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.


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.


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.

Categories: Beer, Brewery Tour, Brewfile, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Brewfile & Brewday – Sambrook’s Brewery

In my continuing (if slightly foolhardy) attempt to visit and write about every London brewery, I arranged to visit Sambrook’s Brewery in Battersea a couple of weeks ago, and was fortuitous enough to be there on a double brew day.

I was greeted by brewer Paul Brooker at 6am. Not a lot of other life about in Battersea at that time in the morning. Paul was mashing-in as I arrived, and he ran me through their setup and procedures. The brewery was founded by Duncan Sambrook in 2008 and was then amongst only a handful of London brewers. And despite the explosion of the London, and the British brewing scene in those few years, Sambrook’s beers have remained at the forefront. Wandle, their flagship beer won World’s Best Bitter Under 5% at the World Beer Awards last year. And as Gary Wilds (another Sambrook’s brewer) told me when he was brewing the second batch of Wandle later that the day, “That’s a lot to live up to!”. I have remembered seeing and drinking Wandle for many years now in pubs across London, even before my love for beer…how should I put this…intensified? So they’ve been a staple, certainly in London ale pubs, for some time.


450Kg of grain and…lots of water. Smelled lovely!

My first task was to weigh out the hops. We were brewing the day’s first batch of Wandle. The gorgeous smell of Goldings and Boadicea hops filled my nostrils as I measured them out for the two hop additions. Its a very simple recipe (2 types of grain, 2 types of hops) but the end product has so much depth, complexity and smoothness. It really is a great session bitter.

With the hops weighed out, I took the chance to peer into the steamy mash tun. As I said, this was the first brew of the day – the two brews on the 20 barrel setup would then be mixed in one of their big fermenters before the yeast was added. This shows the demand for their beers.

Paul, a born Londoner, told me that he’d come to Sambrook’s about a year ago after having worked for many years at Young’s Ram Brewery in Wandsworth before it closed down in 2006, as did a couple of other staff members. However, Paul didn’t actually brew when he was at Young’s, instead he did all manner of jobs around the brewery – filling, packing, sorting, loading etc – so working here was his first experience actually brewing beer. He enjoys being a brewer and likes the satisfaction of making something that other people enjoy.


The lab

By this point (about 7:30am), Jaime had arrived. She is another brewer here and she’s originally from Australia. Jaime started by volunteering a few days a week and eventually got offered a permanent position. She took me up to their lab/office to measure the gravities of the beers currently in the fermenters. She has to do it three times a day for all the beers to make sure they’re on track and the yeast are behaving.


Racking Junction into casks

Next to arrive was Zac (yet another brewer), and his job for the day was filling casks. The brewers rotate their tasks day to day, which is needed for a brewery that needs to produce so much beer in a week. 7 brews in 5 days the week I visited. Zac is from New Zealand, he dabbles in home brewing and he’s leaving shortly to spend some time in the vineyards of France. He was racking Junction into casks and he let me have a go at filling, pouring in the isinglass and then knocking in the shives. He was far more adept at all of this than I was. And the cold weather didn’t help either, but everyone there seemed to be used to it so I manned up and got on with it. Well, I did as best I could anyway. Zac then jumped on the forklift to stack and pack the filled casks on pallets ready for delivery.

In one corner of the brewery, next to all the casks, was a big stack of keykegs (disposable kegs for carbonated beers) which Sambrook’s uses for its carbonated Pale Ale – its first craft keg product. They use a technique called krausening where fresh fermenting beer is added to the already fermented beer when the kegs are being filled in order to add carbonation. Zac said that the whole process takes a lot longer than racking to casks but the end result is worth it.


The Sparge

Paul was just beginning to sparge when I went back to the mash tun and he took a sample of the first runnings up to the lab to take measurements – gravity, temperature and pH. There are notes taken at every stage of the brewing and fermentation, sheets of figures and measurements, attenuation tests done on the yeast. This is a brewery that is focussed on maintaining a high standard for all of its beers, and keeping each brew consistent.

While up in the lab I met Sean Knight, who is the head brewer of Sambrook’s. But due to him going away in a couple of days, preparing for the Battersea Beer Festival that week and having to give a tour of the brewery that afternoon, he was a busy man and and such I didn’t spend much time with him. Sean started there washing casks and moved up to brewer, and then when the previous head brewer left, he was asked if he wanted the job. And it looks like he loves the job, even if it can be quite a load sometimes.

Back downstairs Jaime and Jason were washing casks and she asked if I wanted to help. How could I refuse? Now, on a cold Tuesday, moving around wet casks is not particularly fun. My job was to drain the casks, check if they were clean inside, whack them and hammer in the keystone (a rubber plug where the tap gets hammered into). I got wet and I got cold hands. But I’m learning that cold and wet are 2 words that usually describe a brewery. From September to April at least.


Me in the mash tun (note how clean it is!)

Paul was finished sparging, and the boil was going when I went back in and he gave me the perfect opportunity to warm up. Cleaning out the mash tun. I was handed a big shovel and jumped in. It was hot, steamy and cramped, but that’s part of a brewers job I guess! And there’s a lot of water-soaked grain that is left behind when the wort is drained. A lot. But there’ll be some happy cows somewhere.

There were some troubles with a pump that slowed the transfer of the boiled wort through the heat exchanger and into the fermenter, so Gary had started to mill his grain and fill the mash tun before Paul was finished with his brew.  Paul’s wort was eventually emptied out of the boiler and sitting nicely in the fermenter. And in there it stayed until it was joined by Gary’s wort, at which point the yeast would be added. Gary jumped into the boiler to clean out all the spent hops, and I gave him a hand sweeping and bagging all the mess that poured out the bottom of the vessel. Paul went and took some final readings of the wort from the fermenter and then headed home, job done for the day.

Paul has been working at Sambrook’s as a brewer for 2 and a half  years. Before that he worked at Young’s and then Hogsback in Surrey. He is a passionate brewer, and clearly gets great pleasure out of his job. He was all set up for his mash, so I left him to it.


The Wandle in the fermenter

So, that was the end of my day at Sambrook’s. It’s a very busy, friendly place, full of amiable people that seem in some ways like a family and made me feel very welcome. I very much enjoyed my day there and was craving a Wandle by the time I’d left. And that was also the most work I’d done in a day in a long, long time. It made me realise that brewing is a lot harder work than I had thought. Maybe I’ll stick to the day job, visit breweries and brew at home for friends, family and myself. Oh, and I ached all over the next day.

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By The Horns – Brewfile

With beers like Lambeth Walk, Diamond Geezer, Wolfie Smith and Bobby On The Wheat, the By The Horns guys are certainly proud to be Londoners.

Founded in September 2011, Alex Bull and Chris Mills are making a name for themselves across London with their quirky labelling and their varied and interesing beers. Alex had been homebrewing for a few years before they founded By The Horns, and they saw that there weren’t many London breweries (how a few years can make a difference!) and that there was an opening for a new brewery with a younger outlook, and demand for good London-brewed beer. From initial idea to the first brew took about a year, with Alex going to BrewLab to learn about the business of setting up and running a brewery. Then they sought out the equipment they needed from Oban Ales, and took a leap of faith by ordering it before they actually had premises – they signed the lease the week before the kit was delivered. So at least no time was wasted!

The guys definitely consider themselves as craft brewers, defining the term as “small batch production using almost experimental and non-governed beers which you can change every week”. Their regular 4 brews are Stiff Upper Lip (pale ale) – their most popular brew, Diamond Geezer (red ale), Bobby On The Wheat (wheat beer) and, my favourite, Lambeth Walk porter – which was a winter seasonal, but has become a regular due to demand. And they have at least one new seasonal a month too – they’ve done a summer blonde, a Prince Albert Munich dunkel for Oktoberfest, a raspberry coffee stout (in collaboration with Nude espresso), a brown ale called Wolfie Smith… And if that weren’t enough, they have their recurring Hopslinger range – American IPAs, each with a twist (single hop, black etc). To keep up with demand, they brew 3 times a week on their 5 bbl setup.

Chris and Alex are trying hard to change how drinkers and pubs perceive beer and breweries, especially in London. There will always be pubs that stock and serve the same beers to the same customers, but they’re trying to tap into the drinkers and landlords who want something different and home-grown. I still find it unbelievable that I can walk out of a London brewery and pass pubs and off licenses within 2-3 mins walk that don’t stock the beer, and probably haven’t even heard of it.

When I visited they were finalising ideas for new bottles and labels, with the emphasis on sleek, and eye-catching designs that will stand out in bar fridges. Just as Meantime made their London Pale Ale and London Lager in standard 330ml bottles to appeal to pub and bar bottle-drinkers, that’s where Alex and Chris are looking to push now. They are already stocked in a few bistros in the local area, and with recommended food pairings also on the new labels, these would sit perfectly in restaurant fridges too. They want to try to entice lager drinkers over to the craft/real side of beer, which I support whole-heartedly.

When it comes to new brews, Chris and Alex often do test batches on a homebrew setup, and try experimental conditioning styles – they mentioned a mojito IPA, conditioned with lime, mint and white rum. Alex loved it, Chris wasn’t so keen. And they very nicely gave me a bottle of their Diamond Geezer red ale with ginger added that they did for the Antic chain of pubs over the summer. I have yet to try it.

Their next seasonal, a festive one this time, is named Jolly’s Revenge. It’s a Christmas spiced, oatmeal brown ale, and when I tried it out of the fermenter it was very rounded, malty, warming, spicy, smokey and hoppy. And their next Hopslinger is a Summit single hop, which had just finished casking and bottling when I arrived, but the yeast that was running off was very green and smelt pungently hoppy.

Since they started brewing, both their beer tastes have broadened. They used to be lager drinkers, now Chris says he loves dark beers and also drinks his beers warmer, which makes the flavours much more prominent, especially with the smokier, toastier beers.

The name By The Horns is something Alex thought up, and it sums up the attitude of 2 twenty-somethings stepping out of a comfortable 9-to-5 career progression to do something they are more passionate about. Before they were brewers, Chris worked in offshore purchasing and Alex worked in oil, and the experience in negotiating and buying/selling is serving them well as brewers.

The journey from the idea to where they are now wasn’t as smooth as they had envisaged – some aspects were easier than they thought, some were harder, and some they had never even considered. Supplying the beer to the pubs works quite differently to how they initially thought: it’s rare for a small brewery to get a contract with a certain pub or chain of pubs, instead they get requests from new pubs every week, but not neccessarily regular repeat orders. Then you have the logistics of transporting beer across London, sometimes with only certain delivery windows to hit. And when the pubs do get the casks, they often don’t put it on for weeks, or even months. All of this was a bit of an eye-opener, but neither of them regret the change of career. Chris did say, however, that they would have second throughts about starting a brewery in London now, with the huge number of breweries that have been founded even in the last year. And although there is an element of competition with the other brewers, there is also a spirit of collaboration and shared knowledge that binds them all together – take the annual collaborative brews organised by the London Brewers Alliance, most recently a stout brewed at The Kernel. Chris just hopes that all the new brewers maintain the high standard and reputation that has already been set in London by the established breweries.

They have brewery open days about once a month, with the Christmas one on Saturday 15th December, starting at 12pm. You can read about the two previous open days here and here. I recommend you come down if you can, have a drink in the brewery, see the mash tun and fermenting vessels and meet the brewers. I am very much looking forward to warming myself on a few pints of Jolly’s Revenge. And a Hopslinger or two as well while I’m there.

Categories: Beer, Brewery, Brewfile, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Clarence & Fredericks – Brewfile

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.

Check their website, twitter and facebook for up-to-date listings of where you can find their beers. Definitely seek them out.

Now I’m off to track down the last of the Smoked Red…

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