Brewery Tour

Moncada – Brewfile and Brewery Tour

Back in November last year, thanks to Heineken paying lots of money to have James Bond drink one of their beers in Skyfall, and also thanks to the lovely people at Food & Fuel, I won a £100 bar tab and a tour of the Moncada brewery. The bar tab was used mainly on drinking all the Punk IPA at Mel’s in Earlsfield, but due to Moncada having to relocate, the tour was only organised for a couple of weeks ago.

Scanner Darkly in the glass

Scanner Darkly in the glass

And, as luck would have it, Shamblemoose were launching their brewery at The Union Tavern right around the corner from Moncada near Westbourne Park. How bloody fortuitous! My friend Steve and I arrived at the Union, were informed that there was a brewery launch that night, to which we replied, “That’s why we’re here!”. Whilst pulling our pints of Shamblemoose’s American Brown Ale No. 4, the barman remarked that people will do anything for free beer. Now I expected a taste, not a full pint! Great start to the evening. The beer was, well, brown. Strong biscuit malts, slightly spicy flavour with crackling autumnal hops. Nice. This was my first visit to the Union and their beer selection was impressive (over 6 hand pumps and about 10 keg taps, from memory) including lots of local London beers. After the Brown we had time for a half, so we took the economical decision and squeezed in a Brodie’s and Kernel Scanner Darkly collaboration Black IPA. As Steve pointed out, the nose was a big hit of blackcurrant. The taste was warm and roasted, with some hoppy zing and a nice, blackcurrant bitter finish. Very tasty.

We then headed to Moncada where we met my friend Jamie, who was joining us on the tour. The door of the unmarked unit in the back streets of north west London was opened by Julio Moncada, the founder and head brewer. He was very welcoming and seemed very happy and keen to show us around his new premises. Moncada was founded by Julio in 2010 in premises around the corner, but he was forced to move a few months ago due to the building being demolished. Julio is originally from Argentina and moved to the UK about 10 years ago. His love of beer started here and he became an avid homebrewer. And then in 2010, together with 2 friends, he started Moncada.

Julio showing us his hydrometer

Julio showing us his hydrometer

We were shown around the brewery, the lovely wooden-clad hot liquor tank, mash tun and kettle. He talked through the brewing process, and his brewing beliefs. They don’t use any finings or chemicals at Moncada, they work with the water they have and their final beer is a little hazy but it’s unadulterated. He let us have a sniff and a taste of the 2 batches of Blonde in the fermenter – one brewed a few days before and one brewed that day – and showed us the cold store room full of casks and and extensive hop stock.

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Steve and Jamie talking to Julio at the bar

Then we went upstairs to the Moncada bar, and we were priveleged to be the first outsiders to have a drink there. Julio lined up the bottles of their current roster, which all have the “Notting Hill” name: Stout, Porter, Ruby Rye, Amber, Bitter and their biggest seller, Blonde.The Porter was good, great for a winter evening by a fire. The Stout had a much fuller mouthfeel than the Porter, and much more roasty toasty flavours. But both of these felt a little too carbonated for my tastes. Then we went on to the Blonde from a chilled keg font behind the bar. That was really good, a touch of wheaty cloudiness, lots of fresh, crisp grassy hop notes on the nose and a smooth biscuity flavour. Perfect for a west London pub garden in the summer, and Jamie’s favourite. The Ruby Rye was possibly my favourite, the spicy rye taste backed up by toffee malts and a gentle hop zing. I’d like to try it on tap. And the Amber was also good, that’s Julio’s favourite. They have 6 beers on at any one time, the Blonde and the Amber being the only ones brewed year-round.

We asked Julio lots of questions about homebrewing, and Julio was very helpful, offering lots of advice. He showed us their pilot kit that they’d recently bought – 3 big, shiny Blichmann pots – that were to be setup near the bar for small batches and for guests to learn about brewing. Then we climbed up to the loft and were shown where all the malts were stored, and tucked away at the back was Julio’s original homebrew setup on which most of the Moncada recipes were formulated. We then descended the stairs and congregated around the bar again.

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The lineup

Next up was a bottle of last year’s Summer, which Julio thinks was best drunk young. It was light, quite fruity and quite drinkable, very much as you’d expect from a summer beer, but it wasn’t really suited to the near freezing temperatures outside. The beer will be revived for this summer, but they’re planning on dry hopping it to give it a little more impact. Then we moved onto the hand labelled bottles. These are small, experimental batches of new recipes that the brewers are trying. The Porter that they make is actually a mixture of two recipes that Julio and one of the other brewers put forward in an in-house competition. Julio let us try a bottle of his original recipe. And we had what was labelled as “Brown” which was a strong ale, a lovely, rich winter warmer. Full of toffee and caramel. Yummy! But I think my overall favourite beer of the night was the last one we tried, right at the bottom of the fridge, hand labelled “RR Dry Hopped”. I pointed it out to Julio and his eyes lit up. “I didn’t know we had any of this left!”. It was all the spicy, toffee flavours of the regular Ruby Rye with a big tangy, grapefuit hop slap. Gorgeous, just my kind of beer.

We stayed quite late, and then realised that we all had a long way to go home, and were in Westbourne Park. So we said goodbye to Julio, thanked him very much for his time and hurried through the cold west London streets to the tube. A nice brewer, a good philosophy of beer and a great range make this a very interesting brewery. Try them if you see them.

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Hook Norton Brewery Tour

When I was last in the Cotswolds with my wife and in-laws, we visited the Hook Norton brewery for a tour. We had a packed schedule so we opted for the 9:30am tour, I think. It was early anyway, on a crisp, cold morning that we pulled into the car park and looked at the beautiful, tall and somewhat ramshackle building that is the home of Hooky beers, surrounded by beautiful rolling Cotswold hills.

Since it was early, we were the only ones on the tour. We were taken through the brewing process and shown all the original machinery that was used when the brewery was originally built – lots of red-painted iron wheels, gears and drive shafts.  It’s an old brewery that works on gravity, so the water is stored in a tank at the top of the building and is allowed to flow down through the stages under it’s own weight. The same with the grain, hoisted up top and then is guided to where it’s needed.

A very interesting thing is that they have 2 mash tuns and 2 hop backs – one old and one new so you can see the brewing process. In new breweries its all sealed stainless steel, self-cleaning vats. The old mash tun has a perforated copper floor made up of numbered pieces so it can be removed for cleaning and put back. And the cleaning is done by hand, which we saw. The brewery worker didn’t look like he was having the best time, but being knee deep in hot spent grain in a copper tun doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing in the world. And the older hop back was, if my memory serves me correctly, quite open with a chimney over the top so you could see the wort boiling with the hops. Very enlightening.
They use modern cooling now, but still have the large copper pans at the very top of the building that were used to cool the wort before the yeast is added. The slatted walls offer beautiful views of the fields and hills that surround the brewery.
We then ventured briefly into the fermentaion room, smelling that wonderful sweet, yeasty aroma, and seeing the sticky foam on top of the vats.

Then, off to the tasting room! Unfortunately, I was driving. And also, it was just before 12pm. But still, we tried everything they had to offer! Great tutored tasting of their range: all the standards, plus a seasonal or two. Lovely beers, simple but very tasty and wonderfully easy to drink.

Definitely a tour to try, good mix of the old and the new to really show you the brewing process. The tours are around the £10 mark, but for us that included tasters, a “Hook Norton Champion Drinker” badge, and a pint glass. An absolute bargain, if you ask me.

There is a small brewing museum above the shop that is free, and the shop is very nice and worth a visit even if you don’t do the tour. But do do the tour. It’s excellent.

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Meantime Brewery Tour

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Meantime Brewery in Greenwich to do the “Pie & Pint” tour. It was a great experience and excellent value – £30 for the tour, a very nice steak pie and as much beer as you wanted. I got there about half an hour early, was shown to the tasting room – pictured, showing a wonderful beer and glass collection – and promptly offered a drink. I was somewhat hungover, but the cool Pacific Pale Ale I had handed to me sorted me right out.
As the rest if the group arrived, we we’re given more beer and then the brewing process was explained by our great guide Jack. Then we we’re shown around the Brewery itself – a large room with huge stainless steel containers. Then for the tasting. Expert guidance and a diverse range of Meantime beers made for a very enjoyable experience.
Then the pie and more beer. Delicious!
We stayed, sipped and chatted to the very knowledgable Jack until 4pm, and eventually had to leave because the next group we’re coming in.
Over the last few years Meantime have grown in size and popularity, cropping up on tap in more and more pubs – which is a very good thing as their London Pale Ale and London Lager are both very crisp, refreshing and far too drinkable.
I can thoroughly recommend the Meantime tour to any beer fanatics, not so much for the tour itself but for the tutored tasting. Excellent value and insights
For more information, check out their website, pubs in London and also supermarkets – I’ve spotted their beers in Sainsburys and Waitrose so far. Very promising.
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