One of the most exciting features of this year’s London Craft Beer Festival is the two group bars: the East London Brewers’ Bar and the South London Brewers’ Bar. Lily headed out across South London to catch up with the breweries on the latter, and of course, drink some beer.
Affinity Brew Co
Tucked in a railway arch in Bermondsey (in Partizan Brewing’s old site), we find one half of Affinity Brew Co, Steve Grae, hard at work. The youngest brewery on the bar, having only been going since last October, they’ve been busy in the few months since they set up, having co-hosted Cask festival, a cask beer festival, with Partizan up the road.
Wary of the kind of experience it’s possible to have on the Bermondsey Beer Mile (read: stag do’s and long queues), they’re trying to create a different kind of environment in their brewery; it’s more of a tasting room than a “beery tap”. With colourful illustrations painted on walls opposite the brewkit, and a slightly chaotic bar, the brewery has a welcoming, friendly atmosphere.
Put simply, Affinity brew the beer they want to drink – daily, and year round. As Steve puts it, they’d rather mean everything to someone rather than something to everyone – a brewery people are proud to have discovered and enjoy. They approach recipes in terms of flavour as opposed to trends, using ingredients they know work well together, as well as colouring outside of the lines when it comes to styles.
One of their main beers, Breeze, is a 3.8% beer inspired by English Golden Ales, but also with the influence of Saisons and Belgian Wits, being brewed with light malts, Saison yeast, and lime zest and coriander. Their other beers show this level of creativity and imagination: May is a fruity, tart Saison brewed with rhubarb and fruit tea; Toowoomba is a dry stout inspired by Australian Lamington cake, fermented on fresh raspberries and conditioned on toasted coconut; and Social Seduction is a resoundingly bitter IPA, with UK Jester in the boil and dry hopped with Mosaic and Simcoe.
For a tiny brewery still finding their feet, the quality, balance and execution of their beers are great. I can’t wait to see what they bring to the bar.
Anspach & Hobday
Anspach & Hobday was founded by Paul Anspach and Jack Hobday in 2014, and have become a prominent part of the London beer scene. Focusing on a combination of modern beer styles and heritage brewing, whilst also not paying too much mind to trends, their beers are brilliantly balanced and effortlessly drinkable.
Like so many other breweries, they sit in a railway arch, moving to the rhythm of the trains running overhead, and expanded into the arch next door last year in order to keep up with demand. They’re at the heart of the Bermondsey Beer Mile, resulting in a packed taproom on Saturday afternoons in the summer, though when I visited, the brewery was a different kind of busy, with the team brewing, packing, and getting ready for a collaboration with Dark Matter Coffee, from Chicago. The weekend trade at the taproom has caused a need to brew large volumes of their quaffable pale and IPA, though Paul says that their main focus recently has been their lager, which is more German-influenced than Czech. This beer is a testament to the way they brew; it’s given the time and love needed in-tank and is as authentic as it can be, whilst not being a weak imitation and “knocking out any old tosh and calling it a Helles.”
Anspach & Hobday have helped cement themselves as a key player in the London scene through a number of collaborations, including some slightly less conventional pairings. They’ve brewed with breweries such as Weird Beard, Brussels Beer Project, Nanobrasserie L’Ermitage – a fantastic nano-brewery in Brussels – and interestingly, Australian deathcore band, Thy Art Is Murder. This beer, a black Citra sour, will be pouring on the South bar, and I’m looking forward to seeing exactly what it is.
When I arrive at Brick Brewery, it’s a hive of activity. From casks being pressure washed outside to being filled inside and busy brewers – not to mention a TV channel arriving imminently to discuss the European CO2 shortage – they’re definitely busy folk. With a popular taproom in Peckham and beers popping up in more and more places, it’s clear to see that Londoners are enjoying their beer.
Brick Brewery, originally based in a railway arch in Peckham but based in Deptford since last July, have been brewing since the end of 2013. Like many breweries, they come from humble beginnings, with founder Ian brewing in a shed before beginning as a brewery proper. They began by brewing more traditional beer – fairly low ABV styles such as bitter – and continued to do so for a while; they’ve only been brewing higher volumes of hoppier beer in the last few years. They were one of the first London craft breweries to brew a Pilsner, alongside Camden, and their Peckham Pils is one of their most popular and oldest beers.
More recently, their focus has somewhat shifted towards sour beer, with a new beer in the sour series being released every five to six weeks. Working with local emerging artists, including recent graduates from the nearby Camberwell College of Arts, as well as using local ingredients, they’re staying true to their South East London roots. The Strawberry and Cucumber Sour is testament to their brewing ability – being finely balanced and neither too cloying nor watery – and I’m excited to try the upcoming Gooseberry and Elderflower, and Raspberry and Thyme Sours, the latter of which will be pouring at London Craft Beer Festival.
Not focusing particularly on one style, nor bowing to trends, their focus is “beer that’s to be drunk and not thought about” – as head brewer Pete says, it’s nice to use combinations of ingredients that might make people think a little bit, but that’s not provocatively challenging. Having said that, they’re joining the ranks of UK breweries experimenting with newer styles, including many category-disrupting brews.
With their exciting new beers and brilliant core range, I think Brick will make a brilliant addition to the bar.
Having just turned three years old, Mondo’s expansion has been rapid, to say the least, having doubled in size in their first two years. The new brew kit was earmarked for brewing at capacity a good number of months after installation, though they found themselves at full capacity within a matter of weeks – indicative of the demand for their beers. And they haven’t stopped expanding; they’re looking at new tanks being installed within the year.
Mondo’s name – coming from the Italian for ‘world’ – is representative of both who they are and what they do. Founders Todd Matteson and Thomas Palmer, both American, met in London and have been brewing beers drawing influence from all over the world, and have quite a strong global reach, selling beer regularly to Europe, Australia, and Asia. Their core beers are all influenced by American brewing techniques, unsurprisingly, though their specials include beers such as a Mexican lager and a Belgian Strong, and past beers have taken inspiration from Japan and Germany.
As well as sending beer to far reaches of the globe, they also make sure to visit and, where possible, collaborate with local breweries. In the last twelve months, they’ve teamed up with Urban Chestnut, in St Louis, Missouri, Jing-A Brewing Co, in Beijing, Heretic Brew Co in California, Brasserie Outland in Paris, and both To Øl and To Øl’s brewpub Brus in Copenhagen. They describe the process as “leaving a little calling card”, with the intention of collaborating again, thus opening up their own markets abroad and also the reach and awareness of London beer. With their collaborative efforts, however, they’re keen to make sure there’s a story behind the brew, as opposed to collaborating for the sake of it. Whether it’s through a shared importer or becoming friends over time, Mondo make sure the resulting beer is more than a sum of its parts.
Being situated in Battersea, there’s slightly less of a local brewing community than there is in, perhaps Bermondsey; there’s less of an ability to pop round and borrow “the cup of proverbial sugar”. They used their recent third birthday party as an opportunity to put on beers from other South London breweries, and throw a party. They also wanted to say thank you to the breweries in the area and those with whom they have collaborated, who regularly help out and create that thriving South London brewing scene, something which Mondo are incredibly happy to be a part of. It would seem that the South London Brewers’ Bar is simply a gathering of friends, and sharing beers. Count us in.
Orbit have been brewing since 2014, and their focus has long been on more historic European styles, somewhat steering clear of American influences, not solely in an attempt to distinguish themselves from many other breweries; what really interested them were styles with a greater deal of heritage, looking to Belgium, Franconia in the south of Germany, and the Rhineland in the west, for example.
Their flagship beer, Nico, is inspired by Kölsch, a historic style from Cologne, in the Rhineland. Not only is it an easy drinking, high-quality beer, it’s also inspired by the culture of the city from which it originates. Their pale ale, Ivo, another of their core range, was similarly inspired: it used a lot of European hops, and was quite light-bodied in comparison to US-style counterparts, though this has somewhat changed in recent months with much tweaking, taking on more of a West coast style. It’s fair to say that culture is perhaps Orbit’s biggest influence – not only do they look to European beer culture, they also take a lot of influence from music, as is evident in their branding, and the names of the beers (24 Hour Party Pilsner is sheer genius).
There’s a strong independent music theme running through the beers: Ivo is named after Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD records; Nico is named for Nico of Velvet Underground (who is, interestingly, a member of the Päffgen family, a large German brewing family), Neu (Orbit’s Altbier) stems from the Krautrock band from Düsseldorf, the home of Altbier) and Peel, the session beer, is named after the Peel Sessions.
The White Label series, their series of one-off specials, really play with their European influences. Their double dry hopped Table Beer is a nod to the classic style whilst experimenting with hopping techniques, their Sauvin Blanc is a kettle sour with Nelson Sauvin and Hallertau Blanc – a blend of new- and old-world hops – and perhaps the most interesting is the Cuvee de Cologne, a blend of barrel-aged and fresh Kölsch.
With some excellent core beers and intriguing specials, Orbit will make a fantastic addition to this group of brewers.
The South London Brewers’ Bar will be taking on the East London Brewers’ Bar at London Craft Beer Festival – there’s even already contention for the title ‘Party Bar’… Keep an eye out for our write up of the East London bar, coming soon.