Many times I heard during this trip to England that craft beer was “exploding” in London. And we visited several breweries that helped confirm that fact. It is really quite exciting to see these brewers take inspiration from American craft beer and also from traditional English brewing techniques to brew some really great beers.
The first brewery we visited was Beavertown Brewery. I had met Brewer/Director Logan Plant at the Craft Brewers Conference earlier this year in Washington DC, where he was pouring beers at the British Embassy at an event hosted by Brewers Supply Group. He was pouring an amazing black IPA called Black Betty, and an Imperial Stout that was phenomenal. Their brewery is located a short distance from the Hackney Wick overground train station, in the Bow district, within sight of the Olympic Stadium.
The have a 5 hL brewhouse, but are in the process of building a new brewery. And they serve their beers from kegs and from bottles, but not from casks. This seems to be the prevailing direction with these smaller English craft brewers, following the lead of BrewDog, and I’m certain they get a fair amount of grief from the folks at CAMRA, but hey, good beer is good beer. One of their most interesting beers was a Kvass, a traditional Slavic based malt and spiced beverage that typically has a very low alcohol content, however theirs fermented out to about 3.5% abv. They naturally soured the mash as well. They are also doing some great work with Belgian styles. We had the pleasure of helping to inoculate a barrel with Brettanomyces Bruxellensis while we are there. I hope I get to taste that beer someday! Other great beers we tried on this visit included 8-Ball Rye IPA and Gamma Ray APA, both with very American, citrusy hop profiles.
We then went to their restaurant, Dukes Brew and Que, which is a great pub that serves the Beavertown beers, and an American-style barbecue restaurant. I’m being serious here, their food would have fit in any great American barbecue place-their ribs were killer, and they had a 2 lb steak special that was seared and seasoned perfectly-several people got this for sharing. We also started the night with some great spicy wings and pulled pork sliders. An absolutely amazing meal with great friends.
The next day, we ventured to the Borough Market area and visited The Kernel Brewery, which has been around since 2009. The Owner/Brewmaster there, Evin O’Riordain, is a former artisanal cheese maker, and showed us around and poured us several samples of great beer. I had their beer 2 years ago at a pub near Euston station and was very impressed with the hop flavor and intensity, and since then they have moved to a bigger brewery that is located under the train trestle arches southeast of London Bridge (just a short walk from the Bermondsey tube station). Evin explained that he very rarely brews the same beer more than once, he likes the excitement created by using different hops in the many Pale Ales and IPAs that he brews. Jeremy and I really enjoyed a Citra Pale Ale the first night we were in London, it was pouring at the Euston Tap. And he keeps his feet grounded in tradition, brewing a beautiful East India Porter and Imperial Stout.
Their brewery is open every Saturday from 9:00 am to 3:00pm, and they are equipped with picnic tables so people can enjoy their beer on site, or they can purchase bottles to take home. When we got there around noon, the place was packed, and in the small world department, our friend Ben Edmunds from Breakside Brewery in Portland, OR was there too!
After leaving Kernel, and while on our way to one of our favorite pubs, The Rake, we happened upon another brewery located in one of the arches- Brew By Numbers, a brand new brewery! We walked by it at first, then we all stopped and said “hey-that’s a brewery!” and of course turned back and paid them a visit. They had some great beers also, a golden ale with Chinook hops and grapefruit and a wonderful Saison spiced with grapefruit peel and ginger that was just delicious.
I wish we had some more time to visit some other brewers, but I take solace in the fact that we got to try many other great English craft beers in the pubs we visited. Brewers like the 3 listed above, and brewers like BrewDog, Thornbridge, Windsor and Eton, Magic Rock, Dark Star, Oakham, and others all all pushing the envelope on what British beer can be, and I absolutely love it. Don’t get me wrong, I love real ale as well, and I hope everyone in England will realize that there is room for both traditional cask and kegged beer in a good pub-as long as the beer is delicious, and brewed with care, then I’m a fan!
Brewers we missed, or didn’t get to spend enough time with included Angelo Scarnera at BrewWharf, right around the corner from The Rake (Although we did hook up for beers a couple of times, and made a really quick visit to the brewery), our friend Alastair Hook at Meantime, who brews amazing English and German beers, Jim Wilson at TapEast (owned by the same folks who own The Rake), Camden Town Brewery and Partizan. Next time, I hope!