Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Some brief thoughts on the London homebrew scene

Not that homebrew, the beer one.

A few weeks back I was asked by The Strongroom bar to write up a few words on homebrewing in London for the lit at their London Beer Festival. Unfortunately, it had to be cut to make room for some write-ups from breweries added at the last minute, but it occurs to me that it might be interesting to others, so I'm throwing it up here. Without further ado:

The Rise and Rise of Homebrewing

Homebrewing in London is enjoying something of a comeback. Over the last few years, along with the rise (some might say return) of craft and artisanal beer in London, amateur and hobby brewing has been growing mightily. Like the current trends in professional craft brewing, these new hobbyists are focusing on quality and experimentation over matters of the bottom line. In London, this DIY brewing movement is focused in two clubs, each on different sides of the city and each with a different emphasis.

Meeting in East London is the London Amateur Brewers (LAB), of which I am a member. Until its recent closure, LAB met monthly at The Wenlock Arms in Hackney (for current meeting locations, consult the website). LAB has an open structure, operating without formal dues and a very small set of officers. The meetings consist of a short technical talk on some aspect of the brewing process or overview of a particular style of beer, followed by tastings of member’s beers. A typical meeting will involve tasting 8-12 beers, over an hour to hour and a half. These beers are typically very diverse in style, and at a single meeting you can encounter everything from a Best bitter to a new world IPA to a Belgian Saison. In addition to its regular meetings, LAB holds homebrewing competitions and festivals, the last of which was on 12 November 2011 in Wimbledon.

Across London in Durden Park, is the eponymous Durden Park Beer Circle. The Beer Circle is a more formal group then LAB, having both a formal membership process and thematic meetings, where the homebrew tastings are all keeping to a particular style, which will change from month to month. Additionally this group has something of a focus on understanding and preserving the historical beers of Britain. Over the years they have sought, archived, and tested many accurate recreations of style of beer long out of fashion. These recipes have been gathered into a book that group puts out, “Old British Beers and How To Make Them.” This book is an excellent resource in any homebrewer’s library. In fact, you can taste some (slightly modified versions) of the recipes in this book in action at some of London’s fine craft brewers, where it has served as inspiration for novel interpretations of classical local styles, most especially Porters and Stouts.

Think you might want to give homebrewing a try? It’s easier than you might think. Come to a meeting (if you aren’t in London, the Craft Brewers Association can point you in the right direction) or just simply give it a try in your kitchen. Aside from the previously linked webistes, information to get you started can be found at How to Brew, Homebrewing Stackexchange, The Homebrewer's Association, and Jim's Beer Kit, among others. Good luck and happy brewing!