Once the centre of the UK’s brewing industry, in recent years London has lost most of its major breweries as producers have merged, left the city or gone out of business altogether – Young’s, for example, abandoned it’s Wandsworth site some years ago for the prettier surroundings of rural Bedfordshire. The void that they left behind is now being filled by a growing number of small independent breweries that are bringing the art of producing fine ales back to London’s suburbs. Despite being just over a year old, the London Fields Brewery in Hackney has made its mark as one of the bigger players in this new arena, and I visited them last Saturday to take part in the weekly brewery tour and to sample their wares.
Established by local entrepreneurs Jules Whiteway and Ian Burgess (who also run Climpson and Sons coffee shop around the corner on Broadway Market), the London Fields Brewery produces over 1800 litres of ale per run and now operates five days a week in order to meet the growing demand for its products. They take great pride in the fact that they produce their beers using very traditional methods – you’ll find no automated hoppers or 100-feet-high steel vessels here – their small team of brewers do everything by hand, from putting the hops into the tuns to slapping the labels on the bottles!
The tour takes place inside the two railway arches which the London Fields Brewery occupies, just off Mare St in Hackney. The knowledgeable guide starts off by introduces visitors to the raw materials of the brewer’s trade – locally sourced hops and barley, yeast and filtered Hackney tap water. You are then taken through the various stages of manufacture, including details of the fermentation process, cask-conditioning and so on. The brewery currently has a stable of five products which they supplement with smaller runs of seasonal beers. Their year-round offering includes a standard pale ale, the ‘Hackney Hopster’ (a 4.2% pale ale with a distinctive hoppy aroma and flavour), ‘Love Not War’ (a red ale first brewed on the day that the 2011 London riots began), an ‘unfiltered’ lager and a traditional German-style wheat beer. These are currently joined by a single hop indian pale ale (IPA) called ‘Galaxy’ (which takes its name from the hop variety of the same name).
The brewery tour also includes a tasting session just up the street inside another two railway arches – this is the Brewhouse – London Fields Brewery’s event space and beer garden. It’s open to the public every Saturday and hosts live music, DJs, art shows and performance every week, and also offers up local food to complement the alcohol – last Saturday the ‘Dead Dolls Club’ were serving up ‘pulled pork’ and burgers, and there was also an ice cream stall selling uniquely flavoured treats from several manufacturers in the home counties. The Brewhouse is a very interesting space and everyone there seemed to be having a very good time – quirky and trendy Hackney at its best.
Tours of the London Fields Brewery take place at 12, 1pm, 2pm and 3pm each Saturday afternoon but they’re very popular, so you might have to wait for a couple of weeks before you can get on the list. To book, all you need to do is visit this webpage where you can pick your date and time and pay for the tour. The standard cost is £10, with a ‘premium package’ (which includes bottles of beer, t-shirts and so on) costing £25. I think the tour offers great value for money – I could have easily got through the entry price in pints during the tasting, so the educational walk around the premises is effectively free of charge!
If you’re intrigued by the beers that the London Fields Brewery produces and would like to try them for yourself, as well as serving them up at the Brewhouse, their products are stocked by a large number of London retailers – see the map here for more information.
You’ll find a few more photographs of my visit here on Google Plus.