These guys could currently claim to be London’s newest brewer, but there are so many popping up all over the capital that by the time I’ve finished this sentence, I’m sure another one will have set up shop on a trading estate somewhere. Clarence & Fredericks started brewing in the middle of October 2012, and when I went to visit, had just casked brew number 5. So very young indeed. (Incidentally, for pics of the brewery from empty shell to working unit, plus the family brewers themselves, check their Facebook page here)
Founded by couple Duncan Woodhead and Victoria Barlow, the idea was simply to do something which they were passionate about. And Duncan is clearly very passionate about brewing.
His first contact with beer was in his parent’s pub in Worcester, and as a teenager he started helping out on the odd day at a local microbrewery. His payment was a few pints and a sandwich in the nearby pub at lunchtime while the wort was left to be cooled and run off into the fermenter.
Duncan moved to the States when he was 22 to do a masters in history, before moving back over the pond to Edinburgh – where he started getting involved with CAMRA – then Newcastle and finally London in 2008, when he met Victoria.
A year later, their son Freddie was born, and Duncan felt he needed a change of career – they were both working for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (and still are, part-time). The couple discussed some options, and Duncan decided he wanted to brew. He was taken on a couple of days a week at the WJ King brewery in Horsham, and also started experimenting with his own recipes on an all-grain homebrew setup. He used this time to see how a bigger brewery functioned, how he could scale up his homebrew recipes, and learn anything that could help him in his own enterprise from head brewer Ian Burgess. In 2011, after a year at WJ King, the couple set up their own business and Duncan trained at BrewLab at the University of Sunderland. When the course ended, the planning of the brewery started in earnest. When it came to finding a name, the couple wanted something classic-sounding but that also meant something to them, and rather than use their surnames, they took a slightly different angle: they chose the street they live on and the name of their now 3 year old son.
With Victoria’s background in PR and communications, it seemed natural that she would handle a lot of the sales, branding and marketing while Duncan focused on the beer itself. He brewed over 30 test batches in the kitchen of their Sutton house in the 18 months running up to the brewery’s launch, trying out different beers and finalising recipes in order to be scaled up to their 10bbl plant. And Duncan’s passion for history meant he was fastidious with the results of the research; he showed me a box containing 24 homebrew bottles, all with hand-written labels and scraps of paper wrapped around them with recipes, tasting notes and all sorts of brewing calculations scribbled on them (one being an old envelope). This is where he gets his inspiration for the seasonal brews – his brewing record and recipe book, if you like. For example, their Christmas beer this year will be a stout based on a plum porter he made last year, but using redcurrants instead of plums for that festive twist.
They decided on premises in Neville Road in Croydon, and the equipment was supplied and fitted by John Trew from Oban Ales, and while the brewery wasn’t spic and span when I visited (still bits of building equipment here and there) Duncan assured me that what matters is the insides of the vessels, not the outside. And the brewery is producing beer – good beer – so a tidy up can wait.
Their 2 regular brews are a Best Bitter and a Golden Ale. The former is a session ale which is brewed without the ubiquitous crystal malt, which makes it feel thinner in the mouth, but the 4.1% ABV brings up the rear with a nice warm finish. And the sample I was given as Duncan showed me around the brewery, though young, was still very drinkable and full of earthy, caramel flavours. Their Golden Ale bursts with hoppy aroma and flavour. Very much my kind of ale. Although the hop shortages in the US meant that Duncan had to alter his initial recipe slightly for his first brew as there was no amarillo available. And I’m sure he’s not the only brewer who’s had to substitute when it comes to those fruity and extremely popular hops at the moment – hopefully the much talked about new UK hops will fill the place of those big new world hops. And their only seasonal so far was a Smoked Red, which won first prize at the Wallington Beer Festival earlier this year.
He currently brews 1 batch per week, which is just over 40 casks to get out there to the drinkers that want it. And that’s the hardest part about being a brewer, according to Duncan. Actually getting pubs to take your beer. Obviously, most pubs won’t just take beer from anyone, and until you have a reputation its difficult to get pub owners to take a punt on a 70-odd quid cask of beer. But they must be doing something right as the list of pubs that they’re supplying is growing by the day, and among the names written on the whiteboard when I visited were The Hope, The Southampton Arms, The Holborn Whippet and The Rake. And this was only a week after their official launch in the cosy back room of The Gunmakers, where Duncan was enthusing about his beer to publicans, bloggers and other influential beer folk, while Victoria spoke about their philosophy and plans for the future.
Duncan spoke about trying to get into his local Wetherspoons, so they are obviously trying to get a real foothold in the south London and north Surrey area. He describes himself more as a local brewer than a craft brewer and is clearly proud to be brewing in London, and specifically Croydon. And next on their agenda is to open a brewery shop on the premises too – initially selling cask beer in takeaway containers, then moving on to bottles and brewery merchandise.
It’s always good to see passionate brewers, and these guys certainly fit the bill. Speaking to either of them, you immediately get sucked in by their dedication and excitement for their beer. And for Duncan, the best part of the job is when he can see someone in a pub enjoying a pint of his beer. To know that he created that from a balance of 4 ingredients makes it all worth while.
Now I’m off to track down the last of the Smoked Red…