We jumped back and roared as the tall brewpot boiled over after the first hop addition. Then we turned back to venison sausages and a warm grill.
It was all part of a rainy August morning in Tottenham, North London. “We want to stun the world with the diversity of London brewers — in size, age and style,” says young Andy Moffat, owner and brewer of Redemption Brewing. Ten brewers had gathered here for a collaborative session that produced 3,000 pints of porter with which to launch the first London Brewers Alliance Showcase.
The nascent Alliance, whose founder Phil Lowry of Brew Wharf writes was “formed as many great things, over a pint.” Fifteen greater London breweries have come together, ranging from vast (Fullers) to tiny (1-firkin Ram), cooperating rather than competing. In a town where the price of ale (due to their old hang-up “taxation without representation”) has caught up with New York prices, these guys have to stick together.
Brewing for their own restaurants are Brew Wharf, The Florence, Zero Degrees, Camden Town (who outgrew their onsite kit) for The Horseshoe in Hampstead, and Meantime’s new Old Brewery at Greenwich University. Strictly micros are Kernel, Redemption, Sambrook’s, Ha’Penny, Twickenham, Meantime at their gleaming new facility in SE10, Windsor & Eton, and Brodie’s at Sweet William Brewery, though you can get most of their beers next door at the William IV pub. I made up my mind to visit them all when I return.
While sipping a sultry Redemption Urban Dusk, I asked Evin O’Riordain, whose Kernel beers are spectacular, just what was happening on the scene. “There’s 14 breweries in London…just London breweries,” he said proudly. “Five breweries opened during the last year.” His is one; so is Redemption, where we stood in line to collaboratively shovel malt out of the squat mash tun.
“Whose recipe is this?” I asked, as we sampled the boiling wort of what was to become London Brewers Porter. It turned out Phil Lowry of Brew Wharf (who this year organized the Alliance and the Showcase) “suggested it” and other brewers proceeded to pitch and tweak. It was deemed a Porter was the quintessential London style.
After all, porter was created for the market porters, consumed in a porterhouse, which served 19th century cuts of beef now called porter house steaks — quite a pedigree. This particular brew was targeted at 1053 but due to the 90 percent efficiency Redemption’s system became a decidedly stronger brew at 1062. Five malts were used, variously discussed amounts of Goldings and Bramling Cross and Liberty hops employed throughout. It would be dry-hopped with Liberty.
The idea for the London Brewers Alliance Showcase came from us. Beer weeks in San Diego, Chicago and Philadelphia fired up the notion of London as a resurgent brewing town. I was assured this small fest was a dry run for London Beer Week 2011, already in planning stages. The Showcase, by the way, went off without a hitch at Brew Wharf Upper Hall near London Bridge three and a half weeks later. Special hits were Brew Wharf’s 6.8% Military Intelligence Black IPA, a 7% Porter from Brodie’s, and pretty much anything from Kernel. Joy flowed from 11 brewers booths as well as one much circulated collaborative beer.
Back to brewing. The youngest guy in the room, Redemption’s bearded assistant brewer Andy Smith, handed me a taste of Columbus Gold. Turned out it was his, homebrew in name only, with a refreshing balance. I reflected on this new generation of serious young brewers on the scene, with an ear harkening back to historic brews and an eye focusing ahead on emerging worldwide styles. There’s an increased hop consciousness here and higher abv brews are constantly appearing, in defiance of the onerous taxation.
By now the brewers were bent over the hop sacks, sifting and mixing handful by handful, looking for that final meaningful combination for the final hop addition (I think it came out a paradoxical 100 percent Goldings after all) and then moving on to the next task of when to throw them in. I left them in a serious huddle, with all manner of jokes springing to mind. How many brewers does it take to… ? Well, you get the idea.