This weekend in London was the perfect way to close my summer in Europe and wrap up my summer brewery internship made possible by my Salisbury International Internship Award.
Garrett Oliver credits his time in London as a major reason for his love of beer and his pursuit of it as a career. Having spent time in the U.K. before, I tended to be unimpressed by their beer. Britain is known for specializing in ales. Ales are top fermented beers- beers that are made and fermented at higher temperatures. Ale’s are made hotter from the start- mashing in at upwards of 60 degrees C. The wort is then cooled to 15 degrees C and left to ferment at 20 degrees C (at least NCB Amber is). This is quite warmer than lagers, which are cooled to about 12 degrees C and ferment at about 14 degrees C. This higher heat allows for more active fermentation and allows the yeast to break down more of the fermentable sugars during the fermentation process. This results in Ales usually having higher levels of alcohol as well as more complex flavors and mouth feels. Consider this- Budweiser, Heineken, Carlsberg and Coors are all lager style beers that tend to be accessible to the masses because they are easier on the palate. The craft beer movement however seems to revolve around (Indian) Pale Ales, Amber and Red Ales, and Belgian style wheat ales because of their increased complexity.
Anyhow, back to London. The U.K. also tends to have more sulfates in their water. This plays a unique roll in the brewing process. For instance, when we at NCB make our Amber Ale, we add a few hundred grams of salt to the brewing water to try to mimic the saltier British water. This time in London, I was able to enjoy the beer I tried at several different breweries. This is in part because I understand the brewing process but probably more so because I now understand some British brewing techniques too. The reason British beer may tend to be “room temperature” isn’t because Brits like warm beer. The beer at bars that do come out warmer come out warmer for a couple reasons. This type of beer is known as cask conditioned. This means that they are matured in wooden casks or barrels. This means that the beer does not have external CO2 pumped in to carbonate it and give it those refreshingly looking bubbles. The beer however does have some natural carbonation. But this is a lot less so the beer feels a bit flatter and warmer. In addition, this means that the beer has to be pulled out of the cask. That is why the cask conditioned keg handles require a bit more effort. Instead of a pressurized keg and tap system that pushes the beer out, this beer essentially has to be pulled out of the cask by the bartender.
While I didn’t have enough time to visit each and every micro and craft brewery in London- and I assure you there are a lot- I did get to go to a few to taste, tour and take notes on the environment of their brewery. My first stop was the Temple Brew House. This is a classic albeit young brew pub in central London. It is 8 months young but already quite popular. I was lucky enough to have a “tour” of their “brewery”. They brew about 5000 liters at a time. Their brewhouse is one small room in the basement with three small fermentation vessels upstairs. This was the first real microbrewery I have seen. It is a real micro brewpub however t doesn’t really have that feel. They have done quite well to solidify themselves within the community and have quite a good reputation for their beer and their bar. They have a wide array of beers on taps and in bottles and cans from craft breweries from all over however only 4-6 beers of their own on tap.
I also visited Beavertown Brewery. Beavertown Brewery is located on the outskirts of the city and was a participant in the Brooklyn Brewery Mash Tour London stop. This was a nice brewery to visit not just because of its good beer but more so to see another craft brewery that actually feels like a proper brewery. Beavertown has a brewhouse capacity of 50HL or 5000L. Meaning that each batch is about 5000L compared to NCB’s 4000L single batches. However, they have a much bigger brewery than Temple so they can turn out many more batches, where as Temple brews once about every 8 or 9 days.
Finally I spent some time walking through loads of great markets that now inhabit the Old Truman Brewery campus in East London. I’m sure I will be back in London soon to visit Brew by Numbers and the London Camden Brewery and any new ones that pop up!