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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
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*
Following a dream often requires sacrifices, and the young Italians behind Brewheadz have sacrificed more than most in pursuit of opening a brewery. To finance the cost of their four-barrel kit and eight-barrel fermenters, the four friends all moved into a one bedroom flat in Angel, brewing in the kitchen and taking it in turns to sleep on the floor. “We didn’t have that much money,” head brewer Gianni Rotunno recalls, “we needed to make that sacrifice… we’re still living there, although just two of us now!”
It’s been quite a journey for Gianni, who couldn’t even speak English when he moved from Fondi, a municipality between Rome and Naples, to London ten years ago to study business management. After making the Wenlock Arms near Old Street his local, Gianni fell in love with beer on a trip to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival in 2007. “I just went mad for it,” he says, “without speaking English I was just going around asking for ‘hops, hops, hops.’”
Inspired by the beers he tried at GBBF, and a bottle of punk IPA from the then-newly formed Brewdog, Gianni enrolled in a Masters in Brewing & Distilling at the famous Herriot Watt University in Scotland. One by one, his friends became to come to London, and he proceeded to “infect them” with his passion, eventually convincing them they should set up a micro-brewery together.
“We were brewing every week in our small flat. We decided to move from brewing different recipes to just three recipes. It was pretty boring but we just wanted to make sure what we were making was consistent.”
Once the four friends had secured a site in Tottenham Hale, just a stone’s throw from Beavertown, One Mile End and Redemption breweries, those three recipes were scaled up, and released into the market at the end of last year.
“The reason why we’re just making three beers now is because we wanted to go out into and test the market, and get our name out there,” Gianni explains. “We have other recipes already done; I work on recipes all the time on my homebrew kit. We want to put out a Black IPA and a session IPA in a few months, then we want to start to do sours as well.”
At present, Brewheadz range is made up of Electrobeat, a 5.4 per cent American pale ale that Gianni describes as a “low bitterness, juicy and hop-forward beer that is easy to drink”, Fired Up Donkey, an aggressive 6.6 per cent rye IPA, and Kitchen Porter, a 5.2 per cent chocolate porter.
“Porter is a classic London style, and we wanted to pay tribute to that,” Gianni says, “the reason it is called Kitchen Porter is because when we started out all of us used to work in some kitchen or another!”
Despite being taken with the culture and history of British brewing, Brewheadz remain firmly proud of their Italian heritage. On the day of our visit, the four friends are excitedly opening a care-package sent by Gianni and Stefano’s parents, and insist we try the Grappin and Olives produced on their farm back home. The brewery also plans to pay tribute to their roots by producing a beer using ingredients sourced entirely from Italy in the near future.
Set up alongside such esteemed company as Beavertown and One Mile End in Tottenham, it would be easy for Brewheadz to feel daunted. However, their neighbours have been nothing but helpful, according to Gianni. “We were a bit scared when we first decided to move here,” he says, “but straightaway Simon from One Mile End was really helpful. He talked to a local newspaper saying he was hoping we would open a taproom to attract more people to the area. All of them have said ‘if you need any help, or if you run out of ingredients just let us know’, so it’s been pretty great.”
It can be hard to stand out in the increasingly saturated London beer market, but with their distinctive cartoonish branding and colourful bottles, Brewheadz are hard to miss. “Sometimes people have judged us for being too flashy and colourful,” Gianni admits, “l but I don’t really care to be honest. We wanted to do something different.”
In the short tine they have been open, the brewery have certainly made an impression, appearing at Craft Beer Rising and the London Brewers Market, and hosting numerous tap takeovers at Brewdog bars across London. They’ve also recently opened an on-site taproom. For a brewery that is under six months old, their growth has been astonishing, and after tasting their beers, this doesn’t come as a surprise in the slightest.
*This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of Ferment magazine, and has been reproduced here with their permission*
Now in it's fifth year, Craft Beer Rising could reasonably lay claim to being one of the first real 'craft' beer festivals. Hosted in the heart of Brick Lane at the iconic Old Truman Brewery, the festival boasts of having over 700 beers from around 170 breweries on offer across three days. I was lucky enough to attend the Thursday trade session of the festival, sampling some of the first beers poured over the weekend. Whilst it would be ill advised and neigh on impossible to attempt to drink even close to all of the beer available at the festival, a few breweries and beers in particular caught my eye.
1) Twisted Barrel Ale/Five Clouds Brew Co - Five By Five (5%)
2017 is proving to be the year of the murk bomb, with hazy tropical fruity numbers popping up left right and centre. If you don't brew a beer that looks like Tropicana, are you even really craft? Despite this style being incredibly in-vogue at the moment, occasionally a brewery makes an incarnation that makes you sit up and take notice. Brewed by Coventry based Twisted Barrel Ale and Macclesfield's very own Five Clouds, Five By Five is a strong fruit smoothie pale brewed with Mosaic, Cascade and Rakau hops and turbo charged with 40kg of mango and passionfruit puree. The end result is pure breakfast juice.
2) Harbour Brewing Co - Raspberry and Vanilla Berliner Weiss (3.5%)
I've long held a soft spot in my heart for Harbour. The brewers from Cornwall are in the midst of a huge expansion and shake up to their core range of beers and sometimes fly under the radar in comparison with a lot of breweries in the South-West. At 3.5%, the Raspberry and Vanilla Berliner Weiss is at the more sensible end of the range of beers at CBR, but it is a brilliant twist on the German style. Made using kettle-souring techniques, it is clean, tart and delicately sweet. The brewery describes it as Raspberry Ripple ice cream in beer form, and I'm scratching my head trying to think of a better description myself.
3) Founders Brewing Co - Kentucky Breakfast Stout (12.4%)
At the polar opposite of the spectrum from Harbour's Berliner Weiss is the almighty KBS from Founders, which weighs in at an enormous 12.4%. Having previously had a bottle the beer imported from the US and been slightly underwhelmed, I decided to take the opportunity to try it on draught, and boy am I glad I did. A great smack in the face of coffee, chocolate and coconut, with a boozy second wind from the year spent ageing in oak bourbon barrels, KBS really is one of those beers that just lives up to its exceptional reputation. Probably one of, if not the, best barrel aged beers I have ever tasted.
4) DEYA Brewing Company/Verdant Brewing Co - High Planes Drifter (8%)
I'm honestly struggling to find the words for how impressed I am with DEYA Brewing Company. The Cheltenham-based brewery appear to have come out of seemingly nowhere to start producing some of the most consistently excellent beers on the UK market right now, and this collaboration brew with Cornwall high-flyers Verdant is probably them at their very best. I actually had this after the festival was over out of a can kindly supplied by Theo, but I can imagine it was even better on keg. A filthy great dank juice-bomb of a Double IPA full of Citra, Mosaic and Amarillo hops, High Planes Drifter is as good as any of the DIPAs currently being produced by Cloudwater in my opinion.
5) Gun Brewery - Sorachi Ace DIPA (7.4%)
It takes something very special to get me to drink a beer with Sorachi Ace hops in. It takes a minor miracle for me to select a beer with Sorachi Ace hops in as one of my top beers of a festival, but thats exactly what Sussex-based Gun brewery have managed to do. I've been hugely impressed with the brewery's cask range in the past, but this beer more than proved their keg range can stand up to the very best in the business. An excellent antidote to all the juice-bombs on offer, this sweet, caramel and marmalade-esque Double IPA hit all the right spots for me.
*FULL DISCLAIMER*: I quite obviously was unable to try beers from a great number of excellent breweries during the five hour trade session, and hence my list is undoubtedly entirely subjective. Please don't take it to heart if I didn't mention a beer you thought was an absolute world-beater.