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The most impressive part of Bermondsey-based Fourpure Brewing Co's set up isn't its state-of-the-art canning machine, capable of sealing 12,000 cans per hour. Nor is it its vast quantities of oak foudres, in which small batch and highly complex beers are being aged ready for consumption. No, the most exciting thing about Fourpure is a small rectangular room located up a drab staircase and far removed from the brew house itself. In this room, three old laptops are lined up against a wall, separated by white polyester boards. In front of the laptops are beer samples in small plastic cups.
It is here where Fourpure's beers are rigorously tested by the 31 members of the brewery team trained in sensory analysis. The results are meticulously logged into the brewery's database and any samples containing the slightest of off flavours are further analysed to detect flaws in the brewing process.
It is this level of attention to detail and technical, scientific approach that has seen Fourpure become one of London's most commercially successful and recognisable craft breweries in just over four years. Since being founded in 2013, the brewery has at least doubled its volume sales every year, and is now in the midst of a significant expansion programme that is reported to have cost in the region of £2million.
“We’re always keen on making that next investment which will take us to the next level as a brewery,” Fourpure's head brewer John Driebergen tells me over a pint in the brewery's on-site taproom. “We’re currently operating on a way higher technical level than we ought to be for our capacity.
That capacity is about to get a whole lot bigger. The brewery has ordered a four vessel, 40hl fully automated brew house, manufactured in Germany, as well as 12 new fermenters that will allow the brewery to increase its capacity by up to 300%. The new brew house will allow Driebergen and his team to brew up to eight times per day and be fully operational 24 hours a day if necessary.
“What I’m most excited about is that we’ll be able to brew three beers in the time it takes us to brew one and a half," Driebergen laughs. "The quality and consistency will be incredible. As the wort quality improves you will see an improvement in the hop extraction; everything is engineered to such a high degree of specification and so highly optmised. It’s going to be a little bit like driving a luxury car as opposed to the clunker we are driving around now."
The expansion, due to be completed in November, will also help improve the brewery’s sustainability; something that has always been at the forefront of every decision Fourpure has ever made. The brewery chose to produce its entire core range of beers in cans at a time when few others in the market were doing so, a decision heavily motivated by the smaller environmental impact it would create.
"We knew right away that we wanted to can all of our beers; Dan (Lowe, the brewery's co-founder) was very keen on that, and had a clear vision in terms of leading the way in terms of sustainability," Driebergen explains. "It was definitely a huge gamble at a time when canned and kegged beer was, quite wrongly, still associated with a lower quality product."
"As a brewery our investments are driven by the two categories of beer quality and sustainability,” he continues. “Those are considered to the same degree, and are the driving factors behind every investment we make”
“The new brew house itself is far more efficient, we’re moving over to a steam boiler which is a lot more efficient, and there will be a lot less energy wasted because we’ll be brewing a lot more frequently. We’re also investing in a new fully automated carbonator which should use about 5% of the carbon dioxide that we currently use to carbonate our beers.”
Despite the remarkable growth that Fourpure has enjoyed in recent years, Driebergen is keen to emphasise that the brewery, and indeed the craft beer sector as a whole, remains only a tiny slice of the overall market. “We now employ 47 employees, having started with just three,” he says. “The only thing currently holding us back is our capacity. We’ve seen tremendous growth in recent years, primarily driven by the craft beer sector.”
“However, less than 1% of the market by production volume is from independent breweries. We (craft brewers) are all focused on the same thing and have the same goals, and hence we are more willing to be collaborative and help each other.”
Around a third of the quite considerable quantity of beer produced by Fourpure (around 100hl per day at present) is lager. With another of London's big lager breweries Camden Town having recently opened a huge new £30m site in Enfield following its buyout by AB InBev, it seems possible that lager could be the next big craft beer trend in the UK. However, whilst Driebergen believes the style will grow in popularity, he is keen to stress that breweries ought to continue to innovate in their own way, and not chase market trends.
"The thing about trends is that they’re always kind of hard to predict," he says. "I think it's important for breweries not to focus on what may or may not be trendy but focus on innovation in your own way. We like to focus on quality and experiment in all sorts of ways, and as long as breweries stay true to that we will eventually stumble across the next trend in an accidental sense anyway.”
“Lager will continue to grow for sure. There are a lot of people who drink lager and who are now discovering craft beer and realising that provenance does matter, quality does matter and that locally produced fresh beer does taste better.
“If they like lager then they will have a better experience drinking a lager from a local brewer than from a big industrial brewery. So yes, I think craft lager will grow but I don’t think it will necessarily set the world alight in the way New England IPA’s have done in the last year or so.”
Well-spoken, articulate and charming, Driebergen is a difficult character to dislike. Indeed, it is hard to imagine him being irritated by anything at all. Determined to discover his bugbears, I ask what he would like to see pubs and bars do more of to help spread the growth of craft beer.
His response is initially diplomatic. "I think in general the bars and pubs in London have been great in terms of supporting craft brewers and the rise of craft beer," he says. "I’ve been really impressed by the degree to which that really good craft beer has become more widely available."
"However, I think it is really important that bars and pubs focus on training their staff," he divulges. "Often pubs have people who are employed on a short term basis. They need to make sure they are continually training their staff on what makes craft beer different, why that difference matters, and the importance of things like stock rotation, hygiene and keeping beer lines clean.
“Ultimately if the customer has a bad experience drinking a beer, most of the time the problem won’t be the beer, it will be the hygiene of the pub, but the drinker will blame the brewery, and that will affect that pubs greater sale of craft beer and they will lose customers."
This education is of particular importance if pubs wish to retain customers and develop a good reputation for serving craft beer, he warns. “With the craft stuff you really have to make sure you are paying attention to hygiene if you want to get repeat sales and attract the types of customers who want to drink craft beer.”
“These people are younger, they have more disposable income and are more interested in spending money in bars and restaurants, but if you want to keep those customers you have to have an interesting range, you have to train your staff, you have to rotate your stock, order from a good distributor and you have to look after the hygiene.
“If you do that then you’re going to keep customers. If you think ordering the beer is enough, then it’s not necessarily going to work out for you.”
Despite his friendly demeanour and affable personality, it is clear that Driebergen is fiercely proud of his work and determined to see his beer showcased at its very best. Indeed, part of the brewery's decision not to brew cask beer came from his dislike of the lack of control over how the final product tastes to the consumer.
“As a brewer the reason I like keg beer is that you can brew and mature the beer and package it up and its exactly the state I want the customer to drink it,” he says. “The problem with cask is that you are outsourcing a third of the process, the conditioning and cellaring, to a third party who may or may not know what they are doing. As a brewer that has no appeal to me.
"Additionally I think the beer styles we are producing are less suited to cask anyway. I have a lot of admiration for a lot of cask brewers but I have no experience of making it and most of my team have very limited experience with it, and its not something we see as fitting within our range of beers.”
On the brewing side, Driebergen is happy to let his beers speak for themselves. He smiles and hands over a glass of Southern Latitude - the brewery's session-strength interpretation of a New England IPA - before departing in search of dinner. At the rate at which it I drink it, it's a good job Fourpure will be producing a lot more beer come this November.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Morning Advertiser
It’s been quite a rise to fame for Newport’s Tiny Rebel brewery. In less than ten years, the brewery has gone from two men producing two beers out of a converted garage to a 60-employee strong organisation, brewing on a dual steam 30-barrel brewhouse and exporting beer to over 20 countries around the world. Along the way, the Welsh brewery has found favour among craft beer geeks and traditional real ale enthusiasts alike, but undoubtedly the key moment in its history came in August 2015, when its flagship 4.6 per cent red ale, Cwtch, took home the ‘Champion Beer of Britain’ at CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival.
“The week after we won the award I think we brewed Cwtch six times out of eight,” laughs Niall Thomas, the brewery’s Regional Sales Manager. “It was just Cwtch cask after Cwtch cask…but you’ve got to give the people what they want!
“Winning Champion Beer of Britain was absolutely huge for us; we’re the youngest ever brewery to have won it, and the only brewery from Wales. It’s the top brewing award in the country and to have won it so quickly after opening is an enormous achievement. A lot of breweries can only dream of it.”
Tiny Rebel’s journey began in a similar way to that of many other breweries in the industry. Brad Cummings and Gareth Williams (Gazz) were thrown together after Gazz married Brad’s sister and the duo became brothers-in law. Gazz, a keen homebrewer and cask ale lover, roped Brad into his brewing experiments in a converted garage on the weekends. After receiving some positive feedback from friends and family, the two men invested in a fifty-litre homebrew kit and began to perfect their recipes.
In February 2012, the brewery officially launched with two beers, Fubar, a 4.4 per cent pale ale, and Urban IPA. These were swiftly followed by Cwtch and Dirty Stop Out, the brewery’s 5 per cent smoked oatmeal stout.
“It was a pretty quick rise from there,” admits Niall. “The first year we were eligible, our beers took a one, two, three at the Great Welsh Beer Festival – the first time any Welsh brewery has taken gold, silver and bronze at the same festival – and the year after that, we won gold again, which was the first time anyone has defended a gold.”
The following year, Cwtch won Champion Beer of Britain.
With interest in their beers soaring, Tiny Rebel were soon struggling to cope with the demand. “We’d already been at capacity at the old brewery before we won at GBBF,” Niall explains, “and when you win an award like that you’re the biggest news in the brewing industry for the next couple of months. It can put a huge strain on production.” To cope, the brewery squeezed two more fermenting tanks into their old site, and switched to shift patterns, brewing twice a day, ten times a week.
Eventually, however, a new site was needed. Plans were drawn up and investment sourced for a new £2.6m brewhouse site, ten minutes away from the old brewery. The new brewkit was installed in December 2016, and production moved at the start of this year. “All the profits for the past five years have gone into the new site,” Niall says, “the new brewhouse is a dual stream 30 barrel; each stream can brew 5,000 litres and they can run virtually side by side. Going forward if we really wanted to we could go back to a shift pattern and brew four times a day, but at the moment we’re brewing at most twice a day.”
The new brewhouse is certainly an impressive sight, with on site canning and bottling lines, as well as plans for a glass-fronted taproom overlooking the Welsh valleys. So what has been the secret behind Tiny Rebel’s rapid ascent to success?
“I think the key for us has been organic growth,” Niall explains, “We’ve never tried to run too fast; we wait to see where the demand takes us, and we’ve found that whenever we’ve grown, the demand grows, probably quicker than we can. We’re producing as much beer as we can, and there doesn’t seem to be an end to the demand for it, which seems to be a sign that we’re doing well.”
“We’ve also got a really good and talented team. We like to promote and utilise those resources as best we can. I joined the sales team from one of the bars; the management teams in the bars were all previously existing bar staff. We like to foster skills and reward people.”
Looking to the future, the brewery’s focus is on finishing work at the new site, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be releasing any new beers anytime soon. Indeed, one big new release is planned in the next month or so, but is still very much under wraps, so much so that we are forbidden from taking photos or writing about it. “We love experimenting,” Niall says, “Last year alone we released 30 new beers. The new brewery site obviously takes a bit of time and attention away from that sort of thing, but hopefully soon we’ll have the time to do a few more exciting things.”
One thing Tiny Rebel won’t be doing, however, is turning their backs on cask beer, as other breweries in the industry have recently done. “For us personally, we see cask as our personal origins,” explains Niall, “it’s what Gazz was brought up with and what sparked the idea for the brewery. But also it’s the origin story of beer in the UK; it’s a very British style and we see it as an integral part of the beer scene here.”
Nonetheless, Niall is keen to emphasise that the brewery don’t begrudge any of their fellow brewers turning their backs on the style. “It’s their business at the end of the day and they know their customer base better than anyone,” he says. “It would be silly to commit to something that’s going to lose you money, and from a beer perspective you’ve got to brew what you like brewing.”
“It’s down to local preference, but the key is to brew what you love; that’s the only thing we can do.”
*This article originally appeared in Issue 14 of Ferment magazine, and has been reproduced here with their permission*
Forest Road Brewing Co. isn’t your typical London brewery. While most of the capital’s emerging small brewers produce small quantities of a wide range of beers on tiny, cramped kits on industrial estates, Forest Road’s head-brewer Pete Brown heads out to Belgium every couple of months to brew 15,000 litres of Work, the brewery’s signature 5.4 per cent ale, at the family-owned Brouwerij Van Eecke in Flanders. Pete began homebrewing in New York city back in 2008, and since then the jovial American has amassed over seven years of experience brewing at four international breweries including Siren and Camden. Whilst at Siren, Pete moved into a house on Forest Road in Hackney, and after several successful homebrews, he quickly convinced his housemates they should set up a brewery.
“To build the kind of brewery I wanted to build I needed a shit load of money that I didn’t have,” Pete explains over a pint of Work in The Prince Arthur, a few doors down from the Forest Road flat where the beer was born. “I hit up some guys around the UK saying ‘I want to brew this much beer, this is how I want to do it, this how I want it packaged,’ but the only people who got back to me were people saying ‘we can do it but we can only do cask’ or ‘we can do it but we can’t use your yeast strain’ or whatever. I wasn’t in this to make money, I wanted to brew my fucking beer the way I wanted to.”
Frustrated, Pete turned to Belgium, and managed to convince an old family run brewery in Flanders to allow him to brew on their kit. “I went over on a complete whim to this old brewery and had this meeting with these Flemish guys… they’re not a contract brewery; I was the first person that had ever brewed on their kit that wasn’t part of the family since they opened in 1624.”
While some UK breweries are content to contract out their brewing to Belgium and import the finished product, Pete insists on being involved with every stage of the process. “It’s not like I go over there and its all set up for me,” he says. “I have to source the malt, the hops the yeast – I get my yeast from Copenhagen. It has to get there, we have to propagate it three days before we brew; all this shit needs to be done before we can brew.”
The first brew wasn’t without a few hitches along the way. Two weeks before he was scheduled to go out to Belgium, Pete received a call from the Van Eecke brewery informing him they’d been unable to source the hops he needed. After begging, stealing and borrowing Chinook, Equinox and Mosaic hops from friends in the industry, he headed out to Flandres in November 2015 to brew 150 hectolitres of Work, listing his flat as the delivery address because the brewery didn’t own anywhere to store the beer at the time.
The resulting beer arrived in the UK in February 2016, and three more batches have been brewed since, with Pete heading out to brew a fourth this month. An unfiltered, hoppy ale, low in bitternes but big in flavour, Work certainly doesn’t appear to have suffered from traveling across borders. “There’s no oxygen inclusion, its unfiltered, everything is done the way we want to do it,” Pete says proudly. “I want it to speak for itself. There’s nothing on the bottle about what kind of beer it is. As an American I don’t like seeing mediocre beers being marketed as American pale ales. It drives me nuts. Why is it called American pale ale, just because you used American hops?”
“I don’t put bullshit in my beer, and I don’t do gimmicks. If you want to get fruit flavours out of a beer they should come from the hops, it’s not about putting raspberries in it or any of that shit.”
Of course, Pete doesn’t intend to brew in Belgium forever. The brewery already has a storage unit and bar in Hackney, and has put in an offer for a brewery site “on the river.” In-between prank calling neighbouring Five Points and playing with his one-year old rescue dog Cassie, Pete excitedly tells me that Forest Road are planning to open “the UK’s most sustainable brewery,” in the next year.
“We want be ahead of the curve,” he explains, “we want to do things right, even at a greater cost up front. At the moment people are just dumping shit down the drain and burning electricity. Our kit will be very efficient. It really is amazing.”
“We’re going to build a fucking sweet 25 hectolitre kit in the centre of London. It’ll be London’s most advanced kit – nobody that will have a better kit than us.”
*This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of Ferment magazine, and has been reproduced here with their permission*
Situated under a cramped railway arch in Southwark, Anspach & Hobday doesn’t look much like the location of a brewery currently selling beer to Italy, Belgium and across the UK. In just over three years, owners Paul Anspach and Jack Hobday have transformed themselves from aspiring homebrewers to the owners of a brewery with the potential to produce up to 1,100 litres of beer. Ahead of their third birthday in March, I meet up with Jack to find out the story behind their success, and discuss their plans for the future. When I arrive, Jack is rushing around setting up the brewery’s taproom, which opens every weekend to let punters drink on-site, but immediately drops everything to greet me with a welcoming smile and offers me a beer.
It’s only just past midday, but it feels rude to refuse. “I’d recommend the Gose,” he says, pouring me a small sample, “It’s only 3.9 per cent and very refreshing.” As I take a sip, I’m inclined to agree with him. I reach for my wallet, but he generously dismisses my money with a wave of his hand.
“I’ve known Paul since I was four,” Jack recalls with a smile, “we both studied at university in London and lived together. My background was in Psychology and he studied Philosophy at Kings. I wasn’t always into my beer - I used to be your typical mass produced lager drinker - It was my lecturer who first suggested that we tried home-brewing to save some money.”
As it turned out, Jack and Paul’s homebrews were pretty good. After receiving some positive feedback from Oz Clarke – a famous drinks writer and TV presenter – they decided to put what little money they had together (£150 each) and enter their porter into the International Beer Challenge, a competition designed for professional breweries. The beer won a silver medal.
“I’ve always been really ambitious,” Jack says. “Anyone who is brewing has got to be aspiring to produce the best beer that they can.” He now predominantly takes care of the business side of the brewery, preferring to let Paul and the other staff produce the beers.
As we chat, he occasionally breaks away to serve customers at the bar, offering tasters and talking enthusiastically about the beer. Eager to share his creations, he insists I take a bottle of their porter home with me. “It was such an important part of our history and our journey as a brewery,” he says fondly, “so I’d love to know what you think.”
After raising the funds to buy a 100 litre brewkit via KickStarter, Jack and Paul set up Anspach & Hobday in Bermondsey, just a stone’s throw from the Shard. “I remember watching it being built when I was homebrewing and thinking I want to get our beer in there,” Jack recalls. The Gong bar at the top of the building now stocks Anspach & Hobday’s IPA and Porter, and has just taken on their Sour to use in one of their cocktails. “We knocked Guinness out to get that account,” he tells me, almost bursting with pride.
Of course, Jack’s isn’t the only brewery in close proximity to the famous skyscraper. Anspach & Hobday forms a key component of the now infamous ‘Bermondsey Beer Mile,’ with Brew By Numbers, Fourpure, The Kernel, Partizan and Southwark Brewery all opening their doors on a Saturday to let punters taste their beer at its freshest.
“I think it’s been absolutely fundamental to our success,” he says of the brewery’s location. “I remember thinking I’m not sure this is a good idea being so close to the others - maybe the competition would be too great - but it’s meant that the best beer critics have tried our stuff, when if we were in an industrial estate or out in the countryside it would have been very difficult to get the same type of exposure.”
“Our vision was to create a Cathedral to beer in London. This taproom is the beer chapel - it’s only tiny but it’s allowed us to do exactly what we said we were going to do and the results have been fantastic.”
The brewery now employs five permanent members of staff, and has expanded their capacity eleven-fold from its initial 100 litre kit, installing new fermentors in June of last year to take enable them to produce up to 1,100 litres. "We’ve grown it quite organically," Jack tells me, "almost everyone who has worked with or for us has at some point volunteered and given an awful lot to help create the jobs we now enjoy."
"The team is really important. Everyone really cares about the business, whether its Dylan and Dan in production or Patrick in sales or even just staff on the bar – they all know and love their beer. I think that Hunter Thompson quote really sums it up for me: ‘Good people drink good beer’ - they really really do."
With the brewery’s third birthday in just a few weeks time, Jack is pleased to inform me that they have re-brewed their Three Threads beer for the occasion. Based on a traditional brewing method of three consecutive mashes of the same grain (treating it a bit like a re-used teabag) , The Three Threads is produced from the three worts of different gravities that come together for fermentation, and is thought to have inspired the birth of the porter (although this claim has been disputed by some beer historians).
“Unlike our standard porter the Three Threads is much more toasty,” he tells me. “We use a lot more amber malt as opposed to the standard porter which uses the mordern method of predominantly pale malt with the addition of some dark malt.” The beer will be available from the brewery in large 750ml bottles in March.
Moving outside of his own brewery, what trends does Jack think we are likely to see in the year ahead? "I think it might be a year where traditional styles become more in vogue," he says. "I think they are an important part of British heritage, and I hope to see styles like the best bitter getting a bit more recognition. I also think we're likely to see further focus on sours."
On the subject of intentionally hazy, murky beer, a topic of much debate in the industry in recent months, Jack doesn't have a strong view either way. "I think there’s a few breweries that are producing some pretty hazy beer and have done for a while," he says, "so why its suddenly popular I don’t know.
"I think that is a fad and that will come and go. What it comes down to is whether it’s a nice beer to drink or not, not how you’re dressing it up. I kind of believe the best beers will out."
Looking to the future, Jack hopes the brewery will be able to retain their Bermondsey site, but accept this may be difficult due to rising rents. “This site might end up being more like a brewpub than a brewery,” he admits, “but we’ll adapt to the challenge.
"These railway arches are a great outcrop of industrial heritage that goes right into the centre of London. Years ago this area used to be known as the larder of London and that’s kind of come around again – you've got Neil’s Yard Dairy just a few doors down, and Maltby Street food market just around the corner.
"I think it would be really nice if we could keep this site and remain here for a long time.”
As I wander back up towards the looming figure of the Shard, stuffed full of incredible food from Maltby Street Food market and slightly woozy after an afternoon of drinking, I can't help but echo Jack's thoughts. Bermondsey is a special place for beer and food right now, and if I were Anspach & Hobday, I'd be staying firmly put.
*Full Disclaimer* Jack kindly allowed me to try some of Anspach & Hobday's beers at the brewery taproom on the day of my visit, and gave me a bottle of their Porter and Pfeffernusse Saison to take away.*
Now in its fourth year of existence, the annual launch of The Rainbow Project is one of the most anticipated events in every beer geek's calendar. The Project, which started life at Siren Craft Brewery in Berkshire in 2013, has in recent years produced some of the most highly sought after beers in the UK beer industry, including Buxton & Omnipollo's (in)famous Yellow Belly in 2014 and Hawkshead & Crooked Stave's Key Lime Tau last year.
For the 2016 Project, seven UK breweries teamed up with counterparts from New Zealand to each brew a beer, as ever, based on a colour of the rainbow. The beers were launched at parties across the country on Saturday 17 September, and I, along with many others, headed to where it all began at Siren, eager to sample this year's offerings.
Arriving into Wokingham train station around half one, I am greeted by the sight of a huge white double decker bus crammed full of adults more excitable than a group of children on Christmas. We pile on, and make the short bus ride to the industrial estate in Finchampsted, where Siren call home. There is already a sizeable queue on arrival, and we pass the time slugging back cans of Gamma Ray being sold by one the volunteers at the event. Soon, we are the proud owners of a pristine Rainbow Project glass and ready to get stuck in.
As well as the seven Rainbow beers, there are offerings from each of the breweries involved in the project, as well as a small number from those involved in the collaborations in previous years, such as Cigar City, and three from local microbrewery Elusive Brewing Co., who brew out of a small 5 Barrel kit in a storage unit just round the corner from Siren. Food is provided courtesy of street food vendors Original Patty Men & Louisiana Chilli Shack and snack specialists Serious Pig and Karkli. Siren are also selling some of their own bottled beers, as well as some pretty swanky looking merch. Beers are purchased using tokens, which cost £2 and can be exchanged for either a third or a half a pint, depending on the beer in question. Despite ominous clouds suggesting the contrary, it remains dry throughout the day, making for a vibrant but not too overcrowded atmosphere inside the brewery.
I decide to begin proceedings with Sourbet, a 3.7% Raspberry and Lemon Berliner Weisse from Wellington-based Fork Brewing. A delicately tart and refreshing session strength beer, it provides me with a little time to weigh up my options and plot my route to eventual and inevitable oblivion. I am stuck by the demographic of the punters visiting the brewery, with the average clientele somewhat older than I'd anticipated, showing that it isn't just trendy youngsters who have bought into the hype surrounding the Rainbow Project and ever-growing UK craft movement. There are also a pleasing amount of women at the brewery, further debunking the myth that drinking beer is a male-dominated pastime.
Fearful that the combined thirst of the attendees would exhaust Siren's limited supply of the seven beers I'd made the visit to try, I head over to bar five and grab a third of Magic Rock & Fork Brewing's collaboration - The Upside Down. Inspired by the colour yellow, the beer is a 6% Kettle-Soured, Tropical Fruit Wit Beer, fermented entirely using Brett Trois, a yeast strain formerly thought to be Brettanomyces. Upon initially tasting The Upside Down, it isn't hard to see why the yeast strain was mistakenly identified, with a strong tart and funky-like mouthfeel that is remarkably Brett-esque being produced. A healthy dry-hop dosage of Citra, Equinox, Simcoe and Mosaic give the beer huge tropical aromas, only aided by the addition of passionfruit and mango juice. The kettle-souring of the beer to a P.H. of 3.6 prior to boiling locks in a base-level of tartness which compliments the juicy fruit flavours excellently. I'm (half) tempted to go back for another.
Next up its a quick hop over to bar four and the turn of Project debutants Burning Sky. Replacing Buxton in this year's Project is a tough ask, and Burning Sky were paired with Auckland's Liberty Brewing Co to brew a beer based on the colour Orange. Branded as an "eclectic, borderless beer", Descent into the Maelstrom is a 6.6% pale fermented with an Ardennes yeast strain and aged in White Burgendy Barrels. Post ageing, Descent into the Maelstrom was injected with a hefty dose of orange and grapefruit zest, before being dry hopped with Nelson Sauvin and Motueka hops. However, after Magic Rock/Fork's tropical fruit explosion, unfortunately I find Descent into the Maelstrom a little disappointing. The barrel ageing process, combined with the Nelson Sauvin, produces a long, dry, almost vinegary finish that dominates the palette and gives a powerful alcohol hit that I didn't need or expect before 3pm.
Luckily, Rainbow beer number three is quite possibly the best of the lot. Never one to do things by halves, Wild Beer Co took their colour of blue more metaphorically than literally, teaming up with 8 Wired to produce Black and Blue, a raw, unhopped, unboiled bourbon cask barrel aged sour inspired by the concept of a French black & blue steak. The result is nothing short of spectacular; an intensely acidic, almost lambic-esque beer that is perfectly balanced and incredibly tangy. Probably as close as any UK brewery has gotten to Belgium in terms of sour beer.
My favourite of last year's Rainbow beers was Cumbria based Hawkshead's Key Lime Tau, a kettle soured lactose infused Golden Ale that was so good, they brewed it again earlier in the year. Consequently, I can't wait to get my paws on their 2016 offering, a 6% seafood gose with New Zealand hops and green gooseberries, made in collaboration with Yeastie Boys. Brewed with Loch Fyne Oysters and green lipped mussels from New Zealand, Kai Moana Gose is lightly tart and has a slight salty edge, although neither of the two flavours is overpowering. In fact, there is very little overpowering about the beer at all; an excellent palette cleanser that would be perfect paired alongside a seafood dish, but that doesn't enthuse me in quite the same way as Wild Beer Co or Magic Rock's efforts.
Starting to feel the effects of a long afternoon of drinking, we tactically decide to purchase some posh-pepperami beer sticks from Serious Pig to soak up some of the alcohol. After numerous complex and sour beers, I'm really starting to crave a no-nonsense IPA. Luckily, Parrotdog and Garage Project are only too happy to oblige, and after a brief respite we indulge ourselves with the former's delicately floral Forget me Not and the latter's dank and resinous Pernicious Weed. Clearly its not just us and the US who can brew great hoppy beers...
With time of the essence and alcohol tolerance limited, however, I quickly decide to return once again to the Rainbow Project beers. Up next is Beavertown and Parrotdog's Universal Mind, a historic Dortmund style Adambier coming in at a whopping 10.5%. Traditionally dark in colour and aged in wood for over a year, Adambiers are no longer brewed commercially, but the style has been revived with a unique twist for this year's Rainbow Project. Universal Mind is a heavy, peaty, boozy and almost barley wine-esque red ale, given an almost Port-like quality by the two years it spent in Marsala wine barrels. It couldn't be further from the other Rainbow beers I have tried up until this point in proceedings, and it makes for a nice change of direction in what has been a day dominated by pales and sours.
Of course, a trip to Finchampsted wouldn't be complete without a trip round the corner to visit Elusive Brewing, a 5BBL microbrewery on the same industrial estate run by former homebrewer-turned-pro Andy Parker. Brewing just once a week since opening in April, Elusive Brewing are still at the very early stages of development and expansion, but are already producing a diverse range of fantastic beers on a kit partially paid for by Andy's homebrewing exploits (Winning a Craft Beer Co. competition provided him with £5,000 & gave him the chance to brew commercially with Dark Star). Andy already has plans to take over the storage unit next door for extra fermentation space, and having tasted all three of Elusive's beers for sale on the day, I can confirm that this is very good news indeed.
Returning to Siren, I decide it is time to hit up Original Pattymen for my dirty burger fix. After some deliberation, I go all out for the Bourbon Butt plug; a monster of a beerburger with bourbon spiked peanut butter, bacon jam and cheddar cheese. The end-product has me quite literally salivating at the mouth and is demolished within seconds, leaving me craving another. I wash it down with a third of Bloody Notorious, an 8% Blood Orange Double IPA brewed by Beavertown in collaboration with Boneyard, a match made in heaven. Now firmly the wrong side of tipsy, I head for the penultimate Rainbow Project beer, Royal Ale, an 8.5% English Barley Wine with riesling grape juice. Originally set to be brewed by Partizan and Panhead, the beer ended up being made solely by the London based brewery in acrimonious circumstances after Panhead were bought out by Lion group, who are in turn owned by Japanese beverage giant Kirin. As it turns out, Royal Ale is possibly my least favourite of the Rainbow beers, a little bit on the thin side and lacking in any standout qualities or characteristics.
Finally, I head on over to bar one to sample Siren's own Rainbow beer, Blacklight banana, brewed in collaboration with Wellington brewery Garage Project. Based on the colour indigo, the beer is a 9.2% Imperial Stout with bananas, molasses and bourbon barrel aged coffee. The indigo connection comes from the bananas, which apparently glow indigo under UV light when ripe. Blacklight Banana is an intensely sweet and silky smooth stout, with a huge banana hit and a deceptive drinkability for its strength. It is a worthy beer to round off the Rainbow Project and indeed the evening, and the train ride back to London flies past in a booze-induced daze, penetrated only by the slight regret of not having been able to try all of the other beers on offer throughout the day.
On the whole the 2016 Rainbow Project launch party has to go down as an unqualified success. Thanks must go to all the breweries involved and to the volunteers who helped out on the day, but particularly to Siren, who hosted a brilliant event that was welcoming and friendly, yet also incredibly well organised and great value for money.
*BEEP*, *BEEP*… *BEEP*, *BEEP* It’s five forty-five am on a Thursday morning, and I’m rudely awoken by the unpleasant sound of my alarm clock, jolting me out of a deep slumber. I groan, haul myself out of bed and into the shower, before getting dressed and slipping out the back door at just gone half six. My destination is the brewery of Tunbridge Wells based Pig & Porter, located on a small industrial estate a few minutes from High Brooms station. I’ve volunteered to help out on a brewday in exchange for the opportunity to learn more about the brewery, and to observe the process of brewing on an industrial scale.
The story of Pig & Porter isn’t a simple one to map out, having no real definitive beginning or official start date. “It wasn’t the most planned of businesses from the word go,” Robin Wright, who runs the administrative side of the brewery, admits, “I’d known Sean (Ayling) for twenty odd years through cricket. He was a keen homebrewer and used to keep foisting various different brews upon me. I was living in a very remote part of East Sussex, running a Recruitment business and also getting quite involved with all the activities in the local village; flower shows, fetes etc., and I just thought to myself; burgers and beers might be a little bit more interesting than this!”
Sean, meanwhile, was struggling to make ends meet in the sales industry after changes to his company’s pay structure. Finding it cheaper to brew than buy beer in the supermarket, he started to produce more beer in the hope of selling it with Robin at the Ashburnham village fete. “We got some of Sean’s beers in on a very small scale,” Robin recounts, “we then we started getting asked to do barn-dances, peoples weddings, and we started to think to ourselves ‘is there some mileage in this?’”
Around this time, Robin went blind in one eye. “All of a sudden I woke up one day having lost the sight in my right eye,” he recalls, “It required a series of operations to fix and gave me a load of time off work” Whilst recovering, Robin came up with a plan alongside Sean to take the business further, hoping to run an event catering business that produced a little bit of beer, thus giving birth to the Pig & Porter name. “We started to really get things off the ground late in 2012 as a registered business,” he says, “and around that time we were ringing around various different breweries asking to brew on their kits. A couple of them said yes and they explained to us that what we needed for events was a fraction of what even a microbrewery could produce, but that we may as well do a full brew and sell the rest to pubs.
So on New Years Eve of 2012, Sean brewed Pig & Porter’s first proper beer, a tried and tested homebrew recipe called Red Spider Rye, a 4.8 per cent red ale with rye malts that still makes up a part of the brewery’s core range today. The beer was a huge hit, with Robin managing to sell it to local pubs that were interested in their fledgling brewery. “We brewed at about six different places, including at one point brewing more than Bedlam brewery were on their own kit,” Robin tells me with a smile, “but I think we only did about eight brews up until the end of the summer whilst we were doing the event catering business. We were just too busy.”
Around the end of that summer, Sean and Robin were made aware that the Old Tunbridge Wells Brewery site was available, having been sat idle for some time. They agreed a deal to share the 10-barrel site, which still remains their home to this day, with Tumanny Albion Brewing Company. “Sean wasn’t able to give up his day job at this point so that meant brewing on a Saturday,” Robin continues, "which also rather conveniently meant we had to make a decision about the food because all the events were on the weekends.” In the end, Pig & Porter decided to focus on the beer, relinquishing the catering side of the business, although their love of food remains as strong as ever, evidenced by the almighty fry up Sean cooks for us after mashing in the grain.
After around a year of sharing, it became clear that both breweries needed to expand, and Pig & Porter eventually took over the entire Tunbridge Wells site themselves. “That was the point where Sean had to make a decision about the day job and we had to decide to take the plunge ourselves and try and make this work as a business,” Robin says, “and since then we’ve been full time and reached capacity some time ago.” In May, the brewery added a shiny new 15-barrel fermenter from China to the existing three 10-barrels they already had, and they now produce around 80 casks a week. “We’ll reach full capacity again at some point soon, and then its really a case of working out how big we want to grow and how we do that organically,” Robin says, “We didn’t come into the industry with any track record or any master plan, and it really has evolved quite quickly.”
Another huge step in the brewery’s growth came with the appointment of George Fisher as assistant brewer on a full-time basis (also in May), enabling Robin to focus on the administrative side of the business. “I’ve done assistant and helper to Sean, and I find the process of creating new beers really interesting,” he says, "but that’s really his area. He runs the brewery and I run the business.
“George coming on board was another big step because its just taken the sheer exhaustion out of it, and the slightly split shifts we’re operating means that Sean doesn’t have six 5 am starts on the trot which is a bit much!”
Far from just being an extra pair of hands, George leads the brew on the day of my visit, with Sean having to rush off to make some deliveries. The beer in question being brewed is Dance First, a 4.2 per cent Stout with crystal, chocolate and black malts. Whilst we wait for the kettle to boil, we busy ourselves by putting some Weird Pig, a 5.5 per cent Californian Common Ale originally brewed in collaboration with Weird Beard, into kegs outside. The brewery has also collaborated with numerous other breweries across the country, including Blackjack and Runnaway brewery in Manchester. “I think there’s a lot to be said for doing collabs,” Robin enthuses, “you’re making something that’s a one off, two heads are definitely better than one, you share a lot of information and you have a lot of fun doing it”
“I think they certainly helped us a lot at the start, particularly when we brewed with Blackjack. It gave us a foothold into some of the most famous bars up there, and a soft introduction to that area by a brewery that people know and like.
“We haven’t done quite as many recently, but they’ve helped position us slightly differently in the market as to what kind of a brewery we are – as a small little brewery coming out of Kent where there isn’t a lot of ‘craft’ so to speak – we wanted to get ourselves out there and say ‘this is the kind of brewery we are, these are the kind of beers we’re making.’”
As Pig & Porter have grown, their repertoire of beer has expanded quite significantly from their initial core range, having recently brewed Pig Cubed, a mango saison to celebrate Birmingham Beer Bash, and Double Think, an 8.6 per cent double IPA. “We’ve produced a lot of new beers recently; we’re also looking at making a very full on imperial stout,” Robin tells me, “but unfortunately we cant keep brewing new things with only a limited amount of fermenters. There’s a point at which we have to keep regularly brewing the ones that are becoming established, such as the Skylarking (a 4 per cent session IPA).” Nonetheless, the brewery are also planning to start ageing some of their beers, doing limited bottling in-house, and recently launched a new single hop pale ale series.
As the brewday comes to a close, I ask Robin what he thinks the best bit about being a part of the brewing industry is, and what the biggest challenges Pig & Porter face are. “I love the variety and the people in the industry,” he says, “compared to any other job I’ve had it’s a really nice industry; very open, very friendly, very collaborative – even if you don’t get out much to actually talk to all these lovely people!
“I’d say the biggest problem is keeping the plates spinning as you’re growing; you’ve got to think long term about where you’re going as a brewery but there’s hardly ever any time in the week for that. We’ve got sales, brewing, distribution, keeping the cashflow going, and taking a step back from all of that is really hard work. I thought I got my weekends back about a year and a half ago but it never really happened!”
Looking forward into the future, Sean and Robin are on the lookout for new investment to help further grow the brewery site, “you might find it hard to believe having just spent a day here but we reckon we can squeeze one more 15-barrel fementer in here at this site,” Robin chuckles, “but after that we’ll be looking at some possible alternatives.
“It’s been an interesting experience brewing on a kit that we didn’t commission; we would never have started with this if we’d had the vast investment that some breweries have had, but it’s helped us to learn a lot about all the different systems and processes. I think we’re going to try and source some funding for a new place in about two years time somewhere a bit closer to home (Sean lives in Whitstable and Robin is from Hastings), maybe in the Ashford area”
With plans to move into canning their beer sometime in the future, as well as eventually having a taproom at a new site, it seems unlikely Sean, Robin and George will be getting their weekends back again anytime soon…
In return for my agonisingly long day of back-breaking manual labour, the guys at Pig & Porter provided me with a traditional brewday breakfast, a growler of Skylarking pale ale and four bottles of their Gothic Imperial Stout to take home. Seemed like a fair trade to me!