[NB: This is a embarrassingly late write-up – the launch was in early September. Never let it be said that I have my finger on the pulse]
After a steady refurbishment of the original site, London Fields Brewery decided it was ready to show itself off to the wider world and held a big do in the done-up taproom and brewery. I was rather curious about this relaunch, as the brewery was barely five hundred yards from my now-wife’s flat when we first started dating, and in those early days I dragged her there to see if I could persuade her of beer’s merits. So, with a mix of curiosity and nostalgia, off we trooped.
Just for some context, the old London Fields Brewery had a, shall we say, mixed reputation back in the good old bad old days of London’s craft scene. You know, that heady dawn five or six years ago? The drinks industry loves to gossip, and it seemed like every brewer in London had a different, exciting anecdote about the goings-on there.*
Still all things must pass, and in the face of some exciting legal doings, Carlsberg and Brooklyn swept in with a big offer two years ago and got to work sorting out London Fields. A page was turned and things were started anew. Brew kit returned to the site for the first time since HMRC took it away on forklifts, and a new head brewer (Talfryn Provis-Evans, ex- of Redchurch, Crate, and St Peters) was given remit to tighten up the old recipes and develop new ones. A general air of spit and shine surrounded the brand.
So anyway, enough preamble. My impressions of the place: The taproom was broadly recognisable – same entrance, same layout, same bar, but it was bright and clean and bedecked with massive floor-to ceiling graphics. It felt like the brewery space was pushed back a bit to make room, but that could be memory playing tricks on me. There’s also kitchen space for hip streetfood doings to be served to the thirsty, currently the really rather good Prairie Fire BBQ outfit, with a planned six-month rotation to different offerings.
The brewkit is very shiny and most desirable – an integrated 15 hectolitre (1500 litres) two-vessel set-up that they brew on twice daily in order to keep six 30hl and two 15hl tanks full. There’s a separate sour vessel, a yeast propagation tank, a very newly arrived centrifuge and the floor looks like it may have been done by Kemtile. That is to say, this is a very highly-specced kit in a well thought-out space, especially for a comparatively small brew size as this. Backing by experienced players allows for some deeply enviable toys – this is what you can do when you’re really well-funded.
While we were told the lager had been brought back in-house as they weren’t happy with how it was currently coming out, London Field’s plan looks to be in line with Brooklyn’s model of brewing core beers in volume elsewhere under tight supervision, whilst focusing on the exciting and experimental on the small kit. Anything that really kicks off at the taproom can then be scaled up and shifted off-site. It might not have quite the romance, but building a large brewery in London proper nowadays is impossibly expensive.
While the preceding paragraphs may be the kind of things that interest me, you’ll probably be wondering about the small matter of the beer and whether it tastes good? The answer, to be slightly unhelpful, is “good in places, will improve in others.” The pale is a good example of the current trend in juicy, hoppy beers, a hazy multigrain affair with a lovely aroma and enough bitterness to keep it drinkable. Likewise, the Pils is a clean, crisp beer that highlights many other British breweries’ tendency to put put out something suspiciously far from the good stuff. There were wobbles elsewhere – the Three Weisse Monkeys’ phenolic notes were a bit heavy-handed; a pleasing, easy-drinking Grapefruit Sour lacked grapefruit in its current iteration; and some session IPA and New England-style beers that didn’t yet feel fully dialled-in.
Notwithstanding those minor issues, nothing was bad and there were no conceptual misfires. It felt like the brewing team needed a little more time to get used to the kit – a member of staff said in passing that they’d only brewed a few gyles on it, so that’s seems pretty natural. Given the effort that’s already gone into relaunching London Fields, I can’t imagine they won’t be well on top of things soon.
*If you see me about, do ask. When I say that the drinks industry loves to gossip, I mean I love to gossip, and LFB’s old troubles have nothing to do with the current people there.