Urban Alchemy Brewery, Barnet

Breweries come and breweries go, usually passing on their equipment to the next newcomer down the line. So most small operators start with hand-us-downs, re-used equipment. Occasionally, however, you come across a bunch of people who have done the whole thing themselves, literally from the ground up. From laying the foundations for the building to designing the tanks, creating new, bespoke kit and even writing the brewery control software.

Urban Alchemy brewery in Barnet has been several years in the making, from back room brewing, to back garden brewing and now to a fully licensed and approved operation. Their beers in development have been terrific, confidently walking the line between the Craft Beer “Hop Soups” and traditional malty ales.

I went to see them a few days after the final bit of paperwork came through.

Zero Degrees

The origins of Craft Beer and Craft Brewers are lost in the mists of time … or rather, the designation “craft” too indistinct to be seen clearly. No-one knows what a Craft Beer really is but we know one when we drink one.

It could well be said that Zero Degrees, the brewery and Pizza restaurant in Blackheath, London, was the first in the UK to be able to call itself a Craft Brewery. They saw the rise and rise of Brewdog, Meantime and other big hitters but stayed true to their roots of being small and keeping things within their own control. Perhaps it was fear, perhaps it was small-mindedness, perhaps it was one partner leaving everything to the other, highly risk-averse partner … whatever the reason, they’re still there doing what they do very well.

They recently brought in a new head brewer and a new marketing person in the hope of “taking it to the next level” (along with “Craft” an amorphous term at best). But the beer is terrific and the food is excellent so they’re getting the basics right. I went down to meet them to learn more about the oldest Craft Brewery in the UK … and what I learned was fascinating! Read More

Liefmans Fruit Beers and Duvel Blonde

Britain makes all sorts of beer – amber, dark, stout, blond, golden, etc. one thing we have not yet started to make to any great extent is fruit beers. These are often sneered at as alcopops or girls’ drinks but, trust me, at up to 8.5% and with flavour profiles that truly challenge, they are nothing of the sort. We’ve probably all seen Lindeman’s Kriek and some of us may have tried it; we’ve certainly all seen the flavoured ciders – they can taste easy and too sweet but thing are changing: Now there’s a new kid on the UK fruit beers block … a 300-year-old “new kid”: Liefmanns. They launched their range of fruit beers at M Restaurant in Thredneedle Street in London organised by the lovely people at R and R Teamwork. We went to find out more (I say “we” – WE didn’t go, Joesph Quartson went on our behalf and took the photos below).

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Liefmans - Beer Launch Event @ M Restaurant Threadneedle Street London 2015

Read More

Beer Tasting at Home

There comes a time when you want to gather friends and enjoy an evening with a bit more of a purpose than simply chatting, drinking and singing (maybe the singing is just my circle of friends). There are games nights, Murder Mystery Dinners (I highly recommend the range from Paul Lamond Games), tastings and many other, less conventional entertainments. In this case we’re talking beer tasting. I had too much and I have several friends who enjoy a glass of ale; this was a match made in heaven … probably not, actually, as you will hear: Read More

Wetherspoon’s World’s Biggest Real-ale Festival

We’ve all been to Real-ale festivals, big and small; and we thought that CAMRA’s offering a few months ago at Olympia in London was pretty impressive. It was big but, depending on how you measure these things, it wasn’t the biggest: Wetherspoons are claiming that crown with festivals in every one of their pubs simultaneously, which, when added together, probably does make the biggest in terms of number of pints on offer, although not by range of ales. Still, this is not a time to be churlish nor an opportunity to be missed – I’d say a beer festival is never an opportunity to be missed – so I took a camera crew of students from Barnet College to my local Wetherspoon pub, the Tally Ho in North Finchely, to see what was going on. The students did fine. Considering …

The Journey of a Pint

You’re in a pub. You’re drinking a pint. You’re enjoying it and letting your mind wander. Have you ever wondered how that pint came to be there in your glass? No, neither have I … BUT we were at the Great British Beer Festival, we had a camera and a presenter, in the shape of Mark Phillips (no, not the horsey royal ex) so we decided to take that journey … BACKWARDS! Read More

The Great British Beer Festival 2014

This is the story of a drinks journalist. A man who, through no fault of his own, found himself enjoying and talking about all drinks, other than those nasty sweet “alcopops” and novelty drinks in funny-shaped bottles that you bring back from holiday and sit in your cupboard for years until, one day, you or more likely your partner simply throw them out … or those revolting shameful concoctions that are based on chocolate bars with alcohol and thickeners added, which are a way for the behemoth of the drinks industry to lure those who would be much better off taking the tea-total route … like children and vulnerable adults … then I’m also not keen on the flavoured grain alcohols that masquerade as traditional Southern American whiskeys, when they’re nothing of the sort … breathe … breathe … OK. HOWEVER, there is one subject to which our journalist returns again and again: beer and, in particular, ale. Real, old-fashioned, hand-pulled ale.

So how better to celebrate that than to make an appointment with the largest beer festival in the UK and head down to Olympia for the Great British Beer Festival?

Oahu Beer

Beer is everywhere and is the oldest known alcoholic drink – beer yeasts were found in the Pharaoh’s tombs. The quality varies place to place and the styles and tastes vary over time but, starting from America out into the English-speaking world, craft beers are taking over. They have now properly reached Honolulu on Oahu in Hawaii, which can only make the place better, in our view (there are craft breweries on the other Hawaiian islands but not on Oahu). This growth in craft beer is partly fueled by home-brewers. Once we realised this … well, we had to go and check it out! Read More

Beer beer in Beer – Branscombe Vale

When you go on holiday to the south coast, you might travel to Devon. Perhaps to the rather twee and delightful fishing village of Beer. You’ll find a pleasant pebble beach, welcoming tea-houses and cafes, some very high-end art galleries and cosy pubs. You might wander into one of those pubs seeking a pint of local beer … you are in Beer after all. However, you might be in for a surprise because not only is there no beer from Beer, you won’t find any from the nearest brewery of Branscombe Vale. This struck us as odd, so we sent my producer, Johnny Mindlin, to investigate.

The Black Horse in Barnet rises again as a brew pub

The pub world is a fickle place – premises are closing all around us and, depending on whom you ask, the indutry is either in trouble or in crisis. In my own locality of Barnet in Hertfordshire (look me up, buy me a drink!) there are pubs boarded up, former pubs that are now private residences, independent financial advisors and one local is even due to become a funeral parlour … it’s a grave situation!

The Black Horse on Wood Street, one of the iconic Barnet pubs that was closed for a very long time appears to be bucking the trend (geddit?). It has been bought by Oak Taverns and is now re-opened and, let joy be unconfined, is starting up its own Barnet Brewery.

They have not yet actually started brewing and the tanks and casks fight for space with the kitchen supplies so I went up there to nose around and find out what is being planned. There I found Simon Collinson, the MD of Oak Taverns who told me all about it.

The World Atlas of Beer – interview with Tim Webb

Regular visitors to this podcast series will be delighted to know that The Kernel Brewery in Bermondsey was one of only 3 finalists in the 2012 BBC Food And Farming Awards – I spoke with them last year (see the podcast on Mircrobrewing earlier in this series) and we congratulate them on their success!

Now: Christmastime is here, by golly, / ’tis the season to be jolly … and ’tis the season to be buying books for friends and family. One book that, in my circles at least, is bound to go down well is a beautiful, classy publication: The World Atlas of Beer, which has been compiled and written by Tim Webb and Stephen Beaumont. It is published by Mitchell Beazley.
In early December 2012, Tim Webb was an award-winner at the British Guild of Beer Writers’ banquet and we congratulate him as well. I met Tim Webb at last summer’s Great British Beer Festival in Olympia, prior to the book’s launch, and grabbed the opportunity to talk with him:

CAMRA Beer Festival

The Great British Beer Festival 2011 just ended at Earl’s Court in London. As a judge in the CAMRA beer festival, I have, on occasion, got to go along and taste beers entered into the competition to win a medal and, hopefully, the title Best Beer. In the midst of this arduous work, I have taken the opportunity to talk to some of the visitors to the festival. Read More


Beer is possibly the oldest form of manufactured beverage; certainly, the earliest documented. Over the last century or so, it has gone from home- and pub-brewed ales, through the industrial-made horrors in the 60s/70s, and now it’s back among the small operators with an explosion of small and microbreweries around the country. These are sometimes little more than a single vat in a hygenically and fully licensed shed but they almost all produce beery nectar. The Kernel brewery has 6 fermenters and produces beautiful beers so I paid it a visit, there also to meet both a home-brewer and an establised player in this game. Read More