The London Brewers Alliance beer festival at Vinopolis, by Borough Market, a couple of Saturdays ago was a terrific event, thoroughly enjoyable. In one room were gathered a dozen or more (I forgot to count) stalls representing breweries from in and around London, with the brewers themselves serving their beers and happy to talk to the punters about them.
It was the kind of “meet the brewer” show common in the US but almost unheard of in the UK that we really should be seeing repeated across this country. And it’s good to see London’s brewers working together in the 21st century to support each other in exactly the same way their ancestors did almost eight centuries ago, when the Brewers’ Guild was founded at All Hallows’ Church, London Wall.
It was also good, for me, to see that the Brewery History Society had a stall there: the LBA clearly has an interest in London’s history as a world-class brewing city, and everybody needs to be reminded of this almost forgotten heritage. I’d argue that, historically, London has an excellent claim to be regarded as the greatest brewing city in the world. Yes, I AM a Londoner, so of course I’m biased, but I dare you to deny that over the centuries London has given the world more new beer styles than any other brewing centre on the planet:
Developed around 1718 by London’s brown beer brewers and taking its name from London’s street and river porters, the strong, hoppy, aged porter eventually became the world’s first widely drunk beer style, and was imitated by brewers from America to Russia.
The stronger forms of porter were known as brown stout, eventually shortened to just “stout”. London remained a centre of stout brewing until after the Second World War.
Russian Imperial Stout
Several London brewers developed particularly strong versions of stout for export to Russia in the late 18th and 19th centuries, in a style that eventually became known as Russian Imperial Stout.
India Pale Ale
The Bow brewer George Hodgson was the first brewer to make a name for exporting well-hopped pale ale to India, from at least the 1790s, and Hodgson’s was the first beer to be called an India Pale Ale.
In 1902 Thomas Wells Thorpe, the newly appointed managing director of Mann, Crossman and Paulin in Whitechapel, introduced the first modern bottled brown ale, Mann’s Brown. After the First World War brown ale became an increasingly popular style, with almost every brewer in the country eventually producing one.
London was also home to the UK’s first lager-only brewery, in 1882 and, until the 1870s, home to a succession of the biggest breweries in the world, including Barclay Perkins, Whitbread and Truman.
The first London Brewers Alliance festival, last year, featured a “co-operative” porter brewed using the combined resources of alliance members, and this one included a “joint effort” production of London’s other great innovation, IPA. Now, here’s where I DO have some criticism: the IPA was served on a stall by itself with, effectively no publicity, nothing to explain what this beer was, nothing to explain the significance of the links between IPA and London, and nothing about this particular brew, the hops, the grain bill, the fact that it was being served (IIRC from my chat with Kieran, a nice young man from the Windsor and Eton Brewery) at least eight weeks old, nicely matured. That was all a bit of a fail. My impression is that there’s a growing appreciation of heritage, of authenticity, of local roots among beer drinkers under 35 (indeed, among young consumers of anything at all), and they love learning that sort of stuff.
I’d also suggest that the “half pint minimum” serve is an improvable idea as well: third-of-a-pint glasses would enable drinkers to have 50 per cent more samples in their four-pint “free” (for the £20 admission) allowance. (And to be honest, half a pint was much more of a couple of the beers available than I wanted to drink. The standard of beers was generally very high, but there was at least one that really shouldn’t have been on sale: an English bitter should NOT taste like someone dropped a shot of Scotch into it.)
That apart, it was a great evening, and my egotistical little heart overflowed when I spotted that the Tottenham-based Redemption Brewery, one of 2010’s start-ups, had on its stall a beer called Fellowship Porter. “You know your brewing history,” I said to the guy on the stall, who was evidently Andy Moffat, the Redemption head brewer. “Yes,” he said, “I got the name from a book by Martyn Cornell.”
Considering that only five years ago, London was down to just 10 breweries, the smallest number since the all-time low of nine in 1976-1978, and a long way from either the post-Second World War peak of 34 in 1998 and the 25 that existed 60 years ago, there has been a tremendous resurgence in brewery numbers in the past couple of years. Currently more than 20 breweries are actually running, or will be running shortly, within the Greater London area. What is a tad depressing is that only two of those breweries date from before 2000. But hey – even Fuller’s was a start-up once.
The BHS guys asked me to produce a couple of London-specific items, so I put together a rough map showing the major London breweries of 1850 – actually a low point in the 19th century for brewery numbers, but interesting because it was still a time where you could differentiate between the big porter brewers, such as Barclay Perkins, Reid, Meux, Whitbread and Truman, and the by-now fast-growing ale brewers, such as Mann, Goding, Charrington and Courage. Here’s that map – double-click on it to see it full-size. Anyone who wants to, please feel free to reproduce it. Below the map is the London brewing time line, I did for the event: again, London brewers, feel free to use this yourselves. And finally, here’s a little verse:
London’s brewing, London’s brewing
Rise up early! Grind the malt!
Pour on water, good hot water
Stir the mash tun, stir the mash
London’s brewing, London’s brewing
Sparge the mash tun! Drain the grains!
Fill the copper, tip the hops in,
Boil the wort and cool it off.
London’s brewing, London’s brewing
Fill the vat high, pitch the yeast!
Watch the foam rise, see it settle
Rack in hogsheads, drink it up!
London brewing: a brief timeline
1118 Thomas Becket, patron saint of the Brewers’ Company, born in London around this year.
1286 The brewery at St Paul’s Cathedral made 67,814 gallons of ale in a year.
1342 The Brewers’ Guild founded by John Enfield at All Hallows’ Church, London Wall.
1372 Henry Vandale bought four barrels of “beere” in London, the first known mention of the hopped drink in the city’s history (it was probably made in the Low Countries).
1419 Richard “Dick” Whittington, Lord Mayor of London, angry that the brewers ate “fat swans” at their St Martin’s Day feast, ordered them to sell their ale for a penny a gallon the next day. Around this time London had around 290 commercial brewers.
1424/5 London’s ale brewers complained about “aliens” (from Continental Europe) “nigh to the city dwelling” (probably in Southwark) brewing beer.
1483 London’s ale brewers, trying to maintain the difference between (unhopped) ale and (hopped) beer, persuaded the city authorities to rule that ale must be made only from “licour, malt and yeste”.
1542 Henry VIII’s royal brewers – he had at least two, one for ale, one for beer – were supplying more than 13,000 pints a day to Hampton Court palace.
1574 There were 58 ale breweries in London and 32 beer breweries. The biggest Elizabethan London beer brewer consumed 90 quarters of malt a week, enough to make around 14,000 barrels of beer a year, very roughly.
1578 The Brewers’ Company wrote to Queen Elizabeth apologising for the annoyance caused by the smoke from the seacoal used in their breweries, and offered to burn only wood, rather than coal, in the brewhouses closest to the Queen’s home, the Palace of Westminster.
1580 The Hour Glass Brewery in Thames Street looks to have begun some time before this year: later, as Calvert’s and then the City of London Brewery Company it ran through until brewing stopped on the site in 1922.
1616 The Anchor Brewery, Southwark, later Barclay Perkins, founded around this year.
1635 Thomas Cole began brewing in or before this year in Twickenham: the Coles only stopped brewing in 1892.
1666 Brewers’ Hall, the home of the Brewers’ Company, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, along with 16 brewhouses, all in and around Thames Street, close to the fire’s heart. The same year, or thereabouts, the brewery that became Truman Hanbury and Buxton opened in Brick Lane.
1700 London had 190 breweries, producing a total of 1.7 million barrels of ale and beer.
1718 Around this year London’s brown beer brewers started to hop their beer more, and store it longer, eventually developing a drink that took the name of its keenest customers, the city’s many street and river porters.
1748 The biggest London brewers were now the specialist porter manufacturers, with the largest making more than 50,000 barrels a year. Their profits enabled them to buy themselves country estates.
1780 Around this time Southwark replaced Stourbridge fair, just south of Cambridge, as the biggest hop market in England.
1784 Henry Goodwyn of the Red Lion porter brewhouse at St Katharine’s, Wapping (later Hoare’s) installed the first steam engine in London.
1786 The top 12 London porter brewers made up half the capital’s beer production, leaving another 150 brewers to supply the rest.
1793 The first record of George Hodgson of the Bow brewery exporting pale ale to India. This would eventually develop into the beer that became known as India Pale Ale.
1814 The Great London Beer Flood: on October 17 a 22-feet-high vat at Meux’s porter brewery off Tottenham Court Road burst, releasing 3,550 barrels of beer, weighing 570 tons, into the slums behind the brewery. Amazingly, only eight people were killed, all women and children.
1815 The 12 “principle” porter brewers now made 75 per cent or more of the city’s beer. The combined output of all the seven biggest ale brewers in London totalled just 85,000 barrels, the same as one porter brewer, Barclay Perkins, could produce on its own in just four months.
1823 Porter output in London hit 1.8 million barrels, the highest it would ever be.
1832 The London excise district contained 115 brewers, though most of the beer was produced by the 20 or so largest.
1833 Increased sales of mild ale started to force the London porter brewers to brew ale as well, while London’s ale brewers, such as Mann, Charrington and Courage, began to grow in size.
1835 First known use of the expression India Pale Ale, in an advertisement by Hodgson’s of Bow.
1850 More than 40 London breweries had closed in the previous 20 years.
1872 Meux & Co, of the Horseshoe brewery, off Tottenham Court Road, long one of the biggest brewers of porter, started brewing ales as well.
1877 Reid & Co of the Griffin brewery, Clerkenwell, the last porter-only London brewery, began production of pale and bitter ales alongside the black beer.
1880 New openings had pushed the number of London breweries up to the levels of 1830 again.
1882 Britain’s first lager-only brewery , the Austro-Bavarian Lager Beer and Crystal Ice Company, began brewing in Tottenham High Road.
1887 Porter now made up only a third of the London trade.
1893 London’s brewers owned an estimated 3,000 horses.
1898 Three of the former big 12 London porter brewers, Watney, Combe and Reid, merged to form one firm, with breweries in Pimlico and Mortlake.
1902 Thomas Wells Thorpe, the long-serving head brewer at Mann, Crossman and Paulin in Whitechapel, introduced the first of a new kind of beer, Mann’s Brown Ale.
1904 London still had 90 breweries, out of a total of 1,503 in England and Wales. It also had just one pub still brewing its own beer, although in the rest of the country there were another 3,108 home-brew pubs.
1921 Meux’s brewery in Tottenham Court Road closed, with production moving to Thorne Brothers’ brewery, Vauxhall.
1922 The last brewery in the City, the former Calvert’s brewery in Upper Thames Street, known since 1860 as the City of London Brewery Co Ltd, closed and transferred production to Stansfeld & Co’s Swan brewery in Fulham.
1933 Hoare & Co, the Red Lion brewery, by St Katharine’s Docks, another former porter giant, was taken over by Charrington’s and closed the following year.
1936 Guinness opened a brewery in Park Royal to supply much of England with its stout.
1940 Brewers’ Hall was destroyed for a second time, in a German air raid.
1941 Whitbread brewed porter for the last time at its brewery in Chiswell Street.
1952 London still had 25 operating breweries, run by some 19 or so companies, out of around 560 breweries in the whole of the UK.
1955 Barclay Perkins merged with Courage.
1958 Watney merged with Mann Crossman and Paulin and closed the Pimlico brewery the following year.
1959 Ind Coope of Romford acquired Taylor Walker in Limehouse, closing it early in 1960.
1967 Charrington of Mile End merged with Bass to form the biggest brewing concern in the country.
1974 Watney Mann merged with Truman Hanbury & Buxton.
1975 Brewing stopped at Charrington’s.
1976 Brewing stopped at Whitbread’s brewery in Chiswell Street. London hit an all-time low of just nine breweries.
1977 Godson’s brewery, the first of London’s new generation micro-breweries, opened, originally in Clapton, before moving to Bow in 1979. The venture ultimately closed in 1987.
1979 Brewing stopped at Mann’s in Whitechapel. The same year David Bruce opened the Goose & Firkin in Southwark, London’s first home-brew pub for many decades.
1981 A flurry of pub-brewery openings saw the number of London breweries rise from 11 to 20.
1982 The Courage brewery by Tower Bridge closed.
1989 Truman’s brewery in Brick Lane closed.
1992 Ind Coope in Romford closesd.
1998 The growth of the Firkin chain helped push London’s brewery numbers up to a post-war high of 34.
2000 The closure of the Firkin chain the previous year saw brewery numbers drop back down to just 20. The Meantime brewery opened in Greenwich.
2005 Guinness Park Royal closed.
2006 Young’s brewery moved its operations from Wandsworth to Bedford.
2007 London’s brewery numbers hit their second post-war low, of just 10.
2009 Plan to close the Stag brewery at Mortlake announced (though this has apparently been postponed until 2014).
2010 Brewery numbers starting to climb again, up to 14, with new brewers such as Kernel.
2011 A surge in new openings pushes brewery numbers in London back up to 21, the highest this millennium: of those 21 breweries, all but three have opened since 2000.