London's beer renaissance
Logan Plant, the son of Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, is at the forefront of a niche movement that’s reviving London’s brewing industry. Adrian Tierney-Jones raises a pint glass to the capital's beer renaissance.
Next to the open-plan kitchen, several stainless-steel vessels stand idle waiting for the following morning’s brewing. The brewmaster and Beavertown founder is Logan Plant, a tall, easy-going thirtysomething whose enthusiasm for the beers he makes is infectious.
You might have heard of his father Robert, the Led Zeppelin frontman. Logan initially took off in the old man’s footsteps, fronting the rock band Sons of Albion. This took him gigging around the world where a passion for beer, initially nurtured in Black Country pubs, turned into something more serious.
“On my last schlep across the pond, I found myself in Brooklyn,” he says. “After coming offstage, a local hipster directed me to a late-night joint where ales flowed from the walls and pulled pork was served until the early hours. Three lashings of pork later and half a yard of ale down my neck, I knew what I wanted to do. This was it. I had found my calling!”
He pours me a glass of Beavertown’s rye IPA 8 Ball, a robustly hopped beer with ripe orange skin and spicy rye on the nose, orange and lemon on the palate all held in line by a firm backbone of rye crispness. The dry and bitter finish chimes away like a constant peal of bells.
He’s right. London is currently undergoing a heady beer and brewing renaissance. It now has nearly 30 breweries, most having blossomed in the past three years or so. Capital beer-lovers are now spoilt for choice as fragrant pale ales, robust bitters, creamy porters, slinky lagers and powerfully hopped IPAs spill over into their glasses.
Yes, the former brewing capital of the world is definitely making a comeback.
London had always been a beer city. Courage used to brew at its massive Thames Shad complex – this now houses luxury flats and the beers are made in Bedford by another brewery. Whitbread had its home in the Barbican, where it started brewing in the 18th century, while Truman and Charrington served bibulous Londoners in the East End. Smaller breweries included Fuller’s in Chiswick and Young’s in Wandsworth.
This started to change in the Sixties as breweries merged, closed or moved out (their names lingering like ghosts on pub facades) and, by the end of the 20th century, only Fuller’s and Young’s remained, along with the odd brewpub (Fuller’s still make magnificent beers; Young’s moved to Bedford). It was a sad time. But now the tide is turning again.
Take the overground to Kentish Town West, and in an arch below the railway line you will find Camden Town Brewery. Jasper Cuppaidge started it in 2010, and you could say he was born with beer flowing through his veins: his grandfather owned a large brewery in Brisbane, Australia. Before he started Camden, he was the landlord of the Horseshoe in Hampstead. Alongside standard real ales, he also sold American pale ale and Bavarian wheat beer, and it struck him that somebody should start making these beers in London.
“It was time for me to make my own beers,” he tells me when we met at the Great British Beer Festival. “So I started the brewery in these rail arches. London was the home of so much great beer but then it died. It’s fantastic to be a part of the movement that’s bringing great beer back to the greatest city in the world – London deserves better beer.”
In his quest for great beer, Cuppaidge’s brewery looks to America and the European mainland for inspiration. Beers brewed include a zingy, Bavarian-style wheat beer, a fruity American-style pale ale and a rich, dry stout called Ink.
South of the river in Bermondsey, it’s brew day at Kernel Brewery and a sweet, fruity, tea-like aroma drifts through the air. The brewery, also housed under a railway arch, is noted for its assertively hopped IPAs, most of which use New World hop varieties such as Citra (this hop packs a Tysonesque punch of pungent tropical fruit on the nose). Historical styles of beer such as London Porter and the luxurious Export Stout also appear alongside more experimental brews (an Imperial Brown Stout aged in oak, for instance).
Evin O’Riordain, Kernel’s founder, started his working life with cheese at Neal’s Yard Dairy, and he, too, underwent an epiphany in New York. “I had my own cheese stall in Borough Market for three years,” he tells me in between checking the temperature in the brewing kettle, “but then during a stay in New York, in the evening we would go out and I would be taught about beer. It was amazing to discover that you could treat beer in the same manner as we treated artisanal cheese. One afternoon in the beer garden of a Manhattan bar, the thought occurred that I should make beer back home.”
Later on, I gather my thoughts in the nearby Dean Swift. Kernel’s beers are regulars here, as are other London ones, including Redemption’s chestnut-coloured Urban Dusk (brewed in Tottenham). I order a pint of it.
It’s a marvellous beer with bright citrusy notes and hints of caramel on the nose while the dry, crisp nutty palate leads to a long-lasting bitter finish. I toast London’s new wave of brewers while remembering the ghosts. They can rest now: the baton has been taken up. As Logan Plant’s father might have sung: there’s a whole lotta brewing going on.
Three of the best London beers
1 Camden Town Pale Ale, 4.5%
Bright amber in colour, this juicy pale ale has a fragrant nose of ripe peach skin with orange pith in the background. The palate is a fruit bowl of ripe mango and passion fruit plus a hint of grapefruit; a crisp graininess stops the fruitiness from going overboard. The finish is long and dry.
2 Beavertown Smog Rocket, 5.4%
The colour of midnight, this is inspired by the London porters of the past. The nose is smoky and chocolatey, while the palate is creamy and subtly smoky with mocha notes in the background. Dangerously drinkable; Logan Plant suggests it as a partner to Gorgonzola or oysters.
3 Brodie's Hackney Red IPA, 6.1%
American hops give this amber-coloured beauty slinky ripe pink grapefruit notes on the nose, while there is more grapefruit on the palate alongside a well-balanced caramel sweetness before its generous bitter finish.
Where to drink in London
• Craft Beer Company, Leather Lane Clerkenwell (thecraftbeerco.com)
• The Rake, Winchester Walk, Borough (utobeer.co.uk/aboutus_rake.html)
• Euston Tap, Euston Road, Euston (eustontap.com)
• Dean Swift, Gainsford Street, Tower Bridge (thedeanswift.com)
• King William IV, High Road, Leyton (williamthefourth.net)
• Duke’s Brew & Que, Downham Road, Hackney, (dukesjoint.com)
SOURCE: The Telegraph UK News