer, and to run a business well enough to be around for a long time with which to do so.”

Rediscovering Anspach and Hobday


In the past year, the Bermondsey Beer Mile has quickly and perhaps undeservedly became one of the country’s foremost beer ‘things’. From early on, there was a sense that this self-made beer blowout stretched across a handful of breweries in southeast London couldn’t quite sustain itself. The queues, the walking (or artistic usage of multiple Uber discount codes) and occasionally sub-par beer put many people off after a few tries. But then, don’t all ‘legendary’ pub crawls suffer from the same problems?

Some problems were more specific. One major casualty from my own mixed experiences of the Beer Mile was my enjoyment of beer from Anspach & Hobday. Despite enjoying their beer in bottles and whenever I saw it at a Craft Beer Co pub, I had on more than one occasion tasted beer from the brewery that lacked finesse, and on one occasion, patience. Back then, I worried that the brewery was engaging in a demanding weekly event beyond its grasp, and not always being able to provide beer in the best condition it could be.

Last week, Justin Mason and I were invited by Bottle & Bean to take part in its first live beer tasting video for its subscribers, which featured the first monthly resident brewery, none other than Anspach & Hobday. Part of me was looking forward to seeing what Paul and Jack had been making since I’d last visited the brewery, but I retained a little hesitation from my past disappointment. From the first sip of beer I tasted, I was reassured. I ate my words, or rather, drank them.

With each beer I tried, from their oldest and most practiced like the Smoked Brown and Table Porter, to newer recipes like the Stout Porter and Pale Ale, I was deeply and fully impressed. The Pale Ale was, to use an adjective I find myself using more frequently and tellingly, ‘Kernel good’, its light and faintly biscuity malt body a simple and well-built stage for a floral and rounded hop character that delivered juicy lime and kiwi flavours cleanly. It is undoubtedly a Juicy Banger.

The Smoked Brown, always A&H’s most unique and trusted beer, has improved further still, and is easily one of London’s, and the UK’s, most accomplished malt-forward ales. The smoky character is delicate but persistent in every drop, adding depth and dimension to a rounded, mouth-coating caramel body and a simple yet resinous hoppy bitterness. I was surprised to learn from Paul that the Smoked Brown requires more hops in the boil than any other beer they make, but the balance that this achieves is genuinely fantastic.

Both the Table Porter and Stout Porter showed the brewery’s key strengths in different ways – the Table version demonstrating an ability to extract the absolute utmost of flavour, whilst the Stout variety showed a real skill in nailing the balance necessary to make great strong beers truly great.


These technically accomplished core beers aside, it was the samples of other more limited beers served at the brewery taproom that made me eager to return. A sour ale, in truth the ‘control version’ of a beer due to be completed in a number of different ways, was made with a sour mash instead of inoculating the beer in its fermentation stage (to reduce the risk of infecting other batches) and on its own had the vibrant, sharp and uncompromising sour bite I love. The limited edition White Coffee Milk Stout, a deep burnished golden colour and ripe with vanilla and coconut aromas, was just a tart citrus ingredient away from being a creamy, whipped syllabub cocktail. The oily sweetness and lactose-rich body wasn’t entirely my sort of thing, perhaps best enjoyed by those with a sweet tooth, but damn good nonetheless.

The final beer we tried made me chuckle with delight just from smelling it, a Galaxy Saison conceived by Dylan, a newer member of the brewing team. The glorious peach and papaya aroma had a crackle of black pepper running through it. The flavour developed from sweet, sugary guava and watermelon into a fascinating mid-palate note of strawberries covered in black pepper, ending with a spicy astrigency. The ABV was fairly restrained (for a modern saison) at 5.2%, but provided all the oomph the beer needed. The flavours were blinding.

You might not need any persuading that Anspach & Hobday are making great beers, but if you do need persuading, please do take my word for it. Maybe though, like me, you have a had a different bad experience with a beer that has affected, consciously or unconsciously, your willingness to try beers from that brewer again. As simple and as basic a lesson it might be, it remains one worth re-learning. If people deserve a second chance, then undoubtedly so do beers.

The Distance: All of the people, all of the time


We are fortunate to now be able to drink a wide variety of fantastic beer from great UK breweries on a regular basis. With each great beer, I think a little higher of that brewery or the place it’s from, and the people who make it. But really, when I do that, I’m inside the bubble, thinking everything is rosy. I’m not complaining; I like it in the bubble. It’s a great bubble. Still, it’s only when someone from outside that bubble shares your appreciation that you can feel justified in your opinion. We like to say how great everything is (me included, I mean seriously, I’m doing it all the time) but it’s hard to know we are right without external corroboration. Worse still, it appears to some people that it’s the same breweries getting the attention all the time. So how do we measure fairly what’s really going on, and how far it has come? Let’s try.

Two legendary (and I don’t use that word lightly) American breweries made efforts to visit the UK late last year: Firestone Walker and Dogfish Head. FW, specifically David Walker and a handful of his brewing team, held a tap takeover at Craft Beer Co Covent Garden, whilst Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head’s founder, held a joint beer and food paired dinner with Beavertown and Charles Wells. These were highly desirable events that got people talking. Even though here in the UK we have begun to replicate the success and growth of self-identified craft beer that happened in the US in the 90s, it still feels special and exciting to have the chance to see, hear and speak to these important figures in brewing from across the pond.

Of course, David Walker is British himself, but even he must have been surprised to see how far the beer scene here has come in the past few years. Stood at the heaving bar of Craft Beer Co, California-tanned but armoured in the British institution of a Barbour coat against his homeland’s winter chill, the forty-odd taps of every style under the sun must have seemed both familiar to him, and alien. Cask and keg  together in such numbers is almost unheard of even in the States. Imagine being in his position, returning home and being able to proudly put pints of The Kernel pale ale into his colleagues’ hands. He spoke later of just how great it was to see such a big step forward.

On the far side of London a few days later, Sam Calagione was expressing a feeling of bewilderment. In the interim between his beers no longer being available in the UK and now returning (a period of roughly four years) the founder of Dogfish Head discovered a fully-formed, hungry and ambitious UK craft beer scene, quite a different animal to the one he left behind (for example, Magic Rock didn’t even exist and BrewDog had only just opened a bar or two). On that day in late October last year, Calagione collaborated with brewers from Beavertown and distillers at East London Liquor Company to make a gin botanical-infused ‘Londonerweisse’ in the style of the light-and-sour Berliner Weisses of Germany. Then, in the evening, a dinner was held with beers from Beavertown, Dogfish Head and their DNA brewing partner Charles Wells, matched to dishes cooked and served at Duke’s in East London.

Sam Calagione at Duke's. (photo credit: Nick Dwyer)
Sam Calagione at Duke’s (photo credit: Nick Dwyer)

Beers like Midas Touch and 120 Minute IPA are pioneering classics, but here Calagione found beers like Gamma Ray nailing American pale ale as a style, whilst the likes of Wild Beer Co and Burning Sky are (finally) showing just how great the UK is at absorbing and co-opting influences from abroad and at home. He admitted he was quite taken aback by it all. It’s important that these kind of events continue to happen (and it’s also worth noting that the dinner wasn’t an isolated incident either – more recently, during London Beer Week, Beavertown pulled of a similar event with Camden Town Brewery and another visiting US brewer: Left Hand from Colorado).

The tickets for these extravagant epicurean feasts naturally come with a price tag, but one that, when considering the sheer amount of food and drink covered, are incredibly good value. The fact that Charles Wells had beers represented (an improved recipe DNA IPA and Courage Imperial Stout) showed this wasn’t craft beer elitism or just ‘the usual suspects’. And of course, while there is no direct comparison to be made, one can’t help but think a similar event held by several wine houses would have a ticket cost in the upper stratosphere. Still, it’s worth emphasising that it’s hard to compare such things directly, but also, more importantly, that the cost of the event doesn’t necessarily mean that the scene is becoming a elitist – if anything, it means that there are now events of every type to match every budget.

Those events last year are two examples, but don’t entirely serve as a perfect triangulation of measuring how far things have come, since both are from America. Who else then could provide assurance – somewhere traditional perhaps? How about a brewery that’s as traditional as it gets, not one that’s old-fashioned exactly, but one with a long heritage that has stuck to what is does best whilst keeping technologically updated with the times. How about the growth of Italian craft beer here, and that many of their brewmasters trained at traditional brewers in the UK? Too new? How about someone like Pilsner Urquell shipping tanks of unpasteurised brewery-fresh lager over in a matter of days to satisfy the breadth and growing appreciation of our palates for quality lager? Nah, starting at 1842 they are still mere children among brewers. Older, then? How about the oldest continuously operating brewery on the planet? Old enough for you?

Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan is home of one of the world’s leading brewing universities (well, one of the world’s leading universities full stop, really) and a brewery that has been operating since 1050. Its expressions of hefeweizen and Bavarian-style pilsner are timeless, world-beating classics. Perhaps this passed you by, but last year brewers from Weihenstephan did a collaboration with BrewDog. The resulting India Pale Weizen is being brewed again this year. Whilst a hopfenweisse is by no means a new thing, the meaning behind such a collaboration is frankly colossal.

I’ve written before that the rise of BrewDog has been as definitive point on our beer landscape – somewhere where we can point to and, with surety, know that things a different forever now. But the world’s oldest operating brewery, and let’s not beat about the bush here, Germans who don’t ever fuck about with their beer styles, decide to brew a collaboration with BrewDog, those guys with the tanks and the sharks and the hop cannons? I think it’s safe to say that based on those three examples we can say with certainty that our beer scene has entered, or is at least phasing into, a new stage.

India Pale Weizen by BrewDog and Weihenstephan (photo credit: BrewDog)
India Pale Weizen by BrewDog and Weihenstephan (photo credit: BrewDog)

But wait, you say. pretty much all of the UK brewers mentioned so far are probably in that ‘all the attention’ bracket. What about brewery X, Y, and indeed Z, which have been making amazing beers for yonks and don’t get any credit for it? What about them Chris, you trendy wazzock? Firstly, if you want a brewery that makes great beer to have more exposure, do something about it. Secondly, I am absolutely thrilled to bits to be in a position where we are this spoiled for choice. I am utterly ecstatic that there is so much to celebrate that we can’t decide how to cover it all. But what makes me happiest is that, because of that idea that some are getting more attention than others, we have entered a situation where good beer is being ‘normalised’. There is so much good beer near to us all right now that whether it is all getting the proper credit has become a feasible topic of discussion.

So where do we go from here? Is it really possible for the beer scene to keep growing? Undoubtedly. The appetite or rather the thirst for what is happening right now remains strong; unquenchable. The question is how to rationalise and balance the desire for the weird with the desire to normalise good beer to as many people as possible as a whole. I think the answer is that we don’t try to reconcile those two divergent trends and that, if anything, we should encourage them, because the divergence is resulting in diversity. Only by normalising good beer at one end, whilst still continuing to push boundaries of what beer can be at the other end, can the beer scene truly continue to evolve. If that means that, right now, it’s a group of brewers in each of those camps getting most of the attention, then so be it. It doesn’t diminish everyone else’s accomplishments, it merely highlights who is succeeding in being more inclusive and innovative on a regular basis.

It’s ultimately about growing (not like a brand with an advertising campaign, but like a living thing) what beer can mean to people. Do you ever wonder why it’s the same handful of images of beer used to illustrate any newspaper article about alcoholism, pub closures, alcohol consumption, breweries opening, beer duty rising or falling? That same bloody bloke with a filthy pint pot of brown-coloured ale in extreme-close up? It’s because, to the editors of those publications, it’s “just beer” and they’ll use whatever images they have for free. There’s no point spending money on costly new images when that one of a claggy nitro ale being sucked from a dirty glass will do.

Well, it won’t ‘do’ anymore, frankly. The distance between those images, and what beer is now and what it can be. has never been greater. The problem is that the use of those images is representative of popular opinion. Unfortunately, beer is “just beer” to many people and, as we have so recently been told, nothing to be “fussed over”. We have to champion and encourage this even widening range of things that beer can be, each as important as the one before or after, cask or keg or bottle or can or high-end or low-end, so that those images and the way beer is represented has to change to keep up.

We have to keep setting the pace and daring everyone else to recognise just how vast the growing breadth of traditional, esoteric, historic and cutting-edge beer is. Despite the odd clanger of a dated or misused photograph or naff article, I think we’re getting there. We just have to keep fighting the good fight, and show beer to be something that really can please all of the people, all of the time.

The Distance: Raising Hell

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The modern beer drinker has untold power at their fingertips. They can, at the push of a few buttons, summon up tap lists of their local pubs and pick their beers for the night before they have even left work. They can interact with the brewer of a beer directly, and find out what time they had to get out of bed to start mashing in that Imperial Red Rye IPA. They can, if they so wish, effect instant action about something they don’t like, or something that they do like. The ‘latest Twitter outrage’ is actually the ‘latest example of achieving near instant results’. It’s an amazing time.

In a matter of seconds, the modern beer drinker can even invest in the growth of their favourite brewery. The ground broken by BrewDog’s Equity for Punks has helped open up the idea of public investment in craft beer, but it’s only in the last year or so that we have seen that crowdfunding angle really diversify, to now include magazines, books and the brewing of beers themselves.

Yeastie Boys and Signature Brew have recently launched crowdfunding schemes as well, but Camden Town Brewery’s has the potential to make the biggest waves, given its higher target and giant-sized plans. At the time of writing, Camden has already almost hit a third of its target amount – all since its launch on Monday this week.

Along with over 400 people so far, my partner and I intend to invest too. In the coldest, most calculating terms, it is a sound investment. But beyond that, there is an irresistible opportunity to invest in something that people love, something that shines a little more light into people’s day-to-day lives, and the way that people can now so easily do that in the internet age is, I think, incredible.

If you want to see more breweries enjoy similar success, you should invest in breweries like Camden. Help to grow and sustain this incredible renaissance of beer appreciation. Remember: we all win together. An investment in Camden, or Signature, or Yeastie Boys, or whoever offers a viable concrete plan to grow and expand and improve, is worthy of your money. The power is in your hands to make a difference, and you must be certain that that difference is good. Reward hard work, ambition and courage. Invest in good people doing the right thing, fighting the good fight. Invest in the people making a difference.

Maybe you’re not a huge fan of Camden Town Brewery. Perhaps the phrase ‘crowdfunding’ just sounds like ‘pulled pork’ or ‘pop-up’ to you and it’s all just part of the noise of the beer scene. This is a financial investment after all, and it should be taken seriously, you think. Good, take it seriously. Take beer seriously. Take the idea of what beer is in this country right now, and be serious. If you like it, and you want it to still be this good or better in a few years’ time, you’re going to have to do something about it. Yes, you. Take some responsibility for what you care about. Consider the precedent you can help set by directly funding the growth of London’s first brewery to climb from a pub basement to international, self-dependent success.

Of course it’s easy to be cynical – that’s why so many people are, after all – but while it’s difficult to put your money where your mouth is, it’s easy to see what’s right. If you really care about what is happening to beer in this country, and you want breweries to live and grow and not shrink and die, it is now within your power to help make it happen. It doesn’t have to be a fortune, it just has to be what you think is fair and can afford. Just like buying a beer.

‘Crowdfunding’ is a clumsy term and doesn’t really do justice to how important it can be. The reason that people and companies in the beer industry are able to command this level of investment and devotion from their fans is because these breweries are people – not the numbers on a screen but the hearts and minds that toil to make something good and be proud of what they’ve made.

I believe in good beer and I want it to go the distance. I’m going to invest in Camden Town Brewery.


EDIT: 16/02/15 – As it has caused concern to commenters, I would like to make absolutely clear that my opinion on Camden’s offer in the post above is just that, my opinion, and it does not constitute financial advice, which should be sought from a professional. Thank you.

The Distance: Brewing The Juicy Banger

Photo: Marcos Avlonitis (
Photo: Marcos Avlonitis (


In a new series of blog posts, I’m going to explore how far the UK beer scene has come in the past year. This is more than just a post about 2014 in review. Each year sees craft beer in the UK gain ever larger exposure, but how do you measure that, how do we quantify what has been achieved and where this is going? It’s something I can only describe as The Distance. This first post on the topic is a personal one, about a beer with a name from a blog post.


In October, I wrote about the emergence of an ‘anti-style’, the Juicy Banger, a beer that could be lager or ale, 3% or 7%, but always pale, always juicy with pronounced citrus hop character and endless refreshment. The term gained a bit of traction, and caused a bit of discussion.

With the term Juicy Banger, I wanted people to think about beer differently, but I didn’t want to become the Supreme Chancellor of whether a beer is or isn’t one. People started asking me if X or Y or Z was a Juicy Banger, to which I would awkwardly respond “well, do you think it is?” More often than not, they did, and the fact they were asking the question often indicated that they already thought so. That was kind of the point really: to empower people to describe and determine the beers they like in a way separate to the established lexicon and parameters of the industry. Not long after writing the post, the opportunity arose to put the term to the test.

It’s no secret that I’m fond of Camden Town Brewery, its beers and many of the people who work there. It does good beer right and fights the good fight. After establishing themselves in London’s beer scene quickly in the earliest years of this decade, a lot of people have moved onto newer breweries for their hoppy kicks, and I regularly find myself urging people to rediscover Camden’s beers, especially since the launch of their barnstorming IHL.

What you might not know is that every member of staff at Camden gets a turn to brew on the pilot kit, and Sofia De Crescentiis had chosen a Grapefruit IPA, based on one of her favourite Canadian beers, what she calls her ‘eureka’ beer. After a number of discussions between myself, Matt Curtis and people who work at Camden Town Brewery (namely Sofia and brewing director Alex Troncoso), it was proposed that Sofia’s turn on Camden’s pilot kit would be a grapefruit IPA, and that Jonny from the Craft Beer Channel would join Matt and I in helping Sofia brew it and film our efforts.

The name for the beer quickly became apparent (considering all that grapefruit we bought), and whilst I was initially hesitant that Juicy Banger became a single, labelled product, I could also see the opportunity to use it to spread the idea of how flexible beer styles can be, and have some fun making a tasty beer at the same time.

Brewing the beer on cold day in early December was indeed a lot of fun, as seen in the Craft Beer Channel’s video, and the difference that a handful of grapefruit zest could make to 50l of hopped wort is etched onto my palate and brain for ever. The malt bill was 95% pale malt, which the remaining 5% made up by Victory malt to give a little colour and extra body. The hops chosen were Magnum, Amarillo, Citra and Centennial, with the grapefruit zest added at flameout and a further dry hopping of Citra after primary fermentation. One thing’s for certain: without the expertise of Camden brewer Pete Brown (not that one), the brew could have easily been a disaster. For example, we wanted to throw a LOT more grapefruit in there before Pete stopped us. You can read more about how we brewed it in Matt’s blog post.

I had been concerned that the beer would be bitter to the point of unpalatable tartness, that too much pith had gone in with the zest and that it would be slightly sour or even undrinkable. Happily, the resulting beer was far more nuanced than I was expecting. Whilst close to 7%, it had a rounded, orangey sweetness that reminded me of SKA brewing’s Modus Hoperandi, but with a much cleaner palate and a sharp bitterness that developed in a dry, grapefruit-accented finish with lip-smacking astringency. Simply, it worked marvellously well. There was some debate between us all whether it was too bitter or not too bitter enough, but for a first attempt I think it shows a lot of promise. Maybe, just maybe it will make its way into Camden’s brewhouse proper one day.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Boak and Bailey pointed out the closing of a feedback loop, an indication that the chumminess between people who write about beer on an amateur and professional basis and the people who make the beers those people write about has folded space somehow.

The thing is, the beer was going to exist in that form one way or another, with or without the moniker of The Juicy Banger. It was Sofia’s beer after all. So the beer always came first, but it’s also important to understand that it isn’t called The Juicy Banger because of my blog post. It’s called The Juicy Banger because of the response to the blog post, because people found the term applicable to beers they liked and took it for themselves. This wasn’t the closing of a feedback loop – this was the narrowing of the distance, between brewers and drinkers, between the beers people want and the beer brewers make.

How to measure that distance, though? Well, the entire batch of The Juicy Banger sold in just over 30 minutes, which is a testament to Sofia’s idea, to Pete’s brewing knowledge, and the zest of four pink grapefruit. Three bloggers just tried not to ruin it.


Buried Deep: Pilsen and Pilsner Urquell

2014-09-04 16.34.19

Back in September, I was invited to visit the Pilsner Urquell brewery by Mark Dredge. Whilst there I had a number of Beer Moments, and one of the biggest was had at the brewery itself in Plzeň, Česká republika (from here on: Pilsen, Czech Republic).


The cellars below the Pilsner Urquell brewery seem to go on forever. Some are collapsed, some chained off, others perfectly intact. One cavernous room once held tonnes of ice, the meltwater flowing through the cellars and the air recirculating to maintain the ideal lagering temperature. These cellars, covering the same area as the town-sized brewery complex itself above ground, would have been just as busy if not busier than the brewery above. A hundred years ago, the thunder of rolling oaken vats would have been the soundtrack to the work of 7000 coopers making 5000 wooden barrels a day below the earth.

Back in 2014, it feels like walking through the bones of some dead leviathan. There are five miles of these tunnels, twenty metres below the ground at their deepest. It’s so easy to think of breweries as a living thing – their veins and arteries pumping lifeblood from one metal organ to the next, procreating in its own unique way – but down here in the cellars, there’s something more crypt-like and supernatural in the atmosphere. Not a sense of death, but of life after death, returning ever stronger, keeping some spirit of what it means to be Pilsner alive in the soul of every oaken timber of every 40 hectolitre barrel. We are warned about the Devil In The Cellars – a ghoulish rock formation down here that’s currently chained off for undisclosed safety reasons.

Our group is led through the darkness by Robert Lobovsky, a native of Pilsen who, after spending his formative years abroad, returned to his homeland and petitioned Pilsner Urquell to give him a job. His job now (Beer Master) is to tell the beer’s story around the world, the story of a beer that to him was part of his Czech identity when he was growing up in Australia. To be Czech means to be from a nation of brewing, and the creation of Pilsner is the Czech’s gift to the world.

On a hill at the highest point of the brewery site, and the city itself, stands a 100 metre high water tower, containing two vast metal tanks that once held the brewery’s water. Below that tower, the ground is seeped with ancient blood. As the highest point in the city, it was the favoured spot for public executions in bygone ages. The brewery’s water is still drawn from the same 100 metre deep well nearby. We joke that the blood and bones of traitors gives the beer its distinct taste but it was that simple, soft water, drawn from 100 metres below ground to sit 100 metres above it, which became the body of one of the world’s most important beers.

Pilsner’s beginning is an unusually precise one in comparison to many other beer styles. I’m so used to bookending historical accounts of beer’s origins with ‘Sources indicate…’ and ‘…or so it is believed’ that Pilsner Urquell’s story seems starkly rigid and underlined in fact by comparison. For one, we have an official origin story for our opening scene: the burghers (property owning citizens) of Pilsen pouring away 36 barrels of beer in the town square in protest against the poor quality brews being made, and forming a co-operative venture that built the brewery used by Joseph Groll to brew the first pale lager beer. We even have an exact date when the first batch was ready and tasted: 11 November 1842. It all seems so black and white – and I have read criticism of this origin story – but as stories go it remains compelling.

Back in the cellars, it’s with barely concealed excitement that I pour myself a glass of unpasteurised, unfiltered Pilsner from the 40 hectolitre wooden vat. These things weigh a few tonnes even when they’re empty,  and every gram of that weight and every year of this beer’s history is weighing down on my mind and on my fingers as I turn that tap handle. It pours like frothy milk at first, eventually churning into a hazy, golden syrup-coloured liquid bright with life. I hold the glass to the dim lights in the cellar, peering into its thick, cloudy, burnished gold colour, topped with an ice-cream scoop of foam the texture of whipped egg whites. I’m expecting something special. Of course I am. Its silky, luscious palate disarms me, that dab of butterscotch so important to its character becomes caramel, then lemon tart, but there’s also a gripping, oily, herbal bitterness that lifts the entire palate up to meet it. It’s raw and alive. It’s perfect.

So much is said about the authenticity of the beer, how closely it compares to its original iterations, with the same culture of yeast, triple decoction, wooden vat maturation and so on. Up until the moment I tasted the beer, it was all I could think about: I wanted to be sent back in time with a sip, to understand and truly comprehend a moment of flavour from a bygone age.

When I tasted it, all those daydreams were shattered, blown to pieces by the sheer excellence of the beer in the glass. We returned later for more, and all I could think about that second time was not how amazing that beer must have seemed the first time it was made, but just how amazing it tastes right now. That’s why a portion of Pilsner Urquell is still matured this way, to taste-match the conventional batches matured in metal, so that they know it still tastes the same.

Like the cellars, this beer’s legacy seems to go on forever. It was the first pale lager beer, so it had little competition at the time, but in the lager-soaked present, it remains head and shoulders above so many lesser Světlý Ležáks (other Czech pale lagers) it shares a country with and the hundreds of foreign imitators. It remains The Pilsner. It’s buried deep.


Of course, there’s a great deal more to Czech beer culture than just one beer, and I’ll try to cover more of it in a couple of future posts. Thanks to Mark Dredge and Pilsner Urquell for their hospitality.

Interview with BrewDog’s James Watt

James Watt is the co-founder of BrewDog
James Watt is the co-founder of BrewDog


I and some other beer writers were recently invited to BrewDog’s Ellon plant, where we took a tour of the ever-growing new brewery and new onsite bar DogTap, and were treated to a wonderful beer and food dinner at Musa in Aberdeen. In a conscious effort to avoid the inevitable ‘what I did on holiday’ blog post, ahead of the trip I asked various Beer People I know what they would ask BrewDog if they had the same chance as me. A lot of people feel very strongly about BrewDog, one way or another, and it seemed only fair that I extend the opportunity to others who weren’t on the trip. There were some recurring topics, and not every question made it into the interview due to time constraints, but I think there’s some fresh insight here, as well as clarification of issues that may not have been fully explained in the past. What follows is a series of questions put to James Watt on Friday 22 August, some from me, some from other people. Thanks again to James, Martin Dickie, Sarah Warman and Stewart Bowman at BrewDog for their hospitality and time.


Some people are concerned about the impact you’ll have on independent bottle shops (such as Stirchley Wines in Birmingham and BeerRitz in Leeds) by opening new BottleDogs nearby. Are these new BottleDogs necessary when you already have bars with off-sales licenses in Birmingham and Leeds?

Opening BottleDogs [in Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham this year] should actually benefit the beer scenes there, increasing the availability, the appreciation and the understanding of good beer, whether that’s people opening new bottle shops or new bars. We’re all collectively against the macro, generic beers and nonsense in people’s heads about what beer can be. Our other bars and BottleDogs that we’ve opened have shown that we can actually contribute to the scene.


With regard to the BrewDog Development Fund, what is your long term plan and reasoning for investing in new breweries like Brew by Numbers? There was, and remains, confusion over the equity stake you took in BBNo and CAP. What are you gaining from these investments?

We’re gaining next to nothing. It’s all about helping other people get started in making beer and improving the availability of good beer. As well as cash investment, we’re helping Brew By Numbers out by giving them some old tanks we had at Fraserburgh, helping their beer get into export markets and we’re showcasing their beers at our bars. With CAP we’ve done similar things.

In both arrangements it’s a minority stake. We’ve got no influence, no control and no intention to have any of those things. In both arrangements, there’s clauses written in so that they can buy stock back if they want to. We’d never want to have a controlling stake in anyone else at all. It’s just about helping other people get going. We started our business on a shoestring in 2007, and we wanted to make it easier for other people, like CAP and Brew By Numbers, to start their business. We wanted to pass on the benefits of what we’ve learned since we set up. We’ve got no other motive whatsoever, than just helping to increase the appreciation of good beer.


There’s been talk of your next bar opening in Islington in London. What would you say to people who think there are already plenty of bars in London, especially given how close the proposed Islington site is to Camden and Shoreditch? Are you maintaining a focus on London, or elsewhere now?

We have a focus on everywhere, so we’re continuing to look at places in London, we’re also looking at loads of places outside London, places on the edge of London. We want to open more bars. We love what our bars do. We love the enthusiasm and passion of the staff there, and we have plans to open more this year.

[James later admitted that the new Islington bar will be a bit different – so stay tuned for updates on that]


A few people wanted to know if you would ever consider either a) brewing cask beer exclusively for the US market, where for many there it’s seen as being as ‘craft’ as it gets; or b) setting up a side concern/brand/brewery in the UK that brews just for cask for people that like it?

In terms of brewing cask beer for the US: never. With cask beer it’s so much about the conditioning, it’s so much about how it’s handled. If you put that in a shipping container, it won’t show up for eight weeks. There’s no way at all that we’d brew beer that wouldn’t be in the best condition for consumers.

But, given that you’ve got plans, or at least the inclination to start brewing in the US at some point, would it be something that you would consider then?

Probably not. In terms of brewing for cask in the UK, I love cask and it still has its place. I think cask beer is fantastic for showcasing indigenous UK styles: milds, bitters, ESBs, which are all phenomenal on cask. They’re lower in alcohol, lighter in body, and cask dispense gives them that body.

With the type of beers that we make, we think the best way to dispense those hop-forward beers is keg. We think on cask they would be too cloying and too sticky, and we feel the best way for consumers to experience beers like Punk IPA is keg dispense.


The craft beer landscape of the UK is very different now to when you started BrewDog. With self-proclaimed ‘craft beers’, including your own, finding their way into Wetherspoons, Greene King’s pub estate etc, has craft beer really become mainstream? Would you ever draw a line on where your beers are going to be sold?

Well, 1 in every 2,700 beers sold in the UK is a BrewDog beer. Let’s have the conversation about craft becoming mainstream when it’s 1 in every 200 or 300. And we’ve never been elitist when it comes to where our beers are sold. We’ll happily sell our beers to Tesco, we’ll happily sell our beers to Wetherspoon. We want to help revive the UK good beer market and make people as passionate about great craft beer as we are, we want to increase the availability of great beer, and we can’t do that by being snobby about it. If they’re happy to sell our product we’re happy to sell it to them. When you’re on the inside of the craft beer industry, it’s difficult to have that perspective to see just how small it really is. When you just drink craft beer in craft beer bars, you feel like it’s everywhere, but it’s not.


Some people have concerns about pricing, and want to know why you charge a premium price for your own product in your own bars. An example given was that in Shoreditch, Jackhammer is £4.90 for two thirds. At another bar nearby, an American import of similar strength is £4.50 for two thirds. Some think you are making dramatically increased margin on your own product in your own bars.

Well, I’m pretty sure that the beer they’re referencing is Lagunitas IPA. Lagunitas are huge compared to us, they’ve got two production facilities, both of which are about ten times the size of this one [in Ellon]. They make phenomenal beer but in terms of our size versus Lagunitas and others in the US, we’re behind by such a long way. They can produce beer for so much cheaper than we can.

Our margins are pretty tight. Making our beer is just super expensive. In one 400HL tank of Jackhammer, we’re putting in half a tonne of dry hops, which also means we’re losing 25% of the beer, so our yield is only 75%.

So how much money is that, that you’re basically throwing away in order to make a hoppier beer?

So a 400hl tank of Jackhammer has a total sales price of about £50,000, so 25% of that every time we brew a tank of it [£12,500], just to dry hop it as much as we want to. Plus you’ve got the cost of the hops, plus the fact you’ve added 2 weeks to the process time, so how we make our beer is just super expensive.

We’re a public company, people can look at our accounts. We make a small amount of money but we don’t make a lot of money. We’ve always been about just making enough money so that we can invest in our systems, our team and our people, to make great craft beer. We’ve never taken a dividend and we have no intention to. So our pricing is what is fair so we can continue to make the beers we make. Lagunitas can make hoppy beers cheaper than anyone else, and good luck to them. But if you’re comparing us to them, you’re not comparing apples to apples because they’re so many more times the size of us that it’s not a fair comparison.


On the subject of getting bigger and making beer cheaper, with many small and successful craft breweries like Beavertown and Fourpure expanding, they’ve been able to produce a higher volume of beer at a reduced cost and pass this on to the customer. Would you look to do the same thing with your own canned beers next year?

No. We sell our beer at as fair a price we can. What a lot of consumers don’t understand is how the duty structure in the UK beer market works. At the moment, because we’re exporting and because we’re now at this size, we pay full duty. So we pay the same amount of duty that Heineken and Stella and Carling pay. The smaller guys that you mentioned, under this system, which is perfect for the smaller guys starting out, they pay half the duty rate we do. Which means, under that system, they can potentially sell their beers cheaper than we are. When they grow to the scale that we are, which I’m sure they will, they’ll also have that issue.

For a bottle or can of Jackhammer we would pay HMRC about 50 pence, whereas those guys will be paying HMRC in the region of 25 pence. And if you consider that’s at the point of making it, once you’ve added on distribution and everything else, that’s where the pricing differs. I wish it wasn’t the case, but it’s just how the UK beer market is in terms of beer duty, so we make the margins we need to help grow the company and invest in our people, that’s all.


One of the things almost everyone agrees on is that you have fantastic customer service, and some of the best-trained staff in the industry. Have you ever thought of building a business around staff training? With increasing numbers of craft beer bars, surely there’s a market for people wanting the best training in the business.

Our team is perhaps the thing I’m most proud of, in terms of what we’ve done as a company. They’re passionate, evangelical, knowledgeable, a lot of them are Cicerone-qualified. Because what we do is so niche, teaching people to taste what’s different, we’re not just selling beer, we’re selling education and information.

We haven’t thought about creating a business about providing that training, and it’s probably not something that we would do. We just want to focus on the personal development of our own team, being the best company to work for that we can be, and just making sure that everything goes into making the best beer.


Finally, what’s your favourite soft drink?

[laughs] That’s a good question. It would be a homemade thing I do myself, that’s apple juice infused with elderflower and tiny bit of chili, and a type of peas that turn into icicles, in a punch.

Well, um, that’s pretty… craft. There was talk some time ago about you going into making soft drinks. What ever happened to that?

It’s still something that we would like to do, and to have in our bars. We think there’s definitely a market in the UK for more artisanal soft drinks, and it’s one of th0se things that’s on a massive list of projects, things that we’d love to do, but we just don’t have the time. We’re just so busy trying to keep up with demand for what we’re doing right now.

If you could make any soft drink, would you make that one that you just described, on a scale so that people could buy it anywhere?

I think if we did so a soft drinks line we’d want to take advantage of the produce that we have locally in Scotland. We’ve got phenomenal soft fruits and berries locally, so we might want to do something that takes advantage of that.

Thanks very much for your time.


(Thanks to Matt Curtis, Adam Driver, Matt Lane, Ed RazzallNate Southwood and Emma Victory for their suggestions for questions.)

[EDIT 1/9/2014: Amended “Well, 1 in every 2,700 beers sold in the UK is a craft beer” to “Well, 1 in every 2,700 beers sold in the UK is a BrewDog beer”.

Disclosure: Aside from being a freeloading craft wanker beer writer, I am also an Equity for Punks shareholder and was given beer, good beer too, and food and taxis and kind words and doors held open for me for absolutely free as part of the trip to BrewDog. Judge me as you will, but all these words are true.

London Beer City

London Beer City


About damn time.

That seemed to be the overall consensus when London Beer City was announced. At last, some truly city-wide recognition and celebration of just how incredible the London beer scene is right now. That’s the best thing about it too: that immediate sense of right now, the vibrancy and bottle-able excitement.

Craft beer in London is about the pursuit of something special that we can enjoy and share with others. The best bars, pubs and breweries in the capital, the places and people that really embody that idea, are all involved a calendar-busting programme of events taking place across London. I’ve written before about how that pursuit, the seeking, is what motivates me. London Beer City seems packed with opportunities to do just that: seek, find and taste incredible beer in a huge variety of places.

This event, hopefully the first of many annual occurrences, is the culmination of a huge amount of work by 2013’s Beer Writer of the Year Will Hawkes, who has managed to co-ordinate a schedule that captures the very best of what London beer can be, whether it’s historic, traditional, trend-setting or esoteric. “I want London Beer City to be an annual focal point, something Londoners look forward to. A relaxed, fun occasion, with events for all tastes and pockets. I hope London Beer City can show off the best of beer,” says Will, “and also help bring about world peace!”

A noble aim. Of course, corralling a city of seventy breweries (and rising) and dozens of quality venues was no easy task. “There are a few really tough things,” Will explains, “such as: ensuring you have enough events every day (I just about achieved that); getting a good spread of events; making sure everyone understands what the week is about; and collating the information quickly and accurately. Overall, though, it has been quite smooth since so many of London’s breweries, pubs and bars are keen to be involved. The London Brewer’s Alliance has been really helpful.”

So what is Will looking forward most next week? “It’s difficult to say! Siren’s live brew at the Earl of Essex, Pete Brown’s Music and Beer matching at The King’s Arms (it’s also on at the Bull in Highgate), Brodie’s sour tap takeover, anything Camden Town are doing … there’s loads of stuff. I’m hoping to get to two or three things each day and still retain a functioning liver come Sunday evening.”

Most people I know have similar concerns. How can we hope to fit in so many incredible events, especially those of us with day jobs? I think the key to enjoying a week of events like this is to pick a few things to definitely attend, and then just throw yourself into something new and different every day. There’s obviously the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival to consider, too. New events are being added all the time, so it might pay to have some time free for something unmissable and just-announced.
Many events are free to attend, and ticketed tastings, festivals and dinners offer some irresistible opportunities to meet amazing brewers and try some wonderful beers and food. I’m hoping to see London’s beer community embrace this exciting week of events in the way the city got drunk with excitement and pride during the Olympics. Only this time, in a slightly more literal sense, too. Here are some of my own highlights from the schedule:
  • Porters, Peers and Pilgrims: a London brewery heritage walk – I’m gutted that I won’t be able to make this, but this looks fantastic if you’re interested in learning more about London’s brewing history at street level. Des De Moor is the guide for this tour of historical brewing locations across the City and East End.
  • Beavertown Welcomes Rough Trade – Beavertown’s tap room is fast becoming the city’s best new beer destination/all-day hangout, and this day of music provided by DJs from Rough Trade, beer from Beavertown’s tap room and some bangin’ street food looks like a fantastic way to spend an afternoon.
  • Weird Beard Pop-up bar in Bermondsey – In a move that surely out-crafts even the craftest of crafty craft brewers in Bermondsey, the suspiciously good Weird Beard will be opening a pop-up bar on the Beer Mile for one Saturday only. Because the one thing the Beer Mile needs, is more beer.
  • Tasting Beer with Melissa Cole – You’d have to be crazy to pass on a tutored tasting from a beer expert with Melissa Cole’s knowledge, and this tasting just happens to be in one of the city’s best bars, BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush. What’s not to like?
  • One Hells of A Beaver – A collaboration between Beavertown and Camden Town Brewery is a thing to be celebrated in its own right, but as it’s going to be a mash-up of Camden Hells and Gamma Ray, it might also result in the Beer of The Summer. If that wasn’t ‘craft’ enough for you, on the brewday at Camden there will also be a collab-label art-off between Camden and Beavertown’s creative types.

Some people think that London’s beer scene is already disproportionately over-sized, that the scene is nothing more than one more bubble that pops in the head of a pint of cheap, dirty lager. The fact is, it’s about goddamn time that we have something of this scale. The revolution is over. It’s time to start taking this shit seriously if we want it to last. If you think London’s ‘beer ego’ is already so big it can be seen from space, then I’ve got bad news for you. We’re only just getting started.

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