by Andrea DiCenzo
Sweeping through cities in the United States, Australia, Italy, France and more recently, the United Kingdom, the craft beer revolution is now on a worldwide stage. And in keeping with the creative and entrepreneurial spirit of London's bustling borough of Hackney, a community of innovative brewers are continuing to turn heads around the neighborhood and abroad with a range of exciting specialty brews. In truth, beer has been brewing in the UK since before the Middle Ages, and with such a strong and proud heritage of Real Ale, it's no wonder the UK has been slow to pick up new trends for its beloved beverage. Still, pub owners, breweries and beer enthusiasts alike have realized there is room for everybody in the beer business.
"10 years ago, there was just Meantime and Fuller's at one point," suggests chef Tim Anderson, of Masterchef UK fame and frequent brewery collaborator. "Currently there are 45 breweries in London, which makes the most breweries there have been since the Victorian Age." And if you've never been to the UK before, there's one thing to know about the British: they love beer. This new crop of microbreweries in East London is keeping tradition alive while producing really interesting, experimental brews. Here's a selection of some of the best beers in London at the moment—all created within the city's industrious borough of Hackney.
Selling its first beer in January this year, Pressure Drop might be new to the scene, but it is fast on its way to becoming a local favorite with its well-balanced mix of traditional beers as well as a few more experimental, artisanal beers—such as their cleverly named Wu Gang Chops The Tree.
"At the moment we have six beers in core range," explains owner Graham O'Brien, "We do a pale ale, brown ale, porter." The list seems relatively traditional enough at first, but Pressure Drop also makes "forged herb Hefeweisse, smoked wheat beer and wit." Friend and collaborator Anderson chimes in, "A lot of breweries, when they start off, come out with the standard Blonde Ale, the bitters, a lager maybe and a stout and a porter. Just the basics. But you guys came out swinging with the weird shit."
For Pressure Drop, there is an emphasis on creating beers that are terrific to drink, but also complimentary to their food pairings. The foraged herb Hefeweisse is described as a prefect match for a classic roast chicken, and the dark smoky wheat beer Freimann's Dunkleweiss—when matched with a BLT—is dubbed the perfect hangover cure.
Just down the street from the archway unit that holds Pressure Drop is Howling Hops. Just under a year old, and located under the new Cock Tavern (a cozy, wood paneled, English pub), Howling Hops Brewery is only serving its own clientele above, and a limited list of other pubs. Brewer Ed Taylor says it pains him to have to turn other distributors away but, with plans for expansion, that will be changing very soon. Like Pressure Drop, Howling Hops is another brewery that isn't afraid of experimentation; the brewery has somewhere between 15 to 20 beers, depending on when you happen to walk in. "We just rotate through our beers, we make all sorts," says Taylor. And while Howling Hops doesn't have a set range in particular, they do have core styles that will always be on tap.
Having a constant demand for beer right above your brewery seems to have its advantages; one being that it allows the company to really explore different variation of beer. "We're making exciting things," says Taylor. "We have a rhubarb beer, horse radish beer, wild hops and we have an elderflower beer coming up in two weeks' time."
Five Points Brewing Company
Taking on a completely different approach to brewing is the newly active Five Points Brewing Company. Having brewed its first beer in March of this year, owner of the Duke of Wellington pub, Ed Mason has gone to great lengths to set up an excellent brewery. Unlike Howling Hops and Pressure Drop, Five Points made a conscience decision to focus on three flagship beers: a pale ale with American hops, a red rye, and a London porter. "We will expand our range in due course, but we wanted to launch three core, flagship beers that we are really proud of and really happy with," says Mason.
"A lot of breweries open and it's like they are kids in a candy shop. They want to brew as many different types of beer as possible and that's cool and it works for some people, but I just felt that we really wanted to focus on the flagship brand that we would always develop and sell." The differences in brewing might be the key to success for all these breweries, there are distinct personalities and approaches that foster brotherly support and respect rather than aggressive competitiveness between brands. Mason adds, "I think Howling Hops is really good. They make really good beers."
Five months in, the company is already rolling out beer to its own pub, The Duke of Wellington, and additional pubs around town, off-licenses and the neighborhood's pioneering retailer, Borough Wines. All of this production is part of what Mason refers to as a "soft launch mode," meaning the company is still tweaking its recipes and branding. Each label on the bottles has the date, origin of hops, as well as the batch number. "We're trying to be transparent about the process with people, take them on a bit of a journey with us."
Like Howling Hops, Beavertown is another brewery that started underneath a pub. The pub is Duke's Brew and Que—an American-style BBQ spot in De Beauvoir Town in Hackney. The oldest brewery on the list, Beavertown was conceived in December 2011 in the kitchen of Duke's. Originally perceived as the perfect beer to go with the sweet and smoky flavors of the restaurant's wood-smoked ribs and mouth-watering pulled pork, the brewery aspect of this joint venture has fared so well that owners Byron Knight and Logan Plant have had to relocate to a much larger facility.
They have now set up shop over in Hackney Wick, where the additional space allows them to produce enough beer to supply their own pub, as well as a number of others throughout the UK. They have a core range of five steadfast beers—one brew, called Black Betty, is a Black IPA with an impressive 7.4% alcohol content. But they also proudly support their dedication to creating new beers with their Alpha Series Experimental Ales. Keeping up a high level of innovation, Beavertown tries to produce a new Alpha Series every few weeks, as well as commission local artists to design their eye-catching labels.
Images by Andrea DiCenzo