Brewery taprooms. I have, it seems, become slightly obsessed by them. Drinking beer at source, yards from where it was made. I like them not just because the beer is about as fresh as you can get, and therefore presumably exactly as the brewer intended. It is also because they give you an opportunity to take in (for want of a better phrase) the ‘atmosphere’ of a brewery. By this, I mean alongside the sights and smells of the brewing process, taprooms give you an instant indication of what the brewery ethos is about as soon as you walk through the door and plonk yourself onto a barstool. Does the beermaker revel in loud and brash modern industrial, old-time sense of place historic, or a classy respectful subtlety? Downlights or neon? Bricks or steel? Bach or Sebastian Bach?
There’s one specific root cause of this recent addiction; social media. When you follow more than a handful of beer people you invariably end up with a regular stream of taproom flight photos (most of them from Mark Dredge), which is totally understandable. You’re in a brewery far from home with only half a dozen small beers for company – of course it’s going on Twitter (ahem). Feel free to comment if I’m wrong, but the semi-recent adoption of the taproom seems to me to be an American thing – aside from the dusty majesty of places such as Cantillon and other Belgian breweries, of course.
When it comes to British breweries, these kinds of taprooms are harder to find. Maybe there’s a hint of the ‘Why would you want to come out to the brewery? That’s where we make the beer!’ about it – but they do exist over here for those who want to root them out. We have thousands of pubs too, tied and free, which could be why some breweries here don’t feel the need to serve on-site – their beer going directly to the on-trade instead. But for me there’s just something fascinating about the ‘this is where it all happens’ vibe that you get from turning up at an industrial unit. If you can find them first, of course, which is often a problem in itself.
So what do you want from the perfect taproom? A spur of the moment visit to one in south London summed that up perfectly for me. Mondo Brewing Company are based in Battersea, and on a recent Wednesday night opening their taproom door was rewarded with a completely empty room and the entire Mondo staff at the other end, suddenly looking up in unison from behind the bar. Fifteen taps, a copper bar, loads of seating and free popcorn – what more could you want? The guys at Mondo are nothing less than enormously friendly and welcoming, and we were soon dialling up a couple of flights of their core beer line-up.
As a brewery, Mondo have only been going for about nine months, having been founded by two extremely affable Americans, Tom and Todd, after both left another London brewery to strike out on their own. Named after their global outlook and overseas experience as a collective, Mondo have a tough test on paper, breaking into the super-charged craft beer scene in the city. But starting with an Altbier is a really interesting tactic, and their range of beers really embraces that world-spanning ethos, including a blackberry Berliner Weisse (above, with Todd in the background), an imperial steam lager and a smoked coconut porter (to name but three).
The best beers I had on the night however were the lagers, with the All Caps Pilsner a fantastic find, and the chance to try their upcoming schwarzbier straight from the tank too good an opportunity to pass up. As brewer and co-founder Todd kindly showed us round their custom-built (and seriously high-tech) 6BBL Hungarian brewing kit, the passion for great beer and quality was completely evident. Mondo Brewing Company are very definitely ones to watch – hitting each part of the trifecta – friendly people producing well made beer across a range of styles.
Well, maybe there should be a fourth part (a quadfecta?) as their taproom is also one of the best around too. Like all the great examples, when you walk in the whole brewery is waiting for you (literally, in our case). And with taprooms, this is exacly the way it should be. What’s the best brewery taproom you’ve pulled up a barstool at?