Drizzle hangs in the cold air as we pass Kentish Town West station and miss the dark gates which lead up a private cobbled road to Camden Town Brewery. “We’re going to put a sign up on the railway arch,” says Jasper Cuppaidge, the owner, as he greets us and leads us to the vast glass-fronted building – a modern space for a modern brewhouse in North London.
Jasper introduces us to the brewing team of Troels and James and then the three lead us around the stainless steel spaceship of a brewery. Designed by BrauKon, it’s a 20hl (15bbl) system, controlled by a flash front panel, but it’s far from a push-button brewery, retaining that key element of human touch and control at each stage. What this impressive kit means is that, even though a lot of money has clearly been spent, it’s an efficient and environmentally-friendly brewery (they use 6-7 pints of water to make each pint of beer; they lose no steam in the brewing process, collecting it back as water and heat for the brewery) which can be run by just two brewers – it seems to me a sensible, long-term investment.
This close control is very important through their set-up and they’ve spent the last year perfecting their beers; they are clearly the brewery’s harshest critics but also the greatest lovers. “There’s nothing better than drinking your own product and thinking that this is great!” says Jasper, and Troels enthusiastically agrees. James was hungover from the night before because he’d gone out and had a pint of Camden Town beer and it was so good he had to have another and another – “it was just too good!” There is a lot of pride in their eyes and that’s really exciting to see – these guys love the beers they are making and have complete faith in them.
Leading from the brew kit to the imposing 60hl silver torpedo fermenting vessels and then to the bottling line (stealing a bottle of pilsner on the way), we’re back in the bar, an open, undecorated space with beer taps on the wall, boxes of beers on the floor, bottles from around the world on the bar, a line-up of glasses ready to be filled and a bench in the middle with newspapers and beer magazines splayed open, half-read. This will soon be open to the public on Saturdays who can come in and drink the beers a few meters from where they were made.
Their three core beers are a lager, a pale ale and a wheat beer. All poured from American-style tap handles, the first beer fills chunky half pint glasses with the logo bold in the middle. As it lands on the bar the grey clouds part and a beam of sun floods through the glass front and illuminates the beer. This is the pilsner, which is currently a trial beer – they are testing this out against the helles which is currently available. It’s five weeks from brewday until it’s ready to be drunk, the majority of that time spent lagering in the tanks which dominate the middle of the brewhouse. The beer is crowned with a full white foam, it’s light and gluggable but with a snap of hops at the end making it so, so drinkable. The sun burst outside makes me dream of summer and a pint of this.
The pale ale comes next which has recently benefitted from the addition of some maris otter malt to the mash for extra body. This is the beer I know best, unable to avoid it when I visit the Euston Tap, and it’s fast becoming a favourite: fruity and inviting thanks to Centennials and Cascades, the sort of body which can carry hops with ease, a background sweetness with the foreground hop bitterness and aroma. It’s accessible, balanced and easy drinking.
|Wheat beer in the back, pale ale at the front|
A hazy unfiltered lager arrives straight from the tank – when they open they will also sell the unfiltered version – rounded and smooth, a little sweetly sulphurous which I love, very refreshing and easy drinking. One sniff and sip and I’m suddenly in Pilsen, remembering beers past.
Finally is the wheat beer, a German-style weiss, darker than you’d normally see. “I think it’s the best wheat beer in the UK,” Jasper says without arrogance, instead it’s with pride and rightly so – it’s stunning. A hazy amber body, a banana and toffee aroma, a full and smooth body which has subtle toffee sweetness and a dry finish without much spiky clove spice. I don’t often enjoy this style of beer but it had me completely transfixed.
The brewery, which hasn’t officially launched yet, is already selling beers to around 40 pubs in London and none of them are selling less than five kegs each a week. They haven’t rushed things, instead taking a slow and sensible approach towards perfecting their beers – I’ve had their beers over the last six months and every time I try them they are better and better. They cask, keg and bottle their beers so there's something for everyone and with the space, kit and capacity they have there is also a lot of room for growth over the next few years.
They will soon be launching, opening their brewery doors to a tasting room which folds out onto the cobbled street and will make a great summer drinking spot as the sun slips down over the city. With a pint-glugging pils, a perfect pale ale and a wowing wheat beer, plus plans for occasional specials, Camden Town is here and I can't wait to drink more of their beer.