Monday 1 September 2014

The New Boys (4): Orbit Beers London

Another railway arch in Southwark, another brewery start-up. But this one isn't in Bermondsey. Rather, a mile and a half or so south south-west from The Kernel and Brew By Numbers, in untrendy Walworth. In a quiet side street off the busy Walworth Road, tell-tale bags of spent malt signpost the premises of Orbit Beers London.

Operating for just two months, the brewery is the culmination of a familiar, yet quirkily different tale. Owner Rob Middleton, a quarter of a century of office toil under his belt, decided he wanted a change. But brewing wasn't his first stop. He bought a VW camper van he named 'Brian' and travelled. Having read Iain McEwan's book on Scottish distilleries, 'Raw Spirit', he thought he'd like to do the same sort of thing, so he wrote 'The Tea Leaf Paradox (Discovering Beer In TheLand Of Whisky)' about Scottish brewers. What he learned about beer and brewing led him to researching and, finally, setting up the brewery.

The Man Whose Head Expanded
Having found premises, and somebody to build him a shiny new kit, he needed a brewer. Step forward a familiar face to London beer drinkers, 'Super' Mario Canestrelli. I first met him when worked at seminal craft beer bar The Rake, but his travels in beer have taken him to the US and elsewhere, while in London he's worked at Craft Beer Co. and The Cock Tavern, where he spent time as brewer for Howling Hops, the claustrophobic brewhouse in the pub basement.

There's a distinct German influence on the early beers at Orbit, with an Altbier and a Kolsch-style ale already out of the fermenter, and then a Pale Ale, because Rob likes them. I tried the Alt on keg at Craft in Clerkenwell, and thought it a little chewy and sweet for the style, but quite drinkable once the palate is tuned into it. Mario agrees, stating it's a work in progress, inspired by Schumacher Alt. A brewery this young is still getting used to the quirks of their plant, and they've made some infrastructure tweaks as they go along. A larger bore fill pipe for the CLT, and some tuning up to their glycol cooling system. The beers they want to brew present slightly different challenges, too. They need to lager their beers, extending the time from mash-in to racking by 2-3 weeks, and the colder fermentation temperature is what necessitates the cooling system.

The Trio - Da Da Da
 To date, just four gyles have been racked, two of the Pale and one each of the Alt and Kolsch-style. Mario thinks the Pale will need some tuning, but I thought it was very good now. Subtle fruit on the nose, and a nice drying finish that made you want another sip. The Alt was a little less sweet two weeks on and from the bottle, while the Kolsch suggested a little sulphur on the nose beneath spicy esters, and felt very clean in the mouth, with a nice transition from early sweetness to a clean crisp finish. The lads are keen to feature UK-grown hops, which will give the beers a more subtle profile. Don't expect to be hit over the head by some high-alpha aroma hop, at least not right now.

Subtlety and quirkiness extends to the naming of the beers. Music is a big deal to Rob (his marketing strapline is 'Hi-Fidelity Brewing' and the branding suggests vinyl records, and some of the bottle caps feature a 7-inch vinyl spindle - nice. And subtle, what else?) and what links them; Ivo is the Pale Ale, Neu (who were playing in the brewhouse when I visited) the Altbier, and finally Nico, which is named for husky-voiced chanteuse who first found fame with Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground.

Van, van, van auf der autobahn
There's a busines plan that includes a tasting room set-up, and room to expand, and they're busy drumming up business, so there's a good chance you'll see their beers in bottle or on keg around London in the near future. Keep an eye on them, the beer offer is different, well-made and they've got an appealing brand. Maybe they'll brew a Baltic Porter...