Want to do a beer crawl of the craftiest kind? Here’s how – the best route in London ...
The Bermondsey Beer Mile – now that does sound arduous and there’s no denying, it takes dedication to your art to complete the length of it. In fact, it’s not even a mile, it’s close to 1.4 miles and growing … growing unless greedy landlords put those ever-creative brewers off with high-rise rents. You see, it’s become quite a beer fiend’s destination and has seen the regeneration of this part of London, so why not cash in on it? But let’s tuck that cynical thought away for now and focus on beer!
The start … 2009
The first brewer to take residence was The Kernel in 2009. Residence sounds a bit fancier than reality. Indeed, none of the premises are luxurious. These are working breweries, with a tap-room as a small, most welcome addition. They are largely open on Friday evenings, Saturday all day, with a few on Thursday evening too. Always best to check – it’s a fast-moving scenario!
There are a few tables and chairs, benches, a barrel perhaps upon which to perch your beck of beer and the loud chatter of beer enthusiasts having a good time. These are colourful bars, bottle and can shops, places to sample, allowing you measures of a third, a half or even two thirds of a pint … a good thing for the high ABV craft brews. There’s even one – UBrew – where, for the price of membership, you can brew your own.
This month, we are featuring beers from two in the Bermondsey Beer Mile – Partizan and Anspach & Hobday. We’re certain you’ll love their beers – both their mainstream and their more leftfield. You’ll find a short feature on each below.
Partizan – the epitome of a microbrewery “the great strength and beauty that lies in the juxtaposed co-existence of differing ideas and ideals”
That quote might sound all a bit high falutin’, but Partizan is anything but. True, founder Andy Smith did give up a career in fine dining, exchanging it for up-to-the-elbows, down-to-earth brewing. That was back in 2009. Today, Andy relishes his brewery’s home along the Bermondsey Mile, with its rich diversity of ethnicity and cultures.
Andy had been dabbling with home brewing for a while, frustrated that he couldn’t get a decent American-style brew in his hometown of Leeds. He’d always make a bit too much, so would run an ‘advent calendar’ competition – whoever designed the best label would win a beer calendar. Its success encouraged Andy to take the next step.
He moved to London from Leeds and began working with Andy Moffat at Redemption Brewery in Tottenham. Brewers are a friendly bunch, a tight-knit community, always happy to help out others along the way. Andy S made contacts throughout the London beer scene, including Evin O’Riordain of The Kernel fame, who kindly passed on his original brewing kit when The Kernel expanded. Premises became vacant in a railway arch next door, and Partizan became neighbours to his mates at The Kernel!
Andy secured the services of an old friend, Alec Doherty – an artist and illustrator – and so the image of Partizan blossomed.
Seven years on, two years in their current premises, Partizan has a strong reputation for tasty beers. Stout was their first brew – one they’re still making today to the same recipe – but now, of course, they make a range from Saison, to Pale to real Lager. It’s all small production stuff – Andy’s not too interested in hitting the big time. He and the team pride themselves on their micro-crafted beers and want to keep it that way.
Philosophy – yeast is king and oxygen, the bad boy
Yeast is very important, Andy was telling our Brew Republic team on their recent visit – he says this has the biggest impact, as the fermentation affects the flavour. He’s also hot on the exclusion of oxygen as the beer goes into bottle. So they vacuum the bottles twice on the bottling line. They prefer this type of packaging, think quality is better, so will stick with it – cans, albeit trendy, aren’t on the horizon. Cleanliness is also high up the agenda – a lot of scrubbing goes on!
The taps on their bar are unique – wooden sculptures that look like something out of Playschool! When they were at their previous premises on Almond Road, they were good friends with Reuben who ran the Scales & Models shop. He suggested making them some taps, and their label-designer, Alec, worked with him to create them.
And the name Partizan – where does that come from? Well, ‘Andy Smith’ is a bit of an everyman name that wasn’t going to make the brewery stand out! So Andy thought … he loved watching the films of French director Michel Gondry, also known as ‘Partizan’ (who, by the way, can solve rubik’s cubes with his feet!). Andy thought ‘Partizan Smith’ – now that’s a good name and it took off on social media too. Thus a name was born.
Collaborations: Now these get the team excited – they have recently worked with concert pianist Olga Stezhko. Andy is also big into skateboarding, so they collaborated with Piilgrim and Vague magazine. They even worked with Guinness, making a trio of ‘aperitif style’ beers – a Saison, a sherry-cask-aged Pilsner and a vermouth-inclined L’Intensa barley wine. Now that’s quite a collection of collabs!
On a recent visit to Partizan, the Brew Republic team quizzed Andy on his favourite beer. “Orval” he said, a Belgian beer and, funnily enough, also the favourite of Michael Wiper of Wiper and True (one of our earlier Brew Republic feature Brewers). In fact, Fergal of Wiper and True used to work at Partizan … brewing is a small world.
The biggest challenge for these guys, as it is for many, is cashflow. Quick growth in the market is a struggle and some businesses invest so much in growth that it tips them over, warned Andy. Credit terms change regularly, so you have to be savvy to be able to navigate through it all, the whole brewing journey – from raw materials, to the packaging and distribution. By recognising this, however, Andy believes he can avoid the pitfalls.
They are a small team, guided by their beautiful black cat, Adina, who adopted them three years ago. They have embraced the great traditions of their home in Bermondsey – birthplace of Stout, Porters and IPAs – and made those beer styles their own. They cherish the cultural diversity of the place and hope to absorb some part of it into what they produce. You’ll find the whole gamut here – from rich coffee Porters to the super hoppy IPAs and refreshing Saisons. Cheers Andy and team – we love your beers.
Finished at Partizan, that’s the Bermondsey end of the Mile, our next stop was Anspach & Hobday. To get there was an easy walk – under the railway line, a weave westwards, along Almond Road, through the graffiti-decorated arch to Enid Street. There were plenty more tap rooms along there to distract us, but we kept our course, under the arch again and onto Druid Street. We made it!
Anspach & Hobday
This is a brewery in demand – one of the trendiest on the craft beer scene. On our recent visit, they were busy with a photo shoot with the latest foodie magazine.
Founded by Jack Hobday and Paul Anspach, they have been on the Bermondsey Mile for five years now, in premises that used to house a rope gym … though you wouldn’t know. They’ve just about outgrown the premises, so will shortly be moving the brewing kit to new premises in London. They will, however, keep a tap room on the Mile, along with a couple of fermenting tanks for experimental beers. At the new HQ, they will also install a canning line – that’s a new venture and a departure from the bottles they currently focus on. Some beers, they reckon, taste better (and keep better) in can, more akin to kegging that they also favour. At the new site, the fermenters will be a bit larger and there will be space for fun with oak barrels.
On our visit to them in Bermondsey, we were intrigued as to whether the vibration of the trains as they trundle overhead, often, affected the brewing. Edd (Clibbens, their Head of Sales) said “not at all, but it does effect our phone signal!”
It’s not just in the UK that you’ll find A&H beers – they export 10% of production … to France and Italy mainly, with a little to a bar in Madrid (a former employee connection) and they’re popular in Brussels too. Coals to Newcastle and all that.
The A&H team love a collaboration too – they’ve had two collabs with Kentucky’s Against the Grain, producing It Doesn’t Matter What The Name Is (a double imperial stout) and The Flavour Graph (a smoked beer).
They’ve also collaborated with Brasserie de la Senne in Brussels, brewers with whom they’ve become firm friends, having met up often at past beer festivals. Their collab beer was named Anspach Porter, surname, of course, of Paul and also a former Brussels mayor and the name of a street near their brewery – Rue Anspach.
They brew beer for Germany’s great Oktoberfest too, though, with the move this year, it might prove a little difficult. They’re still deliberating that one.
Paul has a dream to collaborate with the band Polyphonic Spree. In the meantime, they’ve got creative with a band called Thy Art is Murder in Australia – together they made a white Berliner Weisse (which they turned black!).
Both Dylan and Dan help Paul with all the brewing, while Jack concentrates on the business side (including crowd-funding). Jack’s real name is John, but they call him Jack. It’s a family tradition – each generation in his family has a boy called John and they alternate generations – one called Jack, the next John. Less confusing that way!
Going back – how it started:
So how did it all start … what was the inspiration for Jack and Paul? These guys have been close friends since they were two. Jump a decade or almost two and Jack studied Psychology at UCL, while Paul read Philosophy at Kings. Naturally, they lived together in London and decided to try home brewing. They made a Porter and when Jack started working at CASK Pub & Kitchen in Pimlico, he entered it into the International Beer Challenge. They won Silver! They continued to brew the Porter and, when they were a more established brewery, re-entered it and won Gold.
They’re still making that same Porter – priding themselves on consistency, as well as remaining true to the origins of the London beer scene. This is their signature beer, packed with roast coffee and chocolaty notes. However, it’s their IPA that’s most popular and keeps them afloat nowadays.
Overall, their aim is to make beer that they want to brew and that turns out to be a broad range – from a gentle Pale Ale to the whacky sea salt and chilli stout! Plus, every intern who works with them gets the chance to make their dream beer – pretty cool, we thought. The latest was Drake – his chosen style was a Witbier which we got to try – a really tasty drop.
Edd tells us his favourite (outside the A & H range) is The Kernel table beer, along with Taras Boulba by De La Senne and Burning Sky Saison à la Provision, which was the first beer to really wow him.
Mindful of the Planet
Sustainability is high up on the agenda for the team: they use renewable energy supplies and recycle whenever they can. Jack recently wrote to David Attenborough to ask how he thought the brewery could be more environmentally friendly. They got a letter from David by return, and have taken the points on board.
And by the way, if you want to test out your knowledge – beer facts or otherwise – Edd of A&H hosts a pub quiz at the Marquis of Wellington (opposite them) every week and at Bermondsey's Brew By Numbers twice a month. Sounds like a fun night out and yet another great example of the mateyness of the brewing industry – they all love to get together for a bit of fun and to try each others’ new-releases.
Got a free Saturday then, with a few mates? We’d highly recommend a visit to the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Start one end, Bermondsey tube stop, or the other, London Bridge, and wend your way, visiting as many Tap Rooms as you can manage. Make sure you pick up some street food on the way to sustain your palate and have fun. The beers are amazing. Cheers!