tl;dr – To celebrate the ten-year anniversary of London Amateur Brewers, we’ve been working with alumni to produce four excellent collaboration brews
London Amateur Brewers: Ten Year Anniversary
In many ways the London craft beer world is a young world. For all the froth and excitement around at the moment, this is the krausen on a fermentation that has kicked off rapidly, and perhaps surprisingly, after a long and perturbing lag phase. Heavyweights like Beavertown, Kernel and Redemption aren’t even eight years old. Events like the hugely popular Beveartown Extravaganza, that ran for the first time in September, may well have been inconceivable even a few years ago. And venerable old hands like Meantime and Camden have managed to grow up, into and (in many people’s eyes) out of the craft beer scene in less than a decade or two. So milestones like ten year anniversaries are significant events, not least because they look back on a beer scene that was starkly different and on a city that had fewer breweries than Bermondsey.
A decade is even more significant, though, if you’ve been as quietly influential as London Amateur Brewers. Whether, and to what degree, the club could be called a cause or an effect is obviously debatable, but its status as an accelerant of beer culture in London is much clearer. With a well-deserved reputation for education, incisive analysis and relentless focus on quality, LAB has been a constant, but often unnoticed, driver behind the expansion of excellent London beer. This influence can be seen in the superb (and rising) quality, range and diversity of prize-winning beers submitted by members to national and international competitions. At the recent London and South East competition, I’d honestly say that the standard was such that to even come close to winning one of the thirteen categories the beer would have to damn near commercial quality (and huge quantities of beer are given away after judging, so if you can get down there next May, it’s definitely worth a look).
Perhaps the clearest indication though, is in the work of members who are ex-members because they are no longer amateur, who have taken something (perhaps a little, perhaps a lot) from LAB and are now making beer for popular consumption. As part of the Ten Year Anniversary celebrations, current members worked with four former members (Evin O’Riordain at The Kernel Brewery, Bryan Spooner at Weird Beard Brew Co., Andy Parker at Elusive Brewing and Darren Oakley at Rockhopper Brewing) to design, develop and brew four different beers that, at least in part, reflected something of the relationship between the brewery, LAB and London itself. The beers themselves will be premiered to an expectant public at Mason & Co, in Stratford, on Thursday 9th November. Everyone is, of course, thoroughly welcome!
To say Kernel are not particularly given to self-aggrandisement is the sort of self-effacing modesty they themselves do so well and I admit to being a bit surprised to find out they’re one of the oldest independent breweries operating in London. Evin was one of the earliest LAB members, going to the second or third ever meeting, and many Kernel beers are directly influenced by the discussions and sharing of knowledge and expertise at those early meetings, particularly on old and historical styles. It’s fitting then, that this collaboration brew is a variation on the Export India Porter, a recreation and interpretation of a style that, at the time, was far more popular than the India Pale Ale being shipped to the subcontinent.
This was the first collab brew we did for this series and the first time, for me, being being hands on with a brew at a commercial brewery. Personally, the major shock was the scale of the brew. I’ve toured big commercial breweries, but the size of places like Pilsner Urquell is so incomprehensibly vast, there’s no clear sense of how big they really are. Kernel, on the other hand is small enough to be understandably huge; it was, in a weakly tenuous way, still related to what I do at home, but hugely amplified… volumes greater than my entire brewlength were casually spilled down the floor drains when hoses were changed, a literal tonne of grain was used, the first wort hops weighed more than my last grain bill and the mash tun was bigger than some flats I’ve lived in (but probably less damp).
Weird Beard Brew Co
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get to the Weird Beard brew day, which is to be highly regretted, because it sounds like they had an excellent time. As is the wont of Weird Beard, Bryan Spooner has pushed the envelope sufficient to give traditionalists palpitations, developing with members an Ice Cream Pale ale, a brew that was stuffed with oats, lactose, cacoa nibs and vanilla to a level even Bryan himself described as ‘not sensible’. Luckily, Rockhopper’s Darren Oakley was at the brew day and posted an account of the day on his blog:
I’ve long been a fan of Weird Beard, (they’re one of the inspirations for setting up Rockhopper in the first place) as I first met Bryan and Greg at LAB whilst they were still home-brewing and just starting on the road to setting up the brewery so I definitely wanted to get involved in this beer!
I was joined by 6 other LAB members and the task of the day was brewing an ice cream pale ale!
There were a few issues with the brew – a super slow run off due to the sheer volume of oats in the mash but the resulting wort was really tasty, then we ran it through cacao nibs in the underback on the way to the fermenter to give it a slight twist.
It was a fantastic day and I was very happy to get involved in this project.
Elusive Brewing was started by Andy Parker after some impressive success in homebrew competitions. The brewery is located in Finchampstead, on the same site as Siren. I’m sure there are many serious and important reasons why breweries tend to accrete around the same locations, but I like to think that brewers get lonely sometimes, and like to huddle together for warmth and sustenance, like Emperor penguins. Elusive started at a run, and has only picked up pace since then, with some eye-catching collaborations and some very excellent beers.
This brew can be thought of as the medium sized one in this series, the Mummy Bear, if you will. At around 5bbls, Elusive seems to be a typical sort of size for many brewery start-ups, and mostly manageable by one person (although, I understand they’ve taken on another brewer). This brew was a mix of modern and traditional, domestic and foreign. An English pale ale with modern British Endeavour hops, fermented with Belgian yeast, to give a classic spicy Belgian finish.
Rockhopper is the smallest, and newest, of the breweries we collaborated with for this series. Darren Oakley runs a 2bbl setup up in a small space and is, frankly, a dangerously tempting inspiration for those of us who have idly fantasised about part-exchanging the kids for a pile of fancy stainless steel. This brew was by far the most relatable to me; while it was not too distant from what I do at home, it was sufficiently greater in volume to be genuinely impressive.
While obviously not having the reach of larger breweries, Rockhopper have developed a strong reputation around Luton for their pale, hoppy, sessionable ales, usually showcasing the best and biggest of US aroma hops. For this brew, however, we brought the hop schedule closer to home, using the new British hops Jester and Olicana, which give you mango, passionfruit and grapefruit flavours to sit gracefully on the light pale ale base.
We’re very lucky to be able to hold the launch party for these beers at Mason & Co, and not just because they’re within stumbling distance of my house. Appropriately, I think the first time I ever had beers from Elusive or Weird Beard was at Mason & Co. It’s a great bar in a great location, by the canal near Stratford. I’ve written about it before, in the context of good pubs to take kids to, but without that it’s still a cracking place, with a brilliant selection of beers… their taste and discernment in selecting beers is, obviously, most amply demonstrated by their eagerness to put ours on!
So, we’ll be drinking to ten years of London Amateur Brewing from 5pm on Thursday 9th November… all are very much welcome!