My brewing mojo has a pulse. It’s faint, but clear.
Kilburn is an area of North London about three miles west of Camden Town. It has a rich history of music venues, plenty bars and restaurants and a vacant railway arch. Arch 14A to be exact. Kilburn lies across three boroughs and has the highest Irish population in London. The arch itself sits within Camden and may well have been built by Irishmen. The musical connections of the area include the original name of Ian Dury’s band, Kilburn and the High Roads. Live music is still a feature of bars up and down the Kilburn High Road, but the Kilburn National Ballroom and the wonderful Luminaire are sadly no more. The former once featured gigs by the likes of The Smiths, Blur and Nirvana, but in 1999 was converted to an evangelical church in a rare reversal of the normal trend.
I have developed an arch fascination of late, searching online for one that might provide a good home for the brewery of my dreams. Having a brewery in London that isn’t in an arch is apparently considered a social faux pas. These desirable residences are plentiful enough, but rarely seem to be eligible for fresh occupation. Network Rail and Transport for London jealously guard their precious brood of semi-cylindrical brick-built beauties, releasing them all too infrequently to the horde of admiring would-be tenants. Arch 14A is under the auspices of TfL, which I’m told does not augur well.
Any arch in a storm, as the saying doesn’t go. This one offers just less than 1200 square feet in return for a rent of 14,000 British Pounds per annum (my new Mac offers only $, € or ¥ currency signs). The area is great, the price is reasonable and, though a smidgen small, the size will do just fine. The viewing takes place next week and I expect a crowd, despite the ostensive, offensive lease terms that provide the landlord with a one-way rolling six-month break option. Untenable, or maybe that should be untenantable! Still, it’s progress, and having an arch that lies next to a street called Shoot-Up Hill would be pretty cool.
Research continues in earnest with visits to Crate and Hoppy Collie breweries. The latter is a nano brewery, tucked away at the back of an Italian restaurant on the Fulham Palace Road. A blowy 15-mile round trip on my bike was rewarded by an effusive welcome from Viola, the hoppy (happy) Collie and her Californian owner Travis. Occasional brews here yield about 250 litres for onward sale to a cluster of pubs, rewarding a day’s labour squeezed between the confines of a full-time job.
Crate also involved a 15-mile cycle, but there the comparisons end. Crate is housed in a large, white building, nestled by the canal, a javelin throw from the Olympic Stadium. In addition to the brewery there’s a bar and a pizza restaurant. Sitting outside for lunch, overlooking the canal, with a pint of IPA and 12π square inches of delicious pizza in front of me, made this a particularly good day at the office. Owner Neil has already expanded to having 37 staff, just 15 months after opening. Let’s colour that successful. It was also quite inspirational and I basked in Neil’s enthusiasm.
I had to work into the evening, but I didn’t mind. The LBA had a social event planned at the historic Fuller’s Brewery, to celebrate the retirement of a founder member (of the LBA, not the brewery). Awesome location, free beer and a fascinating tour topped off with the cracking (tapping) open of a polypin of excellent Russian Imperial Stout. This nectar was the Tsar attraction. After taking on some buffet fuel we ventured out for a pub-crawl along the Thames, talking beer, drinking beer and relaxing in the camaraderie of the London Beer Alliance.
In other news, I’ve been trying to rent out my new flat in Wapping and, one day, had occasion to take a stroll around the area. Looking closely at a weathered sign above the Cable Street Inn, I saw the name of Meux’s Stouts and Ales. This fired my curiosity and led me to read about the history of Meux’s brewery, one of the larger players in early 19th Century London. My research unearthed an event that had spookily taken place exactly 199 years earlier to the day, close to the junction where Oxford Street now meets Tottenham Court Road.
Big was beautiful in these days and breweries would compete for having the largest and grandest vats where the beer would be matured for many months. So large were these vats, that Meux’s were able to host a dinner for 200 people within one. As well as bragging rights, this scale offered efficiencies that smaller players just couldn’t match. The event of 199 years ago to which I allude began in one of these vast vats. One of the metal rings holding it together broke and soon after the whole vat gave way, releasing over 1,000,000 pints of Porter. The ensuing tsunami caused a domino effect, breaking open other vats, the sum of which created the legendary London beer flood.
The flood killed nine poor folk, although the ninth of these actually succumbed to alcohol poisoning some weeks later. He may therefore have been among the throng that thirstily and lustily approached the torrent with pots and pans, to rescue some booty by looting the fruits of the brewery. No criminal charges were levied against Meux’s and they even successfully recovered the prepaid duty from the Government. The Dominion Theatre now stands on the site of the old brewery.
With the likelihood of not having my own functioning brewery until possibly a year hence (and unrelated to the story above), I have become somewhat enchanted by the idea of outsourcing my brewing and bottling to a contractor. No nasty leases, limited capital at risk, much shorter timescales, no brewer required, but a fast-track to branding, sales and marketing. I just need to design the beers, order 750 litres at a time, store it in a wee lock-up and purchase a van to enable distribution. Ideally this is only a precursor to the main event, the support act if you will, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out a future starring role for this much simpler business model!
I’m learning that to successfully run a brewery you need some combination of the following: relevant experience, suitable qualifications, useful connections, skilled colleagues and a bit of luck. I don’t think that you need to tick all five boxes, but at least three would be pretty helpful. My scorecard is so far looking thus: none, very limited, very limited, none, not a lot. Not a great report card then, so my mission, should I wish to accept it, must be to gain some experience. Sure, I could do another course, but it’s time that I worked up a sweat. My new goal then, is to get some (unpaid) work in a brewery. I’m happy to assist with the brew, clean, deliver, sell or make the tea.
I wonder if anyone is looking for a Pentagenarian intern?