Thursday 13 December 2012

The New Boys (2): Partizan Brewing

Another railway arch in Southwark, slightly south and east of Bermondsey underground, and not far from Southwark Park. No Maltby Street vibe, no sense of a thriving hub for good food and drink, no hipsters and yuppie couples with upmarket pushchairs grazing. Behind an anonymous roller shutter on a quiet access road, another of London's new breweries is preparing to launch beer to the capital's beer lovers.

Andy 'Partizan' Smith
Andy Smith will be familiar to many of London's beer lovers. For almost three years he's been working with Andy Moffat at Redemption, wowing drinkers with beers such as subtle, golden Trinity and hoppy, full-bodied Big Chief. But in the Spring of this year he decided to strike out and set up his own brewery. Along with old schoolmate, another Andy (Karran), who is still holding down a day job in the Midlands, he's taken time to find premises, design the beers and brand, untangle all of the red tape and now Partizan is finally about to launch their debut beers.

Trust me, it's brewing kit...
The 4 BBL brewkit was Evin O'Riordain's before he moved The Kernel to Dockley Street and quintupled his brewlength. Brodie's, Redemption and The Kernel have helped out with bits of equipment and advice, and now Partizan is brewing once a week, with all production going into bottles. Andy is pleasantly surprised by the quality of the local water, which comes from local aquifers. “It’s bloody hard, with very high levels of calcium, but it's also incredibly consistent which is very important considering we can't do analysis as regularly as we’d like. At least we know where we are with it.”

On my visit I was able to try Pale Ale, around 5.3%, amber, and hopped with Citra and Pacific Gem; and Stout, which Andy suspects is a little bigger than the target 7.5% (turns out it's 8.6%), but has a delicious mocha nose, some squishy red fruit notes and bitter chocolate in the mouth, and a pleasing long roasted bitter finish. Both beers need a little more time in the bottle, but showed great promise and were already quite drinkable a week ago. An IPA was being brewed last weekend, so the hope is to have three beers available around the festive season.

Exclusive! Look For The Partizan Label...
I got an exclusive sneak peek of the label artwork which I'm sharing with you, my loyal reader. Andy explains the idea behind the design “Our beers full of character so we also wanted our labels to be. I’ve been a big fan of illustrator Alec Doherty for a long time and feel really lucky to have his illustrations on our bottles. I like the way they're not always immediately obvious, they make you work a little but also make you appreciate them all the more for it, hopefully a little like our beers”. The intention is for beer to be available around London before Christmas. They also expect to be able to open the brewery for sales and tastings, so check their website for info.

There's no playing around with 'p' words like 'philosophy' and 'passion' behind Partizan, though Andy S has used the Partizan nickname through his time as both a homebrewer and at Redemption. He says, “It was originally stolen from film director Michel Gondry's YouTube account, but I have since come to enjoy its other meanings and associations, most obviously the enthusiastic and ardent support for something, obviously beer in my case”. With the sharing, collaborative scene growing up in London, I'd say Partizan are in the right place.

I'll be checking in with the New Boys as they develop their beers and find markets. Another New Boy profile soon...

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Golden Pints 2012

In the absence of 2012 Boggle Awards (haven't been to half the new London bars or checked out some of the new beer to make them meaningful), I've decided to pick out some stuff for the Golden Pints. My Year Of Beer will be up around Xmas Week...

Best UK Draught Beer Dark Star APA, Fyne Ales Rune, Camden Wheat, Marble Draft
Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer Table Beer from The Kernel Brewery
Best Overseas Draught Beer Moonlight Death & Taxes, as consumed at Flavor, Santa Rosa CA, in November
Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer I was given a bottle of Russian River Sanctification batch 1, which was stunning. Technically not 2012, but best I drank.
Best Overall Beer See above
Best Pumpclip or Label Revolutions' Unknown Pleasures and the white stick RRBC use for their Blind Pig IPA
Best UK Brewery In no particular order - Magic Rock, Dark Star, Fyne, The Kernel, Ilkley, Arbor all impressive this year
Best Overseas Brewery Russian River Brewing Co
Pub/Bar of the Year Toronado, San Francisco
Best Beer Blog or Website Boak & Bailey and Reluctant Scooper
In 2013 I’d most like to... keep up better with the London scene

Tuesday 4 December 2012

A Book At Beertime: Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers

(In the interests of transparency, I was contacted by the publishers of this book, Aurum, and offered a review copy, which I accepted)

Chris Arnot seems to be fond of finding lost things. He's written about lost cricket grounds and, more recently, football fields. In 'Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers', he selects 30 gone-but-not-forgotten breweries and meanders across the UK to find their remnants, both human and built, recording oral histories of their time, the impact on their communities, and the beers they brewed. What he has delivered is a potted history of the past 40 years of British brewing. A time marked by dumbed-down beer, wrong turns, greed, boardroom-level betrayal, hubris and carpet-bagging which led to the closure of iconic breweries and the loss of some classic beers.

Across the series of stories he relates, I was fascinated by the impact of things I'd only heard about. I got serious about beer around 1991, and started going to festivals a couple of years later. The 'Tour Of Destruction' was of peripheral interest, as three of my cousins had working lives at Wethereds of Marlow cut short by Whitbread's takeover, and I was a Guinness drinker when the Beer Orders came in, but the Big Six and the massive consolidation of the industry happened when I was a kid. Once I started drinking, I just knew Kennington had one of each brewery's pubs. (Aside: Arnot lived around here in the early 70's, as he relates in his chapter on Charrington. I found myself wondering whether he was drinking their cask beer at The Roebuck, now long-gone and re-badged as The Dog House.)

Beer as I was experiencing it in the 90's was politicised by the fall-out from a perceived betrayal delivered in the Beer Orders, and schadenfreude when the big national brewers were themselves devoured when they wandered onto the radar of the multinational conglomerates, so maybe after all there was some good in those Beer Orders. I'd never experienced the kind of community where the local brewery supplied all the local pubs, except in Germany, where the Waldniel-based Schloss Brauerei supplied virtually every pub and restaurant in the area - when a new bar opened selling 'foreign' beer (Bitburger) locals were dumbfounded.

However, as Arnot narrates his adventures, there's little in the way of rancor, the sound of grinding axes, or glee. There are some funny coincidences, too. I recalled Matt Wickham telling me that, during a refurbishment of the Evening Star in Brighton a couple of years back, a load of breweriana was discovered in the attic. Turns out the Star was once a Tamplin's house, and the stuff must have lain there for over 40 years. I wonder if Arnot knew about that when wrote about Tamplin's?

While this book isn't a forensic examination of the decline of the small brewer in the late 20th Century, neither does it wallow in dewy-eyed nostalgia. It does relate the human cost of brewery closures which to be fair I imagine CAMRA would have been pointing out when they were campaigning against the later loss of brewers like Vaux. He also manages to nod towards the new brewing scene, which in some cases has been a result of brewery staff dumped from their jobs starting from scratch out of a belief in local beer.

Of course, British brewing will probably never again be the exclusive domain of huge, often family-operated businesses with tied estates running into hundreds of pubs. The challenges to the new brewers seem to be more about selling a massively taxed product to hard-to-access markets, and the neo-prohibitionist attack on drinking. It's hard to imagine any of the new brewers wanting to emulate a Young's, or Gales or Tetley. So this book is a useful reminder of what we lost, and maybe a caution to be careful what we wish for.

'Britain's Lost Breweries And Beers'
By Chris Arnot
Published by Aurum Press, 194pp
ISBN: 978-1-78131-002-1
RRP: £25, but Amazon (assuming you aren't boycotting them) have it for £16.99 at the moment.