Twenty-First Century Brewpub

A ver­sion of this post first appeared in the autumn 2017 edi­tion of the Cam­paign for Real Ale’s quar­ter­ly mag­a­zine BEER and is repro­duced here with per­mis­sion.

To brewers, publicans and drinkers, there is undoubtedly something almost irresistible about the idea of making, serving and drinking beer within the same four walls.

If you’d been around three hun­dred years ago and ordered a quart of beer the chances are you’d be served some­thing brewed metres away from where you drank it. The brew­hous­es weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly on dis­play but any­one who has ever vis­it­ed the Blue Anchor in Hel­ston, Corn­wall, will know how a brew­ery makes itself known even from behind closed doors – with tum­bling steam that car­ries the aro­ma of malt and hops. It seems to make the beer taste bet­ter and cer­tain­ly adds to the romance.

Then, in the 18th and 19th cen­turies, indus­tri­al brew­ing devel­oped, with pro­duc­tion becom­ing ever more cen­tralised in ever big­ger facil­i­ties. By the mid-20th cen­tu­ry a hand­ful of big brew­ing con­cerns were oper­at­ing across the coun­try and the num­ber of ‘home­brew hous­es’ had dwin­dled to few­er than ten.

But in the 1980s, as part of the post-CAM­RA real ale boom with its rejec­tion of the indus­tri­al and mass-pro­duced, the ‘brew­pub’ was invent­ed. The pri­ma­ry dri­ver in that was a brew­ery in the base­ment of a South Lon­don pub, The Goose & Firkin, set up by David and Louise Bruce in 1979. They opened sev­er­al more pubs with their own brew­eries in the decade that fol­lowed, most­ly in Lon­don. The Firkin chain made the Bruces’ for­tune as they sold strong beer brewed on site to pubs rammed with the type of cus­tomer hap­py to pay a lit­tle more for some­thing tru­ly unique.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry Brew­pub”

Vienna Beer at Zero Degrees

Graffiti outside Zero Degrees.

As part of our mission to visit every pub in Bristol* we popped into Zero Degrees on Saturday where, to our surprise, we encountered a beer of the year contender: a Vienna lager of astonishing perfection.

Some­thing like fif­teen years ago (wow) we used to swoon over Mean­time’s Gold­en Beer, which was a kind of doppio mal­to affair, dark­er and heav­ier than a stan­dard Pil­sner but not sick­ly or sweet. It dis­ap­peared from Mean­time’s ros­ter more than a decade ago; thank­ful­ly, the Vien­na Lager (5.3% ABV) at the Bris­tol branch of the Zero Degrees brew­pub is a dead ringer.

It’s per­haps not sur­pris­ing that Zero Degrees, a sim­i­lar­ly lager-focused brew­ery found­ed at around the same time as Mean­time in the same part of the world and tar­get­ing the same mar­ket, should some­times pro­duce beers that resem­ble Mean­time’s. We haven’t dug into it but sus­pect some of the same staff have rotat­ed in and out of those two brew­eries, too, over the years.

But, the Vien­na… It was indeed gold­en – not quite amber, but def­i­nite­ly deep­er than yel­low – and bal­anced mag­i­cal­ly on the knife-sharp edge between all-about-hops and all-about-malt. It was adver­tised as dry-hopped but that did­n’t trans­late into brash­ness. This is the kind of beer that stopped us shrug­ging about lager all those years ago – the kind of beer that makes us say, ‘Wow!’ with­out hav­ing any par­tic­u­lar promi­nent fea­ture to point at. (Fur­ther read­ing.) The wow fac­tor is in the per­fec­tion of its struc­ture, the pre­ci­sion with which each part does its job, the tam­ing of weed and seed into per­fume and bis­cuit when they can so eas­i­ly end up all grass and mud. In the past we’ve had beers at Zero Degrees that lack life but this sparkled and glowed, and had a decent head, with­out being fizzy or like a bub­ble-bath.

An Okto­ber­fest beer also on offer was less suc­cess­ful (dense and dark, but sticky with sug­ar) and a sour cher­ry beer was almost bril­liant except that the sour­ness had a faint sug­ges­tion of hang­over sweat about it.

Over­all, despite our ongo­ing prob­lem with the chilly piz­za restau­rant vibe, we resolved to vis­it Zero Degrees again soon, and more often in gen­er­al. Any­where that is con­sis­tent­ly brew­ing these Con­ti­nen­tal sub-styles, with only taste­ful ‘twists’, deserves a bit of love.

We’re expect­ing this to take sev­er­al years. We’re mak­ing the rules up as we go along, defin­ing ‘pub’ as some­where pri­mar­i­ly defined by the avail­abil­i­ty of beer, and ‘Bris­tol’ as – gulp – the ONS def­i­n­i­tion. Vis­its made to pubs before we moved here in July don’t count; we both have to be present for a vis­it to reg­is­ter; but only one of us has to con­sume an alco­holic drink. We’re up to (checks) 72 so far.

Stumbling Upon The Four Thieves, Battersea

We couldn’t resist following an official-looking brown tourist information sign pointing to ‘Brewery & Distillery’.

Hav­ing set out with no par­tic­u­lar plan in mind oth­er than to find (a) beer we can’t get in Pen­zance and (b) some­where to enjoy lunch with baby-laden friends we trust­ed Clapham, in south west Lon­don, to pro­vide. The sign actu­al­ly direct­ed just across the bor­der into Bat­tersea, to the Four Thieves.

This pub occu­pies a huge build­ing – a for­mer music hall – with dec­o­ra­tive tiling through­out, high ceil­ings, dark cor­ners, a jun­gle-like ‘gin gar­den’, a back room with break­fast buf­fet, a games room with arcade machines and ‘inter­ac­tive expe­ri­ences’, and, of course, a sub­stan­tial glass-front­ed brew­house.

It’s got a touch of the 2005 about it – that curlicued bou­tique-hotel styling that was all the rage before the indus­tri­al look took over – which, frankly, made rather a pleas­ant change. (Or maybe we’re just get­ting old.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Stum­bling Upon The Four Thieves, Bat­tersea”

Walk, Don’t Run

Fermentation Tank

This week, we were asked (not for the first time) if we had any plans to open a brew­ery.

Who doesn’t have plans? Plans are excit­ing. When we’re wan­der­ing the clifftops, we spend hours talk­ing about pos­si­ble brew­pubs, brew­eries and busi­ness mod­els.

Will any of them ever be realised? Prob­a­bly not.

We’ve tast­ed too many beers brewed by peo­ple run­ning before they can walk — sour, chalky, nasty-smelling con­coc­tions that we’d have poured down the drain if they’d come out of our plas­tic home­brew fer­ment­ing buck­et, but which peo­ple have had the nerve to bot­tle and sell. For real mon­ey.

Either they know it’s crap and they’re sell­ing it any­way (cyn­i­cal) or, worse, they real­ly can’t tell how bad it is. No-one who’s not fussy about beer ought to be brew­ing.

When we brew at home, although our beer is increas­ing­ly drink­able, it’s rarely the strength or colour we were expect­ing, and we’ve nev­er suc­cess­ful­ly repli­cat­ed a recipe. In the unlike­ly event that we sud­den­ly find our­selves in pos­ses­sion of the kind of cap­i­tal nec­es­sary to start even a mod­est-sized brew­ery, we wouldn’t want to. Not yet.

Two of our best idle dreams c.2007: get­ting the then dis­used brew­ery at the back of the William IV in Ley­ton going again, and buy­ing the rights to the Tru­man name to take advan­tage of the free adver­tis­ing all over Lon­don. Heh.