Tuesday 23 February 2010

I want a brewpub

I want a brewpub. A US-style, beer-brewed-out-the-back-and-poured-out-the-front place, with good food and good music. I want to be able to walk into the bar and see the brewer working, I want to be able to smell the fresh hops and the sticky-sweet wort, I want glass behind the bar so you can see the fermentation tanks, I want a line of taps on the bar serving the freshest beer possible. I want a decent line-up of site-brewed beer, a range of styles, a few regulars and a few specials. I also want guest taps of some of the best beer around. I’d happily serve this from the cask and keg and I’d want a good bottle selection for drinking here or taking out. For food, it’d be classic beer sponges: fantastic burgers, sandwiches, chillis, stews, curries, plus a selection of cheeses and chocolates. And I want all of this in London.

I wanted this before I went to California but now I want it even more. In the UK we just don’t do brewpubs the same way (and if there are any like that then tell me, because I want to go). Marin Brewing Company and Bear Republic are the ones which grabbed me the most. You walk in and you smell freshly brewing beer. Behind the bar you can see the tall silver tanks. Both had between 9-16 of their own beers on. Both served large food menus. Both served wonderful beer, super fresh. We got tours of the breweries and the set-ups are similar, although Bear Republic, who have rapidly become one of my favourite breweries, also have two other sites to make their beer, one just across the complex and the other a short drive away. As far as I remember, Bear Republic serve their Racer 5 direct from the tank and it was wonderful, I also got some Citra single-hopped Rebellion straight from the tank which was just delicious (the first time I’d had the Citra hop on its own and it’s bloody lovely – peaches, apricots, tropical fruit) and the stack of barrels aging out the back filled with treats. The lasting memory of Marin, aside from Arne and Kim the brewers, is their Point Ridge Porter, which was one of the best beers of the trip - a velvety, roasty, dark chocolate and smoke-filled beer, modest at 6% but punching above its weight in flavour (I had a bottle last weekend, which I'll likely write about soon). Neither of these bars are in San Francisco city. Marin is a short boat ride away and Bear Republic is a longer drive (which passes Russian River on the way there and/or back and that's another great brewpub with a beer-geek's dream line-up on tap and a teasing tower of oak barrels out the back). Both (all, including Russian River) are essential beer stops in North California, I think.

I want a brewpub. I want to serve great beer in a great place and have people leave my bar feeling the same way as I felt when I left Marin and Bear (happy, that is, not drunk). One day...

I wrote this last week but it ties in neatly with the question Woolpack Dave is asking on his blog about the place you’d want to open if you could. And the top two images are Bear and the bottom three are Marin. That's Kim the brewer. He's a cool guy.


  1. Snap. I've often thought about something like that myself, and I've even hunted for one in England.

    Do you know Zero Degrees? There's a few accross the country I think, but the one I've been to is in Blackheath. (Website appears to be down at the moment: http://www.zerodegrees.co.uk).

    They're close to being what you describe ... brewing out the back, visible fermentation tanks etc. When I've been, the beer range has been quite limited though.

  2. I think there are a few cultural, tax and legislation issues in this country that will inhibit this concept for a few years yet......but one day it'll happen. Are you the man Mark??

  3. Give me the Marble Arch any day!

  4. Chunk, I kno of Zero Degrees but I've never actually been. I've only ever heard average things about them, to be honest. I used to enjoy the odd pint in Bunker, Covent Garden, but I think that's closed now.

    Dave, I am the man, I don't know if I'm the man for this, but I'm still the man :) I didn't know about any legislation and I have no money (not hundreds of thousands, anyway) and I know nothing about running a brewery/bar/business so it's incredibly unlikely that I'll be the one. Still, I'd like to drink there!

    JC, I need to go to the Marble Arch. I'll make it up there this year.

  5. Did you check out the beer at the top of the left-hand board at Bear Republic? I didn't know Pete Brown had even been ill... ;-)

  6. As a home brewer, the thoughts of owning a brewpub has always appealed. Having a direct outlet seems the right way to go, and allows for an expression of the culture or feeling you want around your beers. Plus I'd be doing something I love and would get to brew what the hell I wanted and try it out on more people. Having said that, it has sometimes been said that when you turn it into a job rather than a hobby and have to produce the same beer each time it becomes less fun. Nevertheless, all very appealing to me right now, although I don't know how the legislation is here in Germany, but I can imagine it's a bitch.

    Would be a lot of work, but worth it if it worked out. Can't help wondering if it'd pay well, or is it possible to do part time in the beginning. :D

  7. If you want a brewpub, why not open one? Why be a beer writer when you can be a beer maker. I might think woolly Dave has some odd ideas about lout and ketchup and the customer being right, but I respect the fact that he’s putting his ideas to the test in a business. Investing his own time and money in his own belief system. If you believe in this concept, do it. You might want to ask woolly Dave for a job at his gaff so as to learn the ropes so to speak, but ultimately you either believe in it or not and the test of that is doing it.

  8. couldn't agree more, in fact had that very conversation with someone the other day, when I grow up I hope to do exactly this but with a UK twist!

    Somewhere between the Rake and the White Horse inspired by the Bear Republic Brewpub & the Falling Rock in Denver!

    Low ambitions me!!!!! : )

  9. Sid, I had me a taste of the Peter Brown and it's pretty good. I have a picture of a keg labelled Peter Brown too.

    Barry, turning your passion into your job (as long as it pays well enough)has got to be a good thing. Brewing the same beer a couple of times a week might lose something (although if people want to drink it then that'll likely make it all better), that's why you can experiment on the side! Having tasted your beers I can say that I would definitely drink in your bar.

    Cooking, maybe on day, although I've got some of those soft writer's hands which don't much like hard work and I can't imagine myself as a brewer. I think I'd stick to the website/marketing/selling, etc. And I do beleve in the concept, but at 25, after two expensive degrees, I need to do a little saving first. But it has been spoken about with Pete Brissenden, mainly when drunk, but we've talked about the idea of our own brewpub/beer cafe.

    Melissa, that's EXACTLY what I want to. We should get a beer writers consortium together and open somewhere! We've got brewer friends, industry contacts, marketing/PR links, a voice to the wider world, a love of great beer... what could go wrong?!

  10. Shhh Mark, don't gop giving away our business plan!

  11. I can't comment on the current situation at Zerodegrees, but I'd like to think that at least when I was there, we ticked a fair few of the boxes you mention, Mark.

    We brewed some cracking beer, in unusual styles for a UK brewery (USPA, proper pils, black lager, proper wit & weiss, etc) all unfiltered, using the best ingredients we could source (imported yeasts, hops, spices, fruit peel, etc) & very technologically advanced lauter-tun brewplant.

    The owners were inspired by West Coast US brewpubs & even went to the trouble of importing Marin's GABF multi-winning brewer, Grant Johnson (who I trained with, as well as with the German brewery engineers).

  12. I was beaten to suggesting Zero Degrees in Blackheath. It is the closest we have, although the beer lineup isn't quite so expansive and there is only one rotating special amongst the permanent range. The pale ale and black lager are very nice, as is the seasonal mango wheat beer. The food is more pizza, pasta and mussels (all very good) rather than burgers and chilli dawgs.

    The other place that springs to mind is the Swan on the Green in West Peckham, Kent. Much more of a traditional country pub, complete with dried hops hanging from the rafters. Food is gastro and fairly pricy but of high quality and the on-site brewery usually provides a selection of 4 cask ales and plus their own lager. The jewel in the crown is its location by a village green on a peaceful no-through-road in the most idyllic of country settings.

    Let me know if you fancy checking out either or both. Zero Degrees is just down the road from me and I'm always after an excuse to go back to the Swan again.

  13. MicMac, interesting. It's certainy somewhere I want to go and experience for myself, it sounds like the sort of place I want. I'll check it out and get back to you!

    Dubbel, you are on, let's go for a beer at Zero Degrees sometime. The Swan on the Green is a cool place and I've been a few times now (it's only 20 minutes away from me here). Great location, nice food and a really decent selection of beer. I blogged about it in Aug/Sept 2009, I think.

  14. You get the premises sorted Mark and then I'll come and brew for you.

  15. I have been saying this since I moved here. I actually think taxes/legislation and planning permissions are at least as prohibitive in the US. I have brewer friends who've tried to get their plans off the ground and found too much red tape in the US.

    I think one impediment to this in London is that the city lacks a certain generosity of spirit. This is evident in so many of its restaurants, bars and pubs. The vibe of easy-going warmth and creative bounty is what makes many American brewpubs such a delight.

  16. Good point, well made Impy - Zerodegs ticked many boxes for me (as a brewer & drinker) but it somehow could still feel a bit disjointed, unwelcoming, spiky & odd - i.e. v. loud music dance music at weekends, bouncers & toilet attendants, hit&miss food, etc. (is it a nightclub, bar, restaurant, or brewpub?)

    Part of what I want from a pub is to feel welcomed, relaxed and to be served well (but not too formal) & I've had all of that in many UK pubs & the occasional brewpub.

  17. The florence in Herne Hill is a decent brewpub that brews 3 styles onsite (incl. a wheat beer). Really tasty beer and decent food too. I recommend you try it