Saturday, 26 October 2013

A hack around the London Borough of Hackney: 26th October 2013

It had been 2 years since I'd been in London and since then an incredible amount of new breweries had opened in and around the Capitol, reversing a trend of 20 years or more. Some of these breweries I'd managed to get the odd bottled (or even cask) beer from, others I hadn't heard about at all, it's just a great time to be a UK-based beer drinker. So when my NFL weekend in London came about again I was more than happy to let my London-based American friend lead me to one of hot-spots of the London brewing scene, Hackney and the surrounding area in in East London.

View Hackney in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Overground: Richmond to Highbury & Islington
  Bus: Highbury & Islington to Hackney Mare Street

First of all I had to get to Hackney Central to meet my friend. This proved to be a bit more complicated than I had hoped since the Overground train I was on decided to come to a grinding halt at Highbury & Islington for weekend-long Engineering Works. There was a replacement bus (somewhere) but damned if I could find it, so I decided that getting on a 'normal' bus heading east via Hackney Town Hall would probably get me somewhere close. Thankfully I was correct and I eventually found Hackney Central and my friend using the wonders of smartphone GPS technology. We decided first of all to head to The Cock Tavern, home of Howling Hops, but since it is a pub first-and-foremost (with a brewery in the cellar) licensing laws meant that it wasn't going to open until 12noon, so instead we backtracked to try to find Pressure Drop Brewing. I was pretty sure this was under a railway arch at Bohemia Place just opposite Hackney Central, but although I'm sure we went to the correct address it definitely wasn't open at that time of day - drats!

So Plan C was to head towards Hackney Downs to find Five Points Brewing Company. Halfway along the street we were obviously spied as non-locals and given the 'Have you ever had a time in your life when you didn't know what to do' routine. Errr... let me think... No, goodbye! Thankfully we were able to escape up Institute Place where Five Points is located, but unfortunately this was also closed - double drats!

When this happens all you can do is laugh, so batting 0/3 so we returned to Hackney Mare Street. The Cock Tavern was just about to open up but we decided to continue walking and try to find London Fields Brewery. We went past the amazing palms trees in front of Hackney Town Hall and then turned into Warburton Street just before the London Fields pub to find London Fields Brewery & Tap Room, perhaps not quite under the ubiquitous railway arch this time but definitely under a railway bridge!

And this was open - hooray! We went in, grabbed a table and ordered a couple of beers from the range of cask and kegged beers on offer. I had their Wheat Beer (lots of spice, nice texture) and my friend their seasonal Pumpkin Ale (and was most impressed). The London Fields Tap Room is very much thrown together 'brewing-chic' with lots of re-used parts of furniture, hanging-hop vines and I loved the use of the old fermenters as table & bench stands.

You can see (and smell) the brewery through a long window at the right hand side of the Tap Room (always a good sign) and we learnt that a Brewery Tour was happening at 2pm (so we signed ourselves in, well you have to do these things don't you?), though for £12 we were certainly expecting great things.

They have a range of really quite interesting food to enjoy - burgers, pulled pork etc... but I decided to go with the mushroom topped macaroni cheese. It may have taken a while but when it came there was all sorts types of cheese in that topping for the macaroni - lovely stuff (and look at those re-cycled knives & forks!).

We managed to time things pretty well and after another beer and a 'free' sample of Hackney Hopster 6 of us headed out on the tour with our knowledgeable guide. The first impression of the brewery is that it is really, well perhaps cramped is slightly over-the-top, but certainly the space is well used - there are tanks, vessels, hoses & casks all over the place.

Our guide gave us a brief history of London Fields and how some of their beers came about and then a run through of how the brew-kit works. Strangely enough they have a 10BBL copper but only a 5BBL mash tun, so a full brew length required 2 mashes - that's got to be a pain.

There are a lots of fermenters but what seemed to be an even larger number of of conditioning tanks, or these seemed more like vats.

We then made our way into the warehouse but had to make sure not to interrupt or disturb the large group of people who were on the homebrew class (which is overseen by one of the brewers on the last Saturday of every month, a nice idea indeed).

The warehouse was also choc-a-bloc with casks, key-kegs and bottles. There's no doubt they need a larger space but that's proving difficult to find in-and-around London Fields - it would be difficult to move elsewhere and still keep the same name.

Back in the Tap Room we had a few more samples, actually quite a few more samples, including some of the stronger brews. The First Born barley wine was very sweet & warming and the Black Forest Imperial Stout full of sour cherries & dark chocolate (a nice combination), but I actually preferred the more subtle Black Path Porter at only 4.2%. As always it was great having a chat & some beers with like minded people, this time a couple from Finland & few guys from Bristol on a London beer tour, but there's no doubt we certainly went through the samples at a fair rate so perhaps the £12 wasn't bad value at all.

After this we decided to join the guys from Bristol in walking down to Redchurch Brewery which was open from 4pm (we should have walked back to the Cock Inn, I don't know why we didn't). This was a bit of a stagger further south until the industrial units of Bethnal Green in amongst yet more railway arches.

The actual brewery is on the ground level (which makes sense from a loading/unloading point-of-view) with the brewery tap upstairs, so at almost dead on the 4pm opening time we grabbed a long bench table and went to order at the bar.

There was a more than decent selection of beers available on on tap including their signature brews (Shoreditch Blonde, Bethnal Pale & the magnificent Great Eastern IPA), and a also number of bottles, but there was no cask beer at all (there was also a Hoxton Stout IPA which confused me since I'd had a Brodies Hoxton IPA fairly recently). However after chugging down all those samples at London Fields I decided that a 2.9% Broadway Black Pale (an excellent Black IPA-lite) was a far more sensible idea.

I managed to persuade the guy who was serving at the bar to give us a short tour when the initial rush had calmed down and he wasn't too busy, many thanks for this. The kit is all super shiny-new with the brewlength being the same 10BBL as London Fields (both the mash tun & the copper), and the beer is almost always kegged straight from the fermenters (there are no conditioning tanks). Their beer is only rarely seen on cask (normally only for meet-the-brewer events) so they go through a lot of key-kegs and a lot of bottles. However their nationwide distribution network seems to be good, for Scotland and the North of England New Wave Distribution regularly get their beers into most of the 'craft beer' bars in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

By now I needed to head back to Richmond to meet another friend who had flown in that afternoon to also watch the NFL game on Sunday. So I had to bid farewell to East London, say thank-you to my American friend for showing me around, and I'll certainly hope to be back to this vibrant part of London-town soon.

Return travel:-
  Train: Cambridge Heath to London Blackfriars
  Train: Waterloo to Richmond

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