The packed open day a few days after my visit (photo courtesy Erica Wong)
Throughout human history, every good idea there’s ever been has occurred in the pub. It’s no coincidence that as soon as the ancient Sumerians discovered brewing, they immediately invented the wheel (or something). The flowing of alcohol in a comfortable setting is proven to loosen tongues and minds, and promote blue-sky thinking. For one example, look no further than this travesty of a beer website, assembled by the motley crew on the right after an idea fledged in a local public house (although I can’t remember which one, so blue plaque on hold).
Another, and infinitely better example, is the new London Fields Brewery in Hackney. Co-founders Ian Burgess and Jules Whiteway had businesses in coffee and gardening (respectively), until a session in the boozer convinced them they should start producing beer instead. And why not? After a stint in Manchester learning the trade, several important phone calls, and presumably more pub visits, four weeks later they produced their first brew. Yep – four weeks.
Clearly go-getting types, I visited their Helmsley Place lockup to see what was going on, and found them racing around organising a brewery open day. Until they can expand into a big enough kit to supply local pubs, the only way of getting their beers out there is to sell casked and hand-bottled batches to people who come to their brewery (which I can heartily recommend). With negotiations in progress to move up from their three barrel starter kit, Ian and Jules are keen to crack on and start making money.
I asked Ian – who seems to run the business side of things, whilst Jules is the head brewer – what kind of beers London Fields were aiming to produce, and where they saw themselves in the burgeoning brewing scene in the city. Like BeerCast-favourites the Kernel, the guys at London Fields want to brew things they enjoy drinking – although they seemingly prefer beer towards the session-end of the spectrum, as opposed to what Ian jokingly described as ‘knife and fork’ beer.
The first few beers have been well-received, and on my visit Jules was agonising over a new lager – to be ready for the upcoming open day, but due to the production process it would be untested before then. This is something of a trend, clearly the two are learning as they go along, which must be fantastically exciting/terrifying. Rows of kegs and casks sit there, ready to go, waiting only for the product to fill them – everything’s a can-do work in progress.
To highlight this, Jules and Ian didn’t even allow the recent London riots to hold them back. With a brown ale on the go, and rampaging youths moving over from Tottenham, they locked the gates, barricaded some pallets behind, and lowered the shutters. As cars burned on the intersection of Mare Street, just round the corner, and not being able to go anywhere, they quietly carried on with the brew. Once finished, they named it Love, Not War.
I got to try a bottle of this as the guys were running around doing various jobs, such as supervising the construction of a stage for their open day. A malty brown ale, it was really good – the balance of the different malts was fantastic. Jules kindly gave us some other unlabelled bottles, so once they have finished conditioning we’ll post a review here on the BeerCast. If their attitude is anything to go by, the London Fields brewery has a bright future.
The brewery holds open days, with food, music and beer. See their website for details. Located at 374 Helmsley Place, Hackney, the best way to get there is National Express East Anglia from Liverpool Street to London Fields station, or to take the Central Line tube to Bethnal Green and walk north. Tomorrow on the BeerCast we look at another drinking destination making waves – and inspiring a mini-empire – the Euston Tap.
For more open day photos, visit Erica’s website…