Long reads

Diastaticus yeasts and their role in your beer

Diastaticus yeasts can be used to produce complex and interesting beers, and Saison style beers are the perfect case in point. But we also have a responsibility as producers and consumers to take these yeasts seriously and to handle them appropriately, explains Robert Percival, regional sales manager for Europe at Lallemand Brewing

It seems a life time ago now but “The summer of Saison” hailed the revival of a much loved and mysterious beer style, and arguably Saison style beers have been a staple favourite of the modern craft beer sector since, albeit a relatively specialist niche style. Indeed, Saison style beers are certainly nothing new. On the contrary, this historical beer style has been brewed for centuries.

Originally hailing from French-Belgian border regions (Wallonia in particular) this simple and thirst quenching farmhouse beer style was brewed in the winter months and consumed by sated seasonal farm workers (“Saisonniers”) toiling away in the height of the summer, what could be more refreshing? Traditionally, the recipe composition of these beers has been quite simple (see overleaf for an example recipe with a modern twist). Simple grist and modest flavourings (with hops and/or spices) make way for the centre piece of the beer; the yeast. 

Saison yeasts are revered for their complex aromatic and flavour qualities, offering something unique and complex; citrusy esters balanced with spicy peppery notes and typical phenols we have come to associate with Belgium in particular. They are top fermenting yeasts that have high temperature tolerance and can be brewed in ranges as extreme as 15-35C.

As our collective understanding of yeasts has advanced, so too has our appreciation for the darker arts of fermentation. In this regard Saison yeasts, largely defined by their high attenuation, are classified as Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus. The ability to ferment dextrins and starch not fermentable by other brewing strains presents a quality control challenge. 

Cross contamination with Diastaticus yeasts (not necessarily saison style yeasts) have certainly been making the headlines in recent times with some notable lawsuits ongoing in the US as well as a number of high profile and public product recalls closer to home in the UK in 2018, so very much a relevant and timely topic to focus on. Once of the most serious threats that Diastaticus yeast poses to product integrity is over-carbonation, with the potential of excess CO2 evolution leading to gushing and even exploding final pack product. 

This article seeks to introduce and highlight the unique nature of diastaticus yeasts, what they are, sources, how they can be detected and how they should be handled. Knowledge sharing and fundamentally understanding what we are working with as brewers is essential not only to consistent product quality but also consumer safety.

What is Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus?

Diastaticus yeasts, a variant of S. cerevisiae, are found naturally in a wide range of environments and are also used in commercial applications such as brewing and baking. Where they vary from typical ale strains of S.cerevisiae is that they crucially possess STA (1, 2 or 3) genes. It is these genes that set Diastaticus apart and enable the yeast to produce and secrete glucoamylase enzyme. 

This enzyme and mechanism is familiar to us and very relevant to Brut IPA, for example, as covered in November 2018 edition of the Brewers Journal (A Paterson, pp 58-62) as well as low carbohydrate and higher ABV beers. As highlighted in last month’s Brut IPA article, this enzyme acts upon dextrin material in wort (which typically provides body and mouthfeel) by hydrolysing both alpha 1,6 and 1,4 bonds one glucose unit away from the end of the starch chain releasing free glucose into solution.

This newly created glucose is then utilised by the yeast producing alcohol and CO2, which causes a very high degree of attenuation (>90%). Diastaticus is also known to be temperature and alcohol tolerant so can be considered robust and able to survive in hostile environments. 

How Can I detect Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. diastaticus?

Herein lies one of the issues with Diastaticus yeasts, they are not always necessarily easy to detect. Sources within the brewery can include packaging lines (surprisingly >70% of reported cases), transfer hoses, pipework and in fermentation and cellaring areas. In this respect hygiene is crucially important and working with and seeking recommendations and best practice from chemical suppliers can be invaluable. 

So, too, can the source come from raw materials; ensuring a high quality and pure supply of yeast is of course essential. Does your yeast supplier include testing for Diastaticus as part of their QC release for example? Wild yeasts, including Diastaticus yeasts, have also been found on hops and something very relevant to bear in mind for breweries adding dry hops post fermentation and without pasteurising/sterilising final product. 

Two of the most common methods for detection of Diastaticus yeasts include plating on selective media (LCSM or starch plates) and genetics (PCR detection of the STA genes). 

One of the primary difficulties of such testing is that low levels of Diastaticus can be incredibly difficult to detect in the presence of other brewing yeasts and so can be like looking for a needle in a hay stack. There is no acceptable level of diastaticus in a finished beer – even single cells can cause problems. Since Diastaticus yeast can be active at very low cell counts, detection limits are set by the sample volume. 

For example, if there are 100 diastaticus cells per litre we would expect to have to sample at least 100ml of beer before we would expect to find a single cell. As well as plating and PCR, recent developments have been made in using a modified Durham tube method (which has the advantage of being able to detect as little as 10 cells of in 1 billion brewing yeast cells) and similarly the Ankom test, in which fully attenuated beer is inoculated with sample yeast to test for further attenuation. A summary table outlining these key methods along with their respective pros and cons can be found in the best practices summary page overleaf.

How can contamination and over carbonation be prevented?

Cleaning and sanitation is the obvious area to focus on. Inadequate hygiene in the brewery can lead to formation of biofilm where Diastaticus yeasts have been active, which can be more resistant to cleaning regimes. Best practice CIP should be followed which can be further monitored by using cleaning controls such as swab testing and ATP strips. 

If Diastaticus yeast has been used in primary fermentation (for example brewing a Saison beer) allow fermentation to fully complete before further processing and packaging, which could include allowing additional conditioning time to ensure complete attenuation. Using dedicated equipment such as hoses and vessels and keeping these isolated from other beer production and streams is another option to consider in limiting the potential of cross contamination. 

Removal or inactivation of the yeast itself from the beer is another option to prevent re-fermentation and over carbonation and could be achieved via pasteurisation, filtration or specific separation (centrifugation for example). For breweries that dry hop their beers one option could be to test incoming hops and to treat/sterilise if necessary, though there would be the obvious limitations of sampling and getting an accurate representation of a batch/crop of hops.

Whereas we have a responsibility as producers and consumers to take yeasts like Diastaticus seriously and handle appropriately, this is not to say they should not be used in brewing. On the contrary, Diastaticus yeasts can be used to produce complex and interesting beers and Saison style beers are the perfect case in point. 

As continuation of this article our best practices guide to Diastaticus can be found below and we have also included an example recipe for a Saison style beer. Happy (and safe) brewing!

Doing things their own way | Hackney Brewery

Established in 2011, Hackney Brewery could be considered something of a veteran of the modern London brewing scene. Starting out as a cask outfit, the company has quietly, and diligently, gone about putting out quality, consistent beers. And like any good business, they’ve changed with the times. With that, it looks like 2019 could the brewery’s biggest year yet.

Every day at Hackney Brewery is a bring your dog to work day. And if that isn’t enough for you to want to visit, or perhaps work there, then I’m afraid I can’t help you. You are, perhaps, beyond saving.

You see, dogs are a big part of the Hackney Brewery family. There’s Bruce (Health and Safety) who belongs to the company’s co-founder Jon Swain, while Peter Hills, the brewery’s other co-founder, is proudly accompanied by Gruff (HR) during working hours. You also have Roddy, an eager, bouncy Golden Retriever who’s the newest member of the canine team and an excellent companion to brewer Simone Christiano.

Hackney Brewery sans head brewer Dan. December, 2018.

Like I said, dogs are an important, nay essential, part of life at Hackney Brewery. And it’s all the better for it. 

The first thing that strikes you at Hackney Brewery, located minutes off the borough’s frenetic Kingsland Road, is that the team forms one cohesive unit. Despite the absence (owing to paternity leave) of head brewer Darren Walker, Swain, Hills and Christiano are joined by brewer Steve Lawler. 

This team is completed by Dan Sharp and Kris Kardos in sales, and the brewery’s drivers Reece and Ren. Everyone is playing their role, pulling their weight, and pushing in the same direction. Apart from the dogs, of course. When they’re allowed out, the yard is their stomping ground and who are you to tell them otherwise….

Hackney Brewery is looking to this year with confidence, and a sense of satisfaction. A major refit completed in 2017 saw them move from a 5bbl brewhouse up to a 15bbl system. Perhaps more importantly was the move from open top fermentors to cylindrical vessels. Eight FVs were installed initially and another two followed in subsequent months. It represented a changing of the tides with a move away from open top vessels and with it, a transition from a business that started out in the production of cask beer. The move from having to brew 10 times a week on a 5bbl kit to five times on a 15bbl setup in the same period was welcome, too. 

“We had to pull everything apart,” explains Swain. “The original setup served us well, but when you are producing hoppy pales and relying on open-top fermentors, then you’re losing all of that aroma right off the bat. The change with our new brewhouse and the vessels with it has been all important.”

Swain and Hills designed the brewhouse, equipment that was then fabricated in the UK. Pulling apart the existing 5bbl setup to ascertain what worked, and what new additions were needed from the proceeding investment, was never likely to phase the duo. Nor was handling the water, electrics and plumbing. Hardly surprising considering they’ve had experience turning a disused warehouse into a living space and refurbishing a boat that Hills now calls home.

Swain first met Hills back in 2005 at The Eagle in Farringdon, a resilient and popular spot frequently referred to as the UK’s first Gastropub. What would be Swain’s first shift on the bar was Hills’ last. He wasn’t going to far, though. Just to the kitchen, to be exact, where he’d pursue a career as a chef.

“Like all good ideas, it happened over a few beers. We realised we were both interested in beer and the production of it,” explains Swain. “My dad used to make fruit wines while Peter’s grandad produced those kit beers you’d buy from the high street. So we delved straight into making homebrew and in those early days, YouTube was very much our friend.”

Roddy, the latest addition to the Hackney team with Bruce (Health & Safety)

The duo continued in earnest before Hills departed to France to pursue his culinary career. Swain continued brewing and a role change led him to the historic Charles Lamb pub located in the backstreets of Angel in North London. 

Swain and Hills remained in contact and as the latter’s sojourn overseas came to an end, Hills took his culinary skills to the aforementioned Angel hostelry. 

“We still had that passion for beer so we visited breweries such as Brodie’s, Greene king, Sambrook’s and Redemption to get a better idea of the brewing landscape,” says Hills. “While we originally had the idea of finding our own pub, something we could run alongside some ex-colleagues, we simply couldn’t find a suitable site and we eventually went our separate ways.”

Swain adds: “The problem is, one of our old managers had explained how he wanted to setup a brewery in Scotland and retire. We liked that idea. The same day Peter saw a brewery van pass by and we took that as a sign. We needed to pursue this. We wanted a brewery!”

A foot in the door

And by 2011, they had their site, which is located on Laburnum St in E2. Although the Hackney Brewery of 2019 produces hoppy IPAs, Kölsch, fruited stouts and sours, the original iteration of the business was exclusively cask. Other breweries in the area would also have cask in their armoury, such as Beavertown, which opened one week after Hackney flung open its doors. It wasn’t just Beavertown and Hackney, either. At least 18 breweries started business in the months that followed.

“We started somewhat under the radar and you could argue we’ve remained that way,” says Swain. “It is both a good thing and a bad thing. We’ve always been a lean team, funded by ourselves and without a great deal of major investment in heavy equipment. But we’re happy with the progress we’ve made.”

Swain is also amused with talk of how tough the marketplace is in 2019, noting that it was far from a bed of roses in those formative years. 

“People talk about how challenging it is now, but it was hard then!” he laughs. “The thing is, people didn’t know what craft beer was, so we’d have to call up mates, and lean on previous relationships. Without that early support, we wouldn’t have been able to get going.”

And get going, they did. A focus on cask in the early years saw a transition to keg in 2014. The sweeping popularity of keg beer, like many breweries, took Hackney with it. Customers were demanding such beer and the brewery dutifully obliged. Though production on a kit designed for cask made such output taxing, and exhausting. So when it came to refitting the brewery back in 2017, the team needed to look inwards and decide what form they wanted the next chapter of Hackney Brewery’s story to take.

Gruff (HR) was unable to define ‘Craft’ so was denied his afternoon playtime

Since their introduction, beers such as the Kölsch and Kapow! have proved incredibly popular, while the brewery’s Golden Ale, Red Ale and Best Bitter have been phased out.

It’s a move that’s worked for the business, too. Its keg output has continued to grow in quality, consistency and visibility. The 4.7% Kölsch and 4.5% Kapow! Lead the charge, while the imminent launch of its new XPA builds upon the success of one of 2018’s standout beers, Unicorn Rodeo.

Unicorn Rodeo, a DDH XPA was the perfect tonic to the sweltering heat at the London Brewers Alliance festival, hosted by Fuller’s at its West London brewery back in June 2018. The beer was part of a release programme that marked a new dawn at Hackney. Settled on their new kit, and armed with additional capacity, the team were able to engage in collaborations and seasonal beers for the first time in their history.

Expansion and experimentation

The year kicked off with Sleeping Giants, a 5% New England style produced in collaboration with Brooklyn’s KCBC. Calypso, Huell Melon and Citra were added to the kettle followed by a dry hop of Calypso, Huell Melon, Citra and Mosaic.

The company then brought back its popular peach and basil sour in the form of Millions of Peaches, a 4.0% number that left bars and bottle shops as soon as it was delivered. Elsewhere in 2018, the brewery worked with Finback and Barrier Brewing, both from New York, on IPAs and fruited stouts. 

However, it was Underground, a Passion Fruit Sour produced in collaboration with Ozone Coffee that really challenged drinkers’ tastebuds and tasked the brewery with the idea of how far they could push coffee as an ingredient in beer.

“In the hunt for flavours and quality in every aspect of the brewery, we wanted to dive into the deep dark water of our morning ritual and see how far we can go. Coffee is the fuel of the brewery,” says Swain. “Both the beer and coffee industries have progressed further into the science and understanding of the raw ingredients. Methods of production have advanced to present the subtle and nuanced flavours they hold. It seemed a bit crass to just throw some finely roasted coffee into a dark stout.”

With that mission statement in mind, the brewery immersed itself in various events, festivals and the expertise of industry pros such as renowned coffee expert Freda Yuan.

“She guided me through the growing process of the trees and harvesting of the fruit, to the three types of processing. Natural processed coffee, where they leave it out in the sun to ferment and dry, washed where they crush the fruit and wash off the fruit flesh before drying and Honeyed which is not as vigorously washed,” he says. “Each containing different flavour profiles form the same seeds.”

With knowledge of what coffee is and having seen what is on offer. the next phase was working out what they can do at the brewery. Swain, and head brewer Darren Walker imbibed a variety of different coffee beers at last year’s popular Uppers and Downers event in London.

Swain says: “From stouts to kvass, everything was on show here from the UK’s finest breweries. If anywhere would layout the possibilities of what could be done, it would be here! This was where we finally pieced together some ideas of how we could use coffee as a flavour alongside other ingredients.”

So in stepped the gang at Ozone. The independent company’s roaster is in the basement and stepping in through the door you are met with waves of fresh roasted and ground coffee aromas. Hackney Brewery met with the team and were presented with an array of what they can do with their coffee creations. A cold brew coffee and tonic and coffee served with passion fruit and honey infused milk were the highlights. 

Then came the lightbulb moment, something that tied together Passion Fruit, Coffee and Sour. Using the sour base from the aforementioned ‘Millions Of Peaches’, the brewery added 100Kg of passion fruit and then we were faced with the coffee… 

Ozone came to the brewery armed with a grinder and 100Kg of fresh roasted coffee and set to work prepping the grounds. A newly acquired hopinator was repurposed as a large coffee percolator. The central post was lined with multiple layers of filter paper, the fresh grinds were poured in with some hot water, then pushed it into the fermenter. It took three full loads to get all the fresh brew into the beer, Swain recalls.

The result is a truly unique beer, and one well worth tracking down. Though pretty hard to come by, it will be worth the effort as it’s a beer that’s unlikely to see the light of day again anytime soon.

Jon Swain and (Master) Bruce

“2018 was a year of change for us. For the first time, it was possible, and made sense to experiment more and work with other breweries, which was a real privilege,” Swain says. “We spent 2017 getting the grips with the new setup but with that achieved, we were able to push ourselves more.”

And that will continue this year, with at least 12 specials planned for release over 2019. Those beers, coupled with an established core, will enable the brewery to continue growing in its segment, because as Hills explains, “we’re not looking for world domination”.

“With the slice of the pie that we operate within, it’s a case of the quality of the outlets. And with that, there’s a finite amount,” says Swain. “At our core, we are very local. We don’t sell into big national operators, so it’s a case of focusing on existing and new relationships to grow.”

Growing as a team

For Hills and Swain, growing external relationships is only part of the picture. They are particularly proud of the working culture that exists at Hackney, and that’s one of self-improvement. 

Every brewer is working towards their IBD diploma as part of their employment, a move that benefits both brewer and business.  

“We always want to improve, we just want to get better,” says Hills. “If you’re part of the Hackney team, your opinion and your voice is as important as anyone else’s. We attract great people but we also know that not every brewer is in that job for life.”

He adds: “Who knows where we’re all going? But if we can hold on to these people, and look after them, for as long as possible, then that’s good news for everyone.”

Such a diplomatic, though optimistic, approach is one the duo have taken in 2019.

“We’ve achieved our three year plan, so now we can stop and think,” Swain explains. “We need to work out what’s going on with the future. But for the moment, we can be introspective, focus on dialling-in more recipes, specifications, and to make more of the beer we want. We want improved quality and consistency in every beer we make.”

Hills adds: “We just want to get better and better, growing organically and on own terms. 

“We are not trying to take over the world. We just want to make excellent beer, underpinned with the right ethics, the right attitude and the right culture.”

Dear John | Give and Take

Many brewers have learned from John Keeling, the former head brewer at Fuller’s. Equally, he spent much of his brewing career seeking wisdom from others, too. Here, he touches upon some of the changes to take place during his time at Fuller’s and explains that the power of the team is always greater than the individual.

I joined Fuller’s in January 1981. At that time,Fuller’s produced about 70,000 barrels per year and it owned 90 pubs. Around 80% of the brewery’s beer went to their pubs while the rest went to free trade.

Bottling mainly produced bottled Guinness, the kegger mainly handled lager bought in under contract and the cask line, by far the biggest volume, produced London Pride, ESB and Chiswick. 

Indeed, such was the demand for cask beer that each one of those was produced in barrels (36-gallon containers) and firkins were a relatively small volume. As an aside, the bottled Guinness from Fuller’s had a very good reputation and at the time, Fuller’s used flash pasteurisation for their beers rather than tunnel pasteurisation. This meant we were very good at sterile filling, something that helped enormously when we went on to produce bottle conditioned Fuller’s beers.

Now, Fullers produces around 205,000 barrels of beer per year and own nearly 400 pubs. Nearly 80% of the beer is sold outside of Fuller’s pubs and barrels have long since disappeared, while firkins are nearly 100 % of the racking output with very few kilderkins produced. Bottled Guinness has also sadly disappeared, with the bottling line running flat out producing Fuller’s beers for the export market and supermarkets. Kegging still produces lots of keg contracted lager but Fuller’s keg beers have grown considerably.

The market has changed and Fuller’s have changed with the market.

When I was interviewed for the job of junior brewer, which carried a starting salary of £5,000, the process was carried out by Graham Ure the retiring brewing director and Reg Drury, the newly appointed brewing director. I later found out that Graham had been a brewer for the Army during the war and had served on a ship that was a floating brewery.

Reg, of course, was a great influence on me. He was the person who taught me how to be a head brewer in their brewery, how to plan for the future, how to deal with other departments and how to look after your team. During my time with the brewery. Fuller’s has always been great investors in the future and new technology.

I worked for Reg on many great projects including Fuller’s first new brewhouse for 125 years. Other projects included a new cask line, kegging line, warehouse, bottling line and numerous tank farms. In fact, we rebuilt the brewery under Reg and I saw first hand the pressure put on him to succeed. The future of Fuller’s was in his hands.

When Reg decided to retire, he told me that one of the reasons was that the cask line was wearing out and he didn’t want to be the man to replace it. He was tired of the stress and strain. 

Instead, I would have to do it

I remember when we first produced London Porter.  After racking it into cask, it turned out to be very flat and Reg was worried. We stood next to the casks sampling them and realising they were all flat. Reg said what should we do? 

I answered by saying that the beer had enough fermentable sugar and the yeast was viable. 

All it needed was time. 

Reg seized on this and told me I was right and that we would give it four days on the floor to make the condition. Of course, Reg would have realised this but with all the other pressures on him he hadn’t got the time to think. I was glad that on this occasion I could do his thinking for him. This made me realise that a problem shared is a truly a problem halved. The power of the team is always greater than the individual.

Fuller’s were one of the first breweries to use conical fermenters for ale and started to use centrifuges in 1976! At the time they dabbled with becoming an all keg brewery for draught beer. They quickly decided against this when CAMRA arrived on the scene, but quickly adapted new technology for the production of cask beer, which gave the beer greater consistency and quality. Fuller’s never won a prize using the old open squares, all their prizes were won with conical brewed and centrifuged beers.

“A problem shared is a truly a problem halved. The power of the team is always greater than the individual.”

Funny enough it wasn’t Reg’s idea to get centrifuges but Philip Eliot’s. Philip was what everybody called a character. He was, in actual fact, the uncle of Anthony Fuller and the assistant head brewer. He ran brewing, fermentation and maturation. My first job was to work for him. I greatly enjoyed it even though Philip had a bit of a temper which would blow up quickly but just as quickly disappear. He was a very fair man who after bawling you out would then insist on buying you a pint, although it would be Chiswick Bitter (he never drank or bought anything else). 

When he retired we calculated that he accounted for 0.5% of the total Chiswick sales.

One of the things he did for me was tell me months before informing the company that he was to retire. He then told me I had six months to learn his job so that I would be the logical choice to take over from him. He got me my first promotion, although I dare say Reg had me marked out for this also.

Another person who had a great influence on me was Ken Don, the head brewer of Wandsworth-based Young’s. He really showed me how to be a head brewer outside of your brewery. Ken has always helped young brewers and put plenty back in to the industry he loves. 

He was chairman of the Heriot-Watt former brewer’s association, sat on the advisory board and was chairman of the London and South Section of the brewer’s guild. I too have held all those positions because I also want to put something back in the industry. Finally, Ken loved meeting drinkers and did many meet the brewer events, something I enjoy doing to. This really does keep you in touch with the drinker and enables you to interpret marketing data better

I have tried to take all those influences and use them as an inspiration for my own work in brewing. Hopefully, in another article, I will write about my years as a brewing director and look at how Fuller’s changed in that period and how I put into practice everything I had been taught.

Embrace the opportunity | Brixton Brewery

Brixton Brewery has done a great job of placing South London on the brewing map since starting out in 2013. But a life-changing approach from Heineken has allowed the team to accelerate their growth plans, employ more staff and increase the brewery’s visibility. And they’re just getting started, reports Tim Sheahan.

A year can be a long time, and it can also fly by. At times, it can feel like both.

I first met Jez Galaun, co-founder of Brixton Brewery, back in 2016. Dressed head to toe in brewing overalls, he was under the cosh, balancing half a dozen different tasks while also overseeing a brew at the company’s railway arch brewery. 

The South London site – just a stone’s throw from the frenetic, melting-pot high road that connects Brixton Road and Brixton Hill – was full to the brim. This was the sign of a business enjoying steady growth, but one that was balancing the endless commitments that comes with such territory. 

It was a moment that is both a distant memory, yet one this writer recalls vividly.

Fast-forward more than 18 months and Galaun is in attendance at the inaugural Brewers Congress 2017, an educational event organised by this very publication. Talks were delivered on areas such as branding, the barriers to growth, as well as the exciting opportunities that are out there for breweries.

The following day, Brixton Brewery announced the biggest news in its short history. That it had partnered with Heineken UK in a deal that would enable the business to open a second site in Brixton, boost capacity nearly tenfold from its 3,000hl site to up to 30,000hl, and significantly grow its team as a result.

One year on, Galaun and Brixton Brewery, co-founded by Libby Galaun, Mike Ross and Xochitl Benjamin, are looking very much at ease in their new home. But they know this is just the beginning. 

“It was surreal and somewhat strange being in a room with all of our peers without anyone knowing,” explains Galaun. “The year that has followed was crazy, if I’m honest. Building a new brewery feels like starting again.”

He adds: “We’ve had much to learn and we want to go as fast as we can, but we’re particularly conscious of the pressure that would put on us as a team. So we’re simply trying to build things up step by step.”

And that’s exactly the approach they’ve taken. The new brewhouse, manufactured by Gravity Systems, has produced in excess of 50 batches since it was commissioned earlier this year. The brewery also has a sales team for the first time in its five-year history. 

The imminent appointment of new sales person complements a sales manager and brewery ambassador, tasked with winning new business outside of the brewery’s South London home where much of its beer has traditionally been sold.

“London is a big market and to make a mark, you are going to wear out a lot of shoe leather,” says Galaun. “Until we moved into this brewery, we focused a lot on small pack as it helped us get our beer out there. When you’ve only got a little bit of beer to sell, you focus on the smaller containers. We can change that now.”

Fifty percent of their beer produced at the brewery’s old – and still operational – site at Arch 547 on Brixton Station Road went into bottle, while the remainder was split between cask and keg. Since the move, close to 70 percent of the beer Brixton Brewery produces goes into keg while the rest is canned and bottled.

“We really want to make our canning line sweat in 2019,” he says.

The scale and scope of Brixton Brewery’s new facility is impressive, but there is still much room to grow into, as well. New FV tanks will arrive in the new year while the bottling line, currently operational at its older site, will be moved into the new brewery so to bring all packaging under one roof.

This methodical approach follows months of getting to grips with the company’s new brewhouse. Such a jump has been exciting for the team, but it’s not without its challenges, too. 

“We’ve wanted, and needed, to take time to understand the different efficiencies this new kit offers. Whether that’s how we extract sugars from the malt, or the flavour and bitterness from the hops,” says Galaun. “We also need to make sure that we are getting the right yield from the equipment, because that doesn’t simply happen straightway. 

“When we started brewing at the new brewhouse, we were getting the flavour we wanted but not the right amount of beer. So we had to adjust things by increasing the amount of wort we were casting from the brewhouse to the fermenters.

“With that, the flavour changes so you’ve got to dial things back in with the amount of dry hop. It has taken quite a few brews of each recipe to say ‘ok we’re happy’ with this flavour profile and the amount of beer we’ve produced. That has been an interesting experience and not something we have had to do before,” he says.

While Heineken has offered its expertise at many levels, it hasn’t engaged in much hand-holding as Galaun and the team grow into their new brewery.

“They don’t brew on this scale or produce the style of beers we brew. But they’ve helped in terms of project management and getting the brewery up-and-running,” he says. “What’s also been valuable is the way they’ve helped in getting the kit in the right place, not just for our needs today, but in five-years time.”

For Galaun, the new site has a logical flow with raw materials coming in one end, going into the brewhouse, then fermentation, before packaging and warehousing. This setup has allowed the team to reach their production goals for 2018, which is producing close to double the 3,000hl capacity its arch site is capable of.

At its maximum, the new setup could produce 30,000hl per annum, but Gallaun sees such output as a way off yet.

“This facility is big enough to hold tanks to produce such volumes, but that’s a lot of brews each week on a brewhouse that isn’t automated. We wanted it that way. We wanted that manual level of control and intervention we had on our old system,” he says. “Other brewhouses were more automated, more suited to brewing multiple times a day.”

What Brixton Brewery did specify though was a whirlpool, with Heineken recommending a three degree slope on such a system.

“Like anything else, they didn’t recommend kit we should buy, they just sanity checked things and ensured each supplier was providing us quality equipment,” he adds.

The addition of a canning line was a big move for Brixton Brewery, kit that has perhaps unsurprisingly been specified with the ability to fill 440ml cans when required. This is something that will see the light of day in 2019, with Galaun identifying lager and “hazy, hoppy beers” likely to be distributed in such vessels. 

While Brixton Brewery always planned to grow, expand and invest in new kit, the Heineken partnership enabled the team to accelerate such plans. 

They’ve never looked back.

“It was serendipity, I suppose,” says Galaun. “We had long reached maximum capacity in the Brixton arch. There was no way we could add any more fermenters!” 

With that, the company identified an 8,000sqft site located on Brixton Hill, half the size of the site they now have. However that site came off the market and at the same time, late 2016, they received an approach from Heineken.

“They emailed out of the blue to tell us that they liked what we were doing, their desire to talk and to discuss how we could work together. It was to the point,” he explains.

Galaun says he and the team were “humbled” that such as business had noticed what they were doing on a relatively local, modest level.

“You don’t get that type of email every day, and we’re an open-minded bunch so it made obvious sense to agree to talk,” he says. 

“And we made them come and brew with us!” laughs co-founder Xochitl Benjamin. “We outlined our vision for the business and that was something they wanted to get behind. We don’t think this current setup would have been achievable for us if we had used crowdfunding or similar.”

These discussions continued for 12 months until Brixton Brewery announced the deal in November 2017. And the team remain heartened by the response to news.

“We had a lot of people congratulate us, acknowledge the hard work we had put in and tell us it was a great opportunity for us and our beers,” recalls Galaun. “That meant a lot.”

He adds: “A lot of breweries in our position know how hard it is to grow in London when it comes to identifying suitable space. We were fortunate to find a path to allow us to carry on with our journey; there’s a lot of breweries looking for that same next step. They could relate to us and the opportunity we were given.

“For us, much of this partnership is about us making the best beer we can. We want to place Brixton on the map for great beer. That’s not something we felt we could do as well in the old site when it comes to the level of quality control and analysis. But we can, now.”

Galaun is enthused with the beer the brewery is producing, noting a stable wort heated by its steam system. Packaging quality has experienced an uplift too, with lower dissolved oxygen levels being achieved in the three canned beers it produces: Reliance Pale Ale, Atlantic A.P.A and Low Voltage Session IPA. 

The brewery’s co-founder is also positive about the impact the tie-up will have on the team as a whole. 

“We want to give our staff the opportunity to grow as professionals but also improve their quality of life, too. Brewing and living in London can be tough, and you have to be very passionate about what you do. We want to ensure our staff can grow with us, in work and outside of it,” she says.  

A positive working environment will also pay dividends for Brixton Brewery as it further grows into its new home, and its relationship with Heineken evolves, too.

The brewery’s beer has already made it to around 15 of the multinational’s Star Pubs and Bar estate, a number that will only grow in time. But for now, the focus is still firmly rooted on developing direct relationships across London, fulfilled by the brewery’s sole trusty delivery van.

You get the impression that such an approach suits Galaun and the team, while they continue to get to grips with Brixton Brewery 2.0.

“The task of setting up a new brewery is almost like starting a business all over again and it is very, very intense. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had help and project management advice, so I have massive respect for those that make that journey alone,” he says.

Galaun adds: “I think that we’ve taken a quantum leap going from a small 10 hectolitre railway arch setup to a 50 hectolitre 15,000sqft facility. 

“Then away from production, we’ve had to really think a lot more about our brand, what it means to us and what message we want it to convey. You spend a lot of time thinking about that when you’re supplying locally, but that ramps up incredibly when your beer is reaching a wider audience.”

And reaching a wider audience will become more commonplace for Galaun, Benjamin and the Brixton Brewery team in 2019 and beyond. 

Concentrating on producing a quality core range of beers remains the priority, while the older site will enable production of more seasonal and experimental beers and offer up a stronger taproom experience in due course.

“We want our beer in more places than ever before. But not at the compromise of quality, either,” says Galaun. “We want more people discovering what we do, enjoying it, and associating Brixton with great beer.”

Core range vs specials – a retailer’s perspective

Having a strong core range is important for the brewer and it’s important for those selling it because such a portfolio allows the consumer to build a relationship with the brewery and retailer in question. But special and seasonal beers complement such staples in a very effective way too, explains Jen Ferguson, co-founder of London’s Hop Burns & Black.

Ask any independent retailer and they’ll tell you that core beers are the bedrock of their business, as “fridge favourites” and party beers.

Even though we stock more than 350 different beers and bring in from 15 to 30+ new beers a week, it’s our core brews that drive the volume through repeat purchases, six-packs and case buys. Our top five best-selling beers each week will almost always be cores from breweries local to our two South East London shops – the likes of Brick Peckham Pils, Gipsy Hill Hepcat, Villages Rafiki and The Kernel Table Beer. 

It’s the sign of a great brewery if they can deliver a consistently good quality core range and these core beers are ones that customers return to again and again.

Core beers are important to brewers

I’ve been banging on a lot this year about the importance of independent breweries, which are increasingly under threat from the advances of ‘Big Beer’. For many independent breweries, key to their success and survival is being at the heart of their community.

More and more, drinkers want to buy local. Most of us take pride in where we live and provenance plays a key role in our choices at the bar or the bottle shop. 

A consistently good core range offers breweries the chance to cement their place in the community. Drinkers look out for their beers as a touchpoint in pubs, as a dependable signifier of quality as well as an opportunity to drink local and support independent business. 

A gateway to move on from macro

Craft beer still accounts for less than 20 percent of the overall UK beer market, which means the majority of British drinkers are still choosing macro beers at the bar and in shops. I see core beers as hugely important as a gateway to introduce people to independently brewed and/or craft beers. 

Brick Brewery founder Ian Stewart agrees. “An accessible beer and recognisable brand creates a safe zone for the macro drinker who has probably read a lot about the craft beer boom but feels it is a little out of reach. They’re probably not going to dive into a 10 percent pastry stout or funky sour, but they do like the idea of buying local – a beer such as Peckham Pils from our Foundation range, for example, provides this easy introduction.”

But one-off specials are important too…

For us, one off, experimental, limited edition beers are what brings the boys, girls and tickers to the yard. Particularly with our online store, if we can be the first to list, say, the latest Verdant, Northern Monk or Cloudwater special, we win the day. Our biggest spending customers come for the newbies and rarities and stay for the rest of the catalogue. 

These big spenders aren’t buying huge quantities of these specials – they’ll likely choose one or two of each beer before moving on to the rest of the catalogue, creating an important halo effect.

Most of our best-selling breweries have both a core range and a strong programme of specials. Many started with a strong, well-loved core range but have seen how the market has changed and evolved accordingly. 

Gipsy Hill co-founder Sam McMeekin says: “I remember the days of delivering beer to a bottle shop and having customers buy cases of Beatnik right off my trolley. But we saw the market changing in front of our eyes, with many craft customers moving to specials as a

primary purchase, with core as a filler.

“We developed a line up balanced between specials and core to ensure we can stay up to date with what’s wanted by consumers, as well as supporting the indie shops who are at the coal face of changing hearts and minds to craft.”

Breweries doing both successfully also include the likes of Brick and Northern Monk, which now sell their core ranges in supermarkets while reserving specials for the specialist market. Brick, for example, works on a pricing structure for its core range to ensure indies have a fair price and can continue to provide these much-loved fridge favourites.

Can you only do specials?

There are no hard and fast rules in the wonderful world of beer! Some breweries have done very well without a core range. Newcomer Loka Polly in Wales, for example, has targeted the craft market this year by producing a schedule of one-off beers that showcase constantly changing duos of hops. In doing so, it has quickly become one of our most in demand breweries.

Cloudwater also famously made its name with an ever-changing range of specials and seasonals. Recently though, even it has moved to more of a core approach with its autumn/winter range, with “brewed all season” beers joining the list of one-offs.

I have a new brewery, what should I do?

Above all else, make sure you launch fully formed with consistently good beers. The market is so crowded these days that you’ll likely not get a second chance if you stuff it up. Don’t go chasing a huge schedule of specials until you’re certain every one of those beers is going to hit the mark. Get your basics right first – I’d far rather enjoy three rock solid core beers than a dozen dodgy one-offs.

In fact, as much as I love drinking in-demand specials and innovative one-offs, there’s no greater joy than when I order a core beer and it’s been brewed perfectly. I had a pint of Brick Peckham Pale at our local pub the other week and it was so good it brought tears to my eyes. Never underestimate the power of your core!

Crafting a legacy in Cumbria | Hawkshead Brewery

Maybe it’s the way travel opens the eyes and broadens the horizons. Maybe it’s something in the water. Or maybe it’s the desire for a bloomin’ good pint in countries where such a beverage is hard to come by. But it seems somewhat fitting that Alex Brodie, the now-retired founder of Hawkshead Brewery, started the brewing business in 2002 after calling time on his career as a BBC journalist where he covered troubles in places such as Iran, Pakistan and Jerusalem.

It’s fitting because some 18 years prior, and 3,500 miles away over in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one Steve Hindy had just returned a five and a half-year tour as the Middle East Correspondent for the Associated Press, where he had covered wars and assassinations in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Sudan.

Four years later Hindy would go on to help found Brooklyn Brewery and much like Hawkshead, it’s a brewery that has made it’s name from creating beers with subtlety, nuance and flavour, all underpinned by consistency. But both breweries can also ramp things up when they want, and they’re not afraid to throw out all the stops to make the beers they want.

The ability to tread that fine balance between session-strength cask beers and heavy-hitting kegged stouts laced with desert flavours, is an art form. 

And at Hawkshead, they have head brewer Matt Clarke to thank for that. 

The New Zealand native who happened upon these shores some 16 years ago, has worked his way up from cask washer in the formative months and years at Hawkshead’s original barn site to head brewer overseeing a new multimillion pound facility that houses a Krones rapid-batch brewhouse. And it’s safe to say that he’s in no mood to look back.

“We’re moving fast, but we’re not an overnight success!” laughs Clarke. “Regardless of how much we physically change as a brewery, the ethos we adopt to what we do remains the same. And that’s to brew great beer, challenge perceptions and not be defined by one style or another.”

Though he’s too modest to admit it, Clarke has driven much of the growth at Hawkshead. His first recipe, Windermere Pale, is the brewery’s biggest cask seller and had brewers knocking down the door for refills at the company’s recent launch event for its new brewery.

The old and the new

The 3.5% Pale Ale is bursting with hop flavour from the signature hop – Citra, and is brewed with soft Lakeland water, Maris Otter malted barley and whole cone hops. It also has more awards to its name than most breweries have released beers in their lifetime.

And on one recent visit, Wayne Wambles, brewmaster at Tampa, Florida’s Cigar City Brewing made a confession to Clarke.

“Matt, I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” he told him. “You’ve got the old brewery, and you have the new brewery. It’s my ambition to pour a Windermere Pale from each, sit down, and analyse just how far you’ve come with the beer from each brewhouse.”

So while beers such as Windermere Pale resonate with seasoned brewers and drinkers alike, Clarke has broadened the brewery’s portfolio with a diverse range of beers such as its coveted Tiramisu Imperial Stout, a 10% beer brewed with the aforementioned Cigar City. 

Elsewhere, Imperial Flump King is another 10% number with prominent marshmallow flavouring while Key Lime Tau has become a successful mainstay in the annual release calendar of modern beer.

First brewed in collaboration with Crooked Stave (USA) for the 2015 International Rainbow Project, it’s a kettle-soured, lactose infused Golden Ale brewed with fresh lime zest and lemon grass to taste biscuity and strongly of lime.

The beer was christened Key Lime Tau because of the doubling up. A collaboration between two brewers, has been brewed on both sides of the Atlantic and mathematically Tau is 2 x Pi (3.142) or τ = 2π, which is also the strength – 6.28%. Got it?

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Clarke may have tried to turn the tides at Hawkshead, pushing modern styles to complement their popular mainstays. But it’s not that simple.

“I’ll tell you what, if it was left to Alex he would have chucked out all the traditional stuff a while ago,” Clarke smiles. “I like the appeal of those classic brewing styles. Those products are still in strong growth, while other people are ignoring them.” 

He adds: “Sure, you won’t win overnight glory with them, nor will you be the coolest Kid On The Block for banging out a session bitter but for me, that makes you very cool indeed.” 

Passion for cask

Beers of all styles, destined for all dispense methods, are produced at Hawkshead, But it’s cask beer where Clarke’s true passion lies. And like many brewers, he’s concerned with what he sees happening across the beer landscape.

“We are still 65% cask, which is somewhat unusual for a modern brewery. And it’s not a case of that all being sold locally, either,” he explains. “The lakes bring in a great deal of tourism, but that doesn’t correlate with strong sales for our cask. We probably cost more for these pubs to buy in, so there’s a reluctance to opt for Hawkshead. Especially when those pubs are catering for a lot of one-off custom, it’s easier to go for the cheaper option and move on.”

Clarke adds: “That aside, you need to treat cask like everything else, and that’s with attention and respect. Too many people have seen cask as a low GP commodity so in turn, they’ve devoted less energy when it comes the time producing it and the quality of ingredients.

“Achieving consistency in cask beer is bloody hard, but not enough people are trying. Look, I can knock out Double IPAs everyday and not hear one complaint but if one batch of Windermere Pale is slightly off spec, I’ll know about that within hours!”

There are a number of UK breweries that command the price they want for cask. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that this leads into positive consumer perception towards these beers. They’re more likely to be looked after, well cellared and sold in an efficient manner. 

But those dropping their prices to push cask beer volumes out, are not helping themselves and its damaging the wider reputation of cask, Clarke believes.

“Once you drop your price you can’t bring it back up,” he explains. “This problem happened a long time ago and cask prices have dropped or remained stagnant, while keg beer has only increased.”

He adds: “Yes, people bang on about extra processing with kegs and other associated costs. But really, in an age of one-way kegs, non filtration and turbid beer? I’m not buying it.

“Then you look at cask. Managing a cask population, washing them, reclaiming them, filling them. The cost of cask beer does not reflect the work that has gone into that beer. People dial in a processing cost to keg but not cask. That’s not right.”

So when it comes to selling to customers such as J.D Wetherspoons, Clarke is proud that Hawkshead common the price they set. If a pub wants Windermere Pale on cask, they pay the going rate and then, only then, they sell it for price they want.

“Not everyone can, or will, do that. I hear some crazy prices being offered by breweries. It’s scary,” he adds.

Hawkshead is sticking to its guns, and it is paying off. While its mission statement towards the beers it produces remains the same, the environs those beers are brewed in have changed significantly since Brodie started the business back in 2002.

Steady growth

The brewery began life 16 years ago, in a barn just outside the village of Hawkshead in the English Lake District. Brewing on a 7 barrel second hand kit, it was creating highly hopped cask beers, in an unsaturated craft beer scene. Brodie was hopping his Golden Ale with Cascade and the Porter with Bramling Cross, and nobody was going to tell him otherwise. 

Brodie grew up in East Yorkshire in the 1960s drinking John Smith’s cask bitter right up until the day crazed keg marketeers stripped out the hand pulls. He drank Morrells at university, and served fizzy beer in London bars in the early 70s, whilst seeking out Courage Directors.

He joyfully imbibed King and Barnes, Shepherd Neame and Harveys, in Kent, where, in 1973, he joined CAMRA. In the Midlands, the Davenports wagon delivered “beer at home”. In Cardiff, even late night bars served Brains S.A. The flat in Wandsworth didn’t have a sitting room – that was round the corner in the Youngs brewery tap, and in South West London, the local was Fullers’ Wych Elm.

In Iran, it was Heineken from a tea pot. In Pakistan, he had to register as a Christian to get beer from the Murree Brewery. In Mexico City, Dos Equis hit the spot. The USA, meant Sam Adams Boston Lager. And when home in the UK in The Lake District, fell walks would be contrived to end with pints of session Bitter from Cumbria’s first micro, Yates. It’s no surprise Hawkshead would be a success when you’re a true beer fan at heart. 

In 2006, the brewery relocated to the Mill Yard, beside the River Kent at Staveley, brewing on a new 20 barrel brewhouse and a brewery tap – The Beer Hall – was built. It was around this time that a change in brewing personnel saw Clarke thrust into the role of head brewer, picking up the pieces from where the previous brewer left off. It gave new meaning to learning on the job, but Clarke took it in his stride and running the current site is just reward for the graft put in over those years. 

However the opening of its new facility in 2018 was preceded by another milestone in the brewery’s story, the acquisition of majority stake in the business by the UK’s largest independent drinks company, Halewood Wines & Spirits.

The deal, announced in March 2017, enabled the build of the new brewery, increased production and the ability to gain new routes to market. Halewood also entered the UK brewing industry as a result.

Speaking at the time, Brodie said: “Demand for our beers exceeds our ability to supply. We have gone about as far as we can on our own. This partnership with Halewood will allow us to grow and fulfil our potential.”

“I am convinced that Halewood share our values,” he said. “We have had a long negotiation and I believe that this deal gives Hawkshead a way of getting significant investment without being absorbed into ‘big beer.’ Halewood sees small, craft and premium as the future. And they are Northern. I like that.”

Halewood’s chief executive Stewart Hainsworth also added: “Hawkshead Brewery will continue to operate independently of the Halewood Group, under Alex’s leadership, with Halewood as its main distributor and investor. Hawkshead brews great beers. We are delighted to help them carry on doing what they are so passionate about.”

With that deal signed and sealed Hawkshead opened the new Flookburgh site in 2018, a move that trebled its annual production capacity. The centrepiece of this is a Krones turn-key 40 barrel (6,500 litre) rapid-batch brewhouse, capable of multiple brews per day. 

The kit can initially produce up to 240 beer barrels (8,640 gallons or 69,000 pints) of beer each week, with this set to increase as it gears up to export its Hawkshead Lager and Hawkshead Windermere Pale across Eastern and Western Europe, the Americas and Asia. 

The company’s existing brewery at Staveley is continuing production, concentrating on small batch specialist and limited edition beers. It currently produces 7,000 barrels (11,500 Hectolitres) per year.

Going forward in to 2019 and beyond, head brewer Clarke has a lot of weapons in his armoury, and a great team to work alongside. Not bad for a New Zealander who only came over to the UK for a holiday 16 years ago. 

“I’m not one for global domination. I’m a safe person and like it that way,” he explains. “I like to make people happy through beer. So whether that’s a session pale on cask or an Imperial Stout on keg, if you’re enjoying it, well then I’m happy too.”

How to attract a distributor | Jonny Garrett

It is an overused adage that the UK craft beer scene is five years behind America. That notion is far too simplistic. The UK cask scene is lightyears ahead, as is the ability  – and willing – to brew true, session-strength beers. However, there is one area in which UK brewers are still exceptionally behind the times, and that is how our beer gets from the brewery to the consumer.

In America, they operate the three-tier system, keeping the producer, distributor and retailer legally separate and forcing breweries to use distributors. While this system is open to abuse and is starting to break down as States modernise, it has resulted in a professional and well-organised logistics system, with companies making it their sole aim to deliver beer quickly, efficiently and cold.

In the UK there is no requirement to use a distributor. This gives breweries flexibility in how they get their beer out there, but it also means the systems in place are less efficient and structured. Most breweries rely on couriers to deliver their beer outside of the local market, but couriers present huge issues for unstable products like beer.

You can cold store your beer until the moment it leaves, but if the courier arrives at the pub and there is no one to collect it, the odds are they will leave it outside, in full sunlight. You’ll also have no guarantees on how the beer is stored, how long it will be in transit and when it will get to its final destination. On top of that, there is no technical support for the pubs and people pouring the beer – and that can lead to wastage and even refunds that are avoidable.

A good importer and distributor controls all these variables and more, as well as having a wider customer base with accounts set up and ready to buy. Getting access to those customers outside of your network is the quickest and most efficient way to achieve volume growth and keep control over your product quality. But good distributors in the country are still few and far between, particularly for those looking for both volume and help building their brand sustainably.

If finding them is difficult, getting on their books can be even harder and the rules to follow can be applied to finding exporters too. Cave Direct has hundreds of breweries approach from all over the world, looking for representation in new areas. Almost all of them are rejected for the same reasons, and avoiding these common pitfalls is key to developing any meaningful relationship.

The most important thing is to understand the who you are approaching. There are two broad kinds of speciality beer distributor – Portfolio companies and Curators. Portfolio companies are often brand-focused, with a core range of breweries they promote first and foremost, backed up by a larger range of secondary beers. Their business model is built of volume from their core brands, backed by their ability to fill the rotational taps and fridges to become a one-stop shop for the pubs and bars they work with.

A curator will be less brand focused, instead relying on a very wide range of seasonal and one-off beers and generating volume across the entire portfolio. Given the very large range, sale reps from curator distributors have more of an account management role – rather than pushing beers and growing brands, they make sure customers are aware of the myriad beers coming in. While portfolio companies often do this as well, they tend to keep their ranges much tighter and from a smaller number of breweries to make selling in more manageable.

Pubs and retailers typically work with both kinds of distributor but that isn’t really an option for the brewery. The most important factor for a distributor in choosing a new brewery is exclusivity. They don’t want a rival selling the same beer in the same area, and nor does the brewery – it results in price wars and confusion for the end customer. So it’s vital to make clear the area you want to cover by working with them and to offer them the sole rights to sell within that area.

You also need to be clear in your expectations. Are you aiming to be a primary brand in a portfolio distributor? If so you’ll need to look at their other core brands and make sure that your core beers are distinct from the others on offer. Most portfolio distributors will have gaps they are looking to fill – core IPAs, nitro stout, pale ales around the £80 a keg mark – and if you don’t fill one of those niches it’s going to be a much harder sell. Timing can be everything, so getting in touch when a brewery moves distributor is a great way to skip the queue. Whatever your approach, you’ll need to show volume expectations and targets, and the ability to keep up with demand as it grows.

If you produce more specials than core beers then working with a curator or in the secondary tier of a portfolio distributor is likely the best way to go. Getting listed is a little easier, but you’ll need to understand there will be some selling on your behalf too – the sales reps won’t be pushing your brand half as much, and it will be down to your marketing approach to help make sure the beers go out fresh.

When you’re talking to a distributor about a listing, it’s important to do as much of it as possible in person. That doesn’t mean hounding them for a meeting, but making sure that you grab a beer at festivals or events – in such a young industry, a lot of deals are done between people who get on and have a similar approach to business, marketing and beer in general. The best way to find out if you share similar ideals is to spend time together.

It’s also always best to sample your beers with them – that way you can ensure they are tasting their best and you can talk through the beer rather than rely on marketing materials. The best way to get on a distributor’s list is to make them as excited about the beer as you are, and that usually happens over a pint of it

 

The Future of Cask Beer: A bed of roses or a thorny issue?

I have been pondering the future of cask beer. I have also been reading cask beer sales statistics. It has not been an easy read for me. I am a big fan of cask beer, but it appears I am a dying breed. This has made me question whether the future is a vibrant beer scene where the beautiful natural flavours and carbonation of cask play an important role, or whether cask beer dwindles and sits on the periphery of the beer scene only available in a small number of specialist pubs?

You might, at this point, ask the valid question why we should care. Can we not let market forces decide and if cask beer dies, then let it?

I would answer that by saying that market forces are influenced by other factors and not just the drinkers’ interest, such as how the marketing budget is spent by companies. I would say that they spend their money to get the most reward. Cask, with its smaller profit margin, is not worth it while keg beer with its bigger margin, is. What is true of the brewer is also true of the retailer and margin is king.

Cask beer is one of the cheapest beers on the bar. Couple this with the effort needed to look after it properly, makes it one of the least profitable drinks for the pub.

Then we have the government. They apply taxes, most notably duty, in this case. Why is beer taxed differently to cider? Why do small brewers get duty relief and big brewers don’t? Why is cask beer taxed the same as all beer? Cask beer is taxed differently to all other beers, as there is a sediment allowance. Why is this not applied to bottle conditioned beers? The government does influence the market because it influences margin.

What I am trying to point out is that the market is influenced by a number of forces outside of the drinkers’ desires. What I would like to do is to influence those forces to act in the interest of cask beer.

Ok, at this point you might accept that the market is not entirely working towards what the drinker wants but then again, you might ask why we should care about cask beer?

I can only answer that by explaining why I care about cask beer and give you my reasons. I would hope that you might find some agreement with at least some of my points here.

Cask beer is unique, but it didn’t use to be. At one point, most of the world’s beer would have been in cask. However now, for whatever reason, Britain stands pretty much alone in its production of cask beer. Cask beer can rightly claim it is the Beer of Britain.

Cask beer is served at a higher temperature and a lower CO2 than keg beer. It is less processed and this adds up to a flavour profile and mouth-feel that keg cannot match.

The process of producing cask beer involves the landlord and the brewer. It is the beer that cements the relationship between them. Cask beer cannot exist without the pub and the best pubs cannot exist without cask beer. Cask beer influences, and is an indicator of, the standards and values of a pub.

There is a tradition behind cask beer that does not exist in keg beer. Like a lot of people, I have a respect for tradition.

So why are people not flocking to drink cask beer. I will give you some reasons, but firstly I will give you a quote from Pete Brown writing in the Morning Advertiser.

Cask right now is hurting, really badly. It’s in such dire straits that since I stopped writing the Cask Report three years ago, that report no longer gives statistics for cask’s year-on-year performance, because it’s so bad…the reason for this is not the growth of ‘craft keg’ but issues with the quality of Cask Ale cellaring and dispense.

Ask anyone who knows the market as a whole, and they’ll tell you. But here is what I say.

It is not sexy enough. If Americans made cask beer, then brewers around the world would do so too. Just look what they have done for sours! But they cannot because their distribution chains and their pub cellars are not suitable.

Quality is a problem for cask. Too many pints are substandard mainly due to lack of throughput and poor cellar practice. Cask beer is susceptible to misuse precisely because of its lack of processing which is one of its main attributes. Keg has a longer shelf life and greater stability which leads to less input from the landlord. Add the margin improvement and guess which one the landlord likes to sell.

The removal of Trade Quality advisors. When I first came into the industry many breweries employed people to visit pubs check on the beer quality and offer advice to the landlord. Sadly, many have got rid of this position sacrificed on the altar of cost cutting. Cask beer needs them more than keg beer does.

So what can be done to improve cask beer quality? Well I think bodies like Cask Marque and CAMRA would be interested in this and are actively trying to improve the situation, but they are failing.

Why?

I think it is because the margin is not there to support extra work to make the beer better. Landlords are so busy now that they spend their time supporting the more profitable parts of their business, and it’s the same with brewers. This is the reason so many brewers do not brew cask.

If you go to any pub in Britain and look at the price list, what do you observe? I see cask as perhaps the cheapest beer and very little price differential between all the cask beers being served with often the strongest cask beer being served cheaper than the weakest lager or cider.

Now, if I tell you that duty is the biggest single cost of any beer or cider then what do you think the margins are on the different beers?

There are a number of points that I can draw from the above. Most beer styles have a premium and a standard version, cask beer struggles to have a premium version. The margin on non-gas beers is bigger, too.

So what can be done? Could we have a premium version of cask beer or could we just increase the price? This must be difficult because if we could it would have been done by now.

So what does that leave us? I think the solution lies in improving the margin for the brewer and the landlord. I don’t think dropping the price to encourage drinkers will work; more brewers would just stop making cask.

For me, increasing margin would improve quality. Brewers could afford to invest in new casks and maybe bring back Trade Quality or pay Cask Marque to do it for them. Landlords could afford to spend more time on cask beer and maybe follow the advice from Cask Marque or the Trade Quality Advisor.

It would also improve sales as a consequence of improved quality while also encouraging innovation from the brewers

So how do we improve margin. We could try to produce a premium version of cask beer but there are a number of problems with this. However, I will be speaking to several brewers about these problems and looking at possible solutions

There is another interested party in all of this, though. Not the brewer, not the drinker and not the landlord, but her Majesty’s government. The government makes more out of cask beer than any other party. So can’t we ask for duty relief on cask beer?

Here is another interesting fact. A cask beer at 4.1% ABV pays £78.22 per hl while for cider at 4.1% ABV, you’re paying £40.38 per hl.

There is roughly 176 pints in a hl so that becomes 44p per pint for beer and for cider, 22p per pint.

So I ask the question, why cask beer can’t be taxed like cider? So come on CAMRA, instead of playing around trying to get one or two pence off all beer, why not try and get twenty pence off cask beer. Think how that would unite your movement. Would you not get support from SIBA too? What about the great British public? Would they not see the righteousness of your cause?

In the post-Brexit world this is possible, plus the government might just be minded to introduce a popular benefit of Brexit. Those that are now worrying about how much tax the chancellor would be giving up, you’re looking at about one year’s standard increase. Cask beer is only about 9 percent of the total market and therefore 20p off this is about equal to 2p off all beer, something the beer industry asks for every year without any success.

Again, I will try to do something about this. I will be travelling the country talking to drinkers and beer writers about the future of cask beer. If they agree with me that something should be done, then I will try to get this moving. If not, I would reluctantly drop this. The reason being that if I cannot persuade interested parties then how can I persuade the government? Banging your head against the wall has no future.

There is maybe one group that might not support this. The big brewers.

So why would the bigger brewers support this? Maybe to bask in the warm glow of doing the right thing and we can all reflect that maybe, just maybe, they are human too. Oh and perhaps they should start brewing cask again.

Over to you CAMRA and SIBA

Golden Pints, 2018

Best Brewery – UK and Ireland

There is, in my opinion, no logical or obvious way to label one brewery the “best”. But if you can find a brewery that is the reassuring arm around the shoulder, the one that gives you confidence in both the core and the new, then you’re onto something good. And like relationships in life itself, it’s something that you shouldn’t take for granted. With that in mind, Northern Monk is that brewery, just as they were this time last year, too.

It came as no surprise that they cruised their crowdfunding campaign. The core range of beer delivers while the Patrons Project offers up diversity and innovation in equal measure. You want a Raspberry Kolsch? You got it. A Lemon, Lime and Coffee Berliner Weisse? No problem. It also helps that brewers Brian Dickson and Colin Stronge are absolute gents, and incredibly talented, too. The rest of the team are bloomin’ fantastic as well. Roll on the opening of their London taproom.

Brian turned up to my birthday this year and wouldn’t leave. Rumour has it he’s still lurking around the South Bank seven months on.

Best Brewery – Worldwide

I have a problem, and I’m ready to admit it. I love New York. Sure, most people do. Right? But a visit early next year will be trip number eight in recent years. It’s somewhat of an addiction. And that’s aided by New York’s fantastic breweries, bars and bottle shops. I reached out (read: email equivalent of cold calling) to Kings County Brewers Collective at the end of 2017 and was able to visit a couple of weeks after. Considering I was effectively a stranger armed with a couple of magazines, I was welcomed like an old friend.


Housed in an impressive space in Williamsburg and armed with an absolutely gorgeous taproom, KCBC was founded by Pete Lengyel (above), Tony Bellis and Zack Kinney, and each brings a different passion to the table. So you’re as likely to see a light lager on offer, a vice of Pete’s, to perfectly executed DDH IPAs or barrel-aged sours. What has always impressed me is the consistency of their beers, and the modesty of their approach. Do yourself a favour and make sure a visit is top of your list when you’re next in town.

Best beer

As 2018 draws to a close, it’s somewhat easier to accept the winter wind and the rain after having proper summer weather this year. It feels like a lifetime ago, granted, but it also feels like in 2018, lager finally came of age in the world of modern beer. And thankfully, unlike the sunshine, it has stuck around. There is a lot of good lager being made in the UK these days, and we’re all the luckier for it.


But for me, Northern Helles from Donzoko, aka Reece Hugill, has stood out time and time again. It’s smooth, it’s malty, it’s delicious. Which is handy because it’s appearing more frequently in the wild, too. (Public service announcement: It’s on tap in BrewDog Shepherds Bush at the mo. I know as I was drinking it last night.) Reece has rightly received a lot of plaudits in 2018 and I expect big things of Donzoko next year. Special shout out to Sean Edgar too, who is responsible for the brewery’s pin-sharp branding.


Brewing heroes

A new category, but what are you gonna do. I don’t want to age them, but John Keeling and Derek Prentice have nearly 100 years worth of brewing experience between them. As in football, where fans frequently say that we’re privileged to watch the game at a time where both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are in their pomp, I’d say the same about John and Derek.

 

Derek gatecrashing yet another Uni fresher’s party.

Through Fuller’s and Young’s, they’ve made an indelible mark on the brewing industry, not just in the UK but globally. There’s plenty of US breweries that started out on their journeys after imbibing quality, perfectly-cellared cask beer here in the UK. Those breweries have, in turn, lit that fire in aspiring brewers in the UK and beyond that have gone on to start their own businesses. It’s a beautiful cycle and the role John and Derek have played in that cannot be underestimated. Make sure to get down to Wimbledon Brewery to enjoy the excellent beer Derek is still producing!

 

John Keeling greets one of his many fans.

Best Taproom

Space issues and access to resources have long held back many brewery’s lofty ambitions when it comes to creating a retail and taproom space akin to the slick, professional environments they would have experienced in North America and beyond. But let’s be honest, the beer space is more competitive than ever before and if you’re not offering (or planning to offer) consumers the opportunity to buy direct, and immerse themselves in your brewery environment, then it’s a major own goal. One brewery that has long had that string to their particular bow is Battersea’s Mondo Brewing Company. Their taproom is comfortable, it has a great bar, it’s warm in the winter and opens out in the summer. It offers a view into the brewery itself and it has clearly been built with the consumer in mind. Oh, and there’s free popcorn too. Well done to Todd, Tom, Andrew and the team. I look forward to coming down again soon!

Best Beer Festival

Georgina Young, head brewer at Fuller’s and John Keeling, who has been turning up to work every day since retirement. They just don’t have the heart to tell him…

Like a volley hit clean and straight into the roof of the net, the inaugural London Brewers’ Alliance festival to be hosted at Fuller’s was a resounding success. The weather brought its A-game to the June event that was expertly organised by Fuller’s John Keeling, Georgina Young and the rest of the team at the brewery and the LBA. The beers on offer were as diverse the breweries taking part. Camden Town, Fourpure, Beavertown and Five Points complemented Jeffersons, Solvay Society, Kew Brewery and Park. It didn’t matter if your brewery employed 100 or one that day, everyone was equal. And the festival was all the better for it.

Another great event, and another one that was a scorcher (for the most part at least!) was Southern Hopisphere, held at the Two Tribes Brewery in Kings Cross. When you combine some of the best beer from Australia and New Zealand, an excellent venue, and an event that was brilliantly organised, then everybody wins. Hope they repeat it in 2019.

Best Bottle Shop

I’ve spent more time and money at We Brought Beer in Clapham than I’d care to remember. It’s a fantastic place to enjoy a beer, has a great outdoor space and is run by the legend that is Chippy, or Robert Chipchase, to the outside world. It’s a stone’s throw from Clapham Junction station and has a great upstairs space for training, homebrew clubs and the like. Catch Chippy on a good day and he might play one of your requests, too.

I’ve taken countless photos of beer at WBB, so here’s a picture of Chippy at Halloween before getting into costume.

Until next time, I wish you a very successful 2019!

A very special brewery

“I am the luckiest brewer in London,” beams John Hatch.

John is the head brewer at Wandsworth’s Ram Brewery. He’s also the assistant brewer, head cleaner, packaging operative and everything in-between.

You see, the Ram Brewery is no normal brewery. Instead, it’s a truly unique operation housed on the grounds of the old Young’s brewery. A passion project that came into being upon the news that Young’s was to shutter it’s London brewing business back in 2006, Hatch has ensured that although the brewery would be leaving the site, brewing wouldn’t.

In doing so, it has guaranteed that Wandsworth would maintain the proud mantle of being home to the longest uninterrupted period of continuous brewing in the UK. And for Hatch, who celebrated his 30th anniversary on site in September, it’s just the latest evolution of his love affair with Young’s and the brewing industry as a whole. Something that started many years ago.

“I was an underperforming school boy, to be honest. I was the prankster and trickster that teachers detested, and I don’t blame them,” he laughs. “Whether it was loosening a teacher’s bike seat, or lining their draw with a dozen snaps I removed from crackers, I’d be the one doing it.”

Comprehensive school followed and Hatch says he struggled along to get his A-Levels. The one subject of those that struck a chord, though, was Biology and a university degree at Bangor followed.

“I enjoyed it, but had no idea of the type of career path I wanted. At the same time, I realised I liked beer, and drank a lot of it!” he recalls.

Cask beer and Guinness were his fortes during education and Hatch even proudly held the record for knocking back a yard of famous Irish beverage.

“If you think the cascading effect you get in a pint is memorising, wait until you see it in a yard,” he enthuses. “It was memorising!”

But as his admiration for beer increased, his university grant went in the opposite direction, and Hatch realised his couldn’t afford to drink as much anymore. So wide-eyed, he journeyed to high street chain Boots and procured one of the home brew kits on offer.

“Those early attempts were not good, I’ll be the first to admit. But before long I was producing some quite cracking beers, and even some wine, too,” he recalls. “The only logical thing to do was throw parties on Sunday night and people would get trollied. I’d enjoy watching people enjoy the drinks I made and one day a friend, Richard, told me what I was doing was great and that I should be doing it for a living.”

He adds: “What a thought! It was inspirational to hear because before that, I had no idea what I was going to do for a living. And to work in beer was something I could definitely get on board with.

“So I returned home to Bristol in the summer of 1985 and headed straight to the public library to consult the Yellow Pages directory and write down the details of every brewery going. There was 423 of them at the time, I believe.”

Hatch wrote to these businesses to try and get that elusive first position in the industry. He was frank, telling each business that he was a student of Biology and wanted to brew beer for a living. Whitbread responded in kind thanking him for his letter and to get back to them the following year upon completion of his studies.

“So I did! I wrote back to Alastair Lever at Whitbread in Magor, Wales and he replied to tell me ‘See you Monday’. Simple as that!” he laughs.

Hatch joined Whitbread as a microbiologist on a three month contract in the run up to Christmas, helping oversea the integrity of a mammoth canning runs of beers such as Heineken and Stella Artois. It was during that time that he also joined the Brewers Guild. A body that offered training, talks and also helped match brewers with jobs in the industry.

It was a wise move.

The role, which was due to become permanent in the new year, never materialised. The closure of Whitbread’s Salford brewery resulted in an influx of staff being relocated in their roles.

“I was the last and the first out,” he says. “But they gave me a glowing reference and a month’s extra pay so off I went. During this time, I had learned about John Young and his brewery, Young’s based in London. He was a keen advocate for cask beer and way before CAMRA existed he was there on his soapbox declaring the benefits of cask over ‘fizzy, gassy keg’. I knew I wanted to work for him.”

Hatch left Whitbread and worked for six months in the NHS. It was here he received his beer equivalent of a golden ticket from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The request to interview for a job at Young’s.

“They told me they had found my details through the guild and have space for a microbiologist. I couldn’t believe it. So my dad zipped me down the M4 from Bristol to London. I vividly recall him pulling up into the chairman’s carpark and was swiftly b*llocked for parking there. He didn’t care. He went toe to toe with the person and informed them his son was there for an interview.”

Hatch passed the interview with head brewer Ken Don and laboratory chemist David Neal with flying colours. But he was barely through the door when an opportunity to become a junior brewer arose. And he took it with both hands, working under brewhouse manager at the time, Barry John. He learned a great deal with John but it was another figure that Hatch singles out for particular praise.

“It was at a Brewers Guild dinner when I was introduced to a gentleman named Derek Prentice. He knew I was at Young’s and informed me he’d be joining me at the business after Christmas,” says Hatch. “We were the new guys together but even then, he was vastly more experienced than me. Derek taught me a great amount and I’ve forgotten so much more than he ever taught me. He’s an amazing brewer and a fantastic person.”

Prentice, now head brewer at Wimbledon Brewery, is celebrating an incredible 50 years in the industry in 2018. Upon joining Young’s, Hatch recalls his skill at identifying problems but also a desire to not tread on anyone’s toes, either.

“Derek recommended that I was given various projects such as looking as dissolved oxygen between point A and point B. I was young, and available, so happily took these projects on. And each time, I’d find a problem that he knew was going to be there. He just wanted someone else to identify it and solve it,” says Hatch.

The quality of Young’s beer rocketed in the space of a few years, Hatch believes, and the addition of the ISO 9002 industry standard for quality assurance only improved things further.

“I was dumped in charge of that but I truly believe that for decade after decade, there was continuous improvement at Young’s,” he states.

Hatch enjoyed many years working for Young’s but during this time, there remained pressure on chairman John Young to sell the valuable site and move the operations elsewhere. Something he fought against time and time again.

“I have wonderful memories of AGMs where John would turn up with a pair of old dusty boxing gloves, something he’d swing around while shouting that ‘I will not be selling this brewery’. Another year he wore a beekeeper’s helmet to keep away the ‘annoying pests’ in the room. Every year there was a different stunt. Fantastic!” he recalls.

But everything must come to an end, and in 2003, Young’s launched a review of its brewing business. Something that culminated in the decision to merge brewing operations with Charles Wells’ brewing operations in 2006, closing the Wandsworth brewery in the process.

“They decided to announce the closure on my birthday. That was a very bad day. I had tickets to see the Queen musical ‘We Will Rock You’ that evening and I remember nothing of it,” says Hatch. “In that summer I’ve never seen so many grown men be reduced to tears. It wasn’t like losing a family because for many, it was losing a family. Young’s took pride in employing families and when we shut, four generations of one particular family were employed there. That was tough.”

Following the announcement, the subsequent months would involve decommissioning the brewery. 300 staff either took early retirement, were relocated or found work elsewhere but regardless, Hatch says the last beer to come out of the brewery was “as good as any” produced during his time there.

Once the dust had settled on the company’s announcement, Hatch and Prentice took things into their own hands. They approached the council to inform them of how much of a loss it would be if brewing was to disappear from the area. They understood but informed the duo there was little they could do.

“We suggested however that if the site was to be redeveloped, the council could force the developer to incorporate a brewing operation into the new setup. This was greeted positively so we were thrilled,” he says. “We knew we couldn’t simply open a new brewery the day after Young’s stopped, so we had to improvise.”

Yeast was added to bottles of wort before fermenting and the yeast skimmed off. And on they went.

“It was a bit underhand, to be honest,” says Hatch. “We weren’t supposed to be thinking about the future of Britain’s oldest brewery rather focused on shutting it down. But that’s that.”

Hatch and the team had a year’s worth of bottles to keep them going once brewing stopped on site. The last brew was completed on the 18th September. The day before, John Young passed away.

Young’s funeral took place less than two weeks later and with it, the first beers from the new operation were somewhat fittingly imbibed. Hatch has many fond memories of his old boss.

“Whilst Young’s were attempting to relocate all of their staff back in 2006, I was offered a job as Health & Safety Advisor for the future Young’s pub company,” recalls Hatch. “Over all my years at Young’s I had taken on a whole host of jobs that nobody else wanted (ISO 9002, BRC Food accreditation, FeMAS, HACCP, CoSHH and finally full blown health and safety). I realised that, on being offered a job in the pub chain, I was going to have to say ‘no’ to Young’s for the first time!

He adds: I felt bad about it so I wrote a letter to John Young explaining that my heart and soul was at Britain’s Oldest Brewery and as such I was sorry but I really could not accept their job. I also took the opportunity to tell “Mr John” what he had meant to me over the years. I thanked him for letting me brew for him and I told him it had been my honour and privilege. Mr Young was already very poorly and I really thought that would be my last chance to express my feelings.

“A few days went by and I had a phone call on site – from John Young!  He said he quite understood my decision. I think his exact words were “marvellous! Well done you!”. I told him that Derek Prentice and I were looking at ways to keep the brewing going and he wished us the best of luck. I then went on to promise that I would do all I could to keep brewing on site “while there was breath in my body”.

The maiden beer produced by Hatch and Prentice was a 3.7% number based on the popular Young’s Bitter. But whatever you do, don’t call it by the name it’s also commonly known as, Young’s Ordinary.

“I remember when I was a young brewer I went to use the gents within the director’s block of the brewery. Within seconds, the door slammed. Good grief, I thought, and there was John Young standing next to me.

He barked: “What are you brewing today?”

“Erm, Young’s Bitter, sir.”

He went quiet then replied: “Thank God for that. If you had called it Ordinary I would have fired you on the spot.”

What Hatch hadn’t realised at the time, was that nearby Fuller’s has launched an advertising campaign on double decker London buses with the slogan that read ‘Nothing ordinary about Fuller’s’.

“Poor John saw these adverts pass his office day-in, day-out and after that, we never used the term again!” he recalls.

So despite Young’s ceasing its brewing operations, Hatch and Prentice ensured that beer continued to be fermented on site, and enjoyed on site, too. But plans for another brewery remained unclear. Prentice had been offered, and accepted, the role of brewhouse manager at Fuller’s, while Hatch took on the role of site manager by the site developers. During this time, the stock of bottles and other supplies began to dwindle.

“I was very worried at that point,” remembers Hatch. “So I took myself to King George’s Park in Wandsworth and to an oak tree planted in memory of John Young. There I was, in the pouring rain, apologising to John for failing and admitting that brewing was going to come to an and.”

But it was there and then, that Hatch had his lightbulb moment. To build a ‘Scrapheap Challenge’ microbrewery and brew beer once more. So he scuttled back to the brewery site to announce his grand plans.

He recalls: “I was greeted by a team of 17 depressed staff decommissioning and destroying the brewery. While not strictly in charge, I had a white coat and declared: ‘Hey guys, we’re going build a brewery!’. They were confused and excited, and rightfully so.

“They wanted to know what we’d use and my smart idea of using the scrap metal that surrounded us was immediately dashed as they reminded me, it simply didn’t belong to us anymore. So I went to Young’s CEO Steve Goodyear, thanked him for seeing me and informed him of my plans.”

Hatch had to come clean about the undercover bottling operation that had been taking place in the year since Young’s closed its brewing operations, and also his desires to build a new setup.

“He was surprised and shocked. But he understood. I had permission to use the scrap metal but one thing was clear, that we could not sell anything we make. Fair enough, I thought.”

So once more, Hatch returned to Wandsworth with the good news and was greeted with overjoyed carpenters, welders, electricians, labourers and plumbers.

The diligent bunch set about finding what they could in order to create their new brewery. But when kit such a £3,000 valve was reported “missing”, it conveniently returned unharmed the following day.

“The team would tell the decommissioning firm that any kit moved was the work of the ghost of John Young, and that happens all the time. Thankfully everyone saw the funny side,” he remembers.

The nano brewery that would take the Wandsworth site on the next stage of its brewing journey was constructed in nine days. Many of the former brewing staff returned to christen it, to mixed results.

“You have the phrase too many cooks spoil the broth. Well I can tell you that too many brewers can wreck a beer,” laughs Hatch. “Although we decided on a 4.6% beer, it ended up at half that. It was quite frankly, disgusting. It was oily, rubbery and revolting.”

He adds: “We filmed the entire process down to pouring the first pint and a gentleman called Terry Wilkins, who was a fantastic welder, was the first to the pumps. He couldn’t wait and there he was, lifting the glass to his lips. He made eye contact with the camera and before Terry even took a sip, he raced off sideways out of shot and threw it all away.”

Not one to be defeated, Hatch spent many weeks playing around with different recipes and ideas, with the question of ‘Well, is it beer-like?’ asked many, many times by those involved. But it’s easy to track when the quality and consistency of the beer took an upward turn.

“I remember being paid a visit by an old colleague. ‘Wow,’ they said. ‘That yucca plant is still doing well.’ I’ll be honest, I completely forgot it was there and I sure hadn’t been watering it. But he was right, it was doing great!” says Hatch. But as my beers improved, the plant’s health deteriorated. It was soon apparent that many beers has been poured into that plant over the months. They kept it going.”

The beers Hatch produced evolved, just as the plans for the former brewery site. As potential suitors eyed up the land, Hatch was tasked with providing would-be buyers with tours. On one such occasion, this involved liaising with Mark Cherry, then of UK-based company property developer Minerva.

Not one to ignore such an opportunity, Hatch regaled Cherry with his brewing ideals and the plans he had.

“Of all the interested parties, Mark was the one that showed a real interest in brewing. He found it fascinating and was interested in my future,” he says. “I told him I wanted to stay in brewing, that it was in my blood. Thankfully they won the contract and he knew of my plans to keep brewing on that site.”

Before long, they were clubbing together to buy the ingredients and chemicals required for the ongoing operation. Hatch would brew alongside his salaried activities on site but the costs soon started to add up. It was time for brewing from the Wandsworth site to play a role in the community once again.

“We started with an honesty box in the sample room and collected a few coppers. Small steps!” he recalls. “But soon enough Minerva were approached by a local running group known as the the London Hash House Harriers. They refer to themselves as a drinking club with a running problem, and they asked if they could tour the brewery.”

He adds: “They missed the chance when Young’s was in operation but we arranged it for them. I agreed to brew a bespoke beer on the proviso they’d furnish the honesty box. Something they did with many notes! And that was it, the way forward was tours, comedy nights and similar events to subsidise my brewing.”

Although the site was soon liberated of all its existing brewing equipment, it took on yet another purpose. As a studio for film and television. For eight years, shows such as Luther and Silent Witness leaned heavily on the site, while feature films also called on the gritty, industrial environs.

“I’d often do beers for the crew and they loved the idea. Then they’d enquire about coming back to use the site and also if I’d do another beer. Gladly!” says Hatch. “We’d have anything from a zombie film to a gangster flick. With buildings as old as 1724 right up to the late eighties, it was no surprise we became so desirable.”

More than 120 productions were filmed there over those eight years. So brewing with the sound of AK47 guns going off outside, or a building being blown up, became the norm. But in 2014, it was announced that Chinese group Greenland had bought the site.

Its first venture in the UK, Greenland took on a site with brewing still very much part of its character. Much of the area has changed beyond recognition with more than 600 homes being built on the old brewery grounds. But a working microbrewery and a brewery exhibition are still very much part of the group’s plans as the housing build nears its end.

Brewing will be a firm part of central Wandsworth once again, just in a different guise.

“I’ve seen the London brewing sector change. When the London Brewing Alliance was founded there was around six members,” says Hatch. “And one of those was Windsor & Eton, which was outside the M25. And now there are more than 100 members. What’s happened is marvellous and staggering.”

The London scene will no doubt grow and develop even further but for Hatch, as long as he’s still brewing then he’s more than happy to play his part.

“Paddy Johnson, co-founder of Windsor & Eton, came on a tour some years ago. He said I was very fortunate, so I asked him why. And he simply told me that I’m able to brew what I want, when I want and without the commercial pressures that most breweries experience. He told me that so many would want to be in my position.

“And you know what? He’s right. I’m the luckiest brewer in London.”