Meet the Brewer: Brodie’s Beers

If you follow this blog (all three of you – you know who you are!) you know that I’m a big fan of East London brewery Brodie’s – I’ve written about them here and more extensively and recently here. After my writeup of the Bunny Basher festival at brewery HQ William IV in Walthamstow, brewmaster James Brodie got in touch, and today I made the trek to E10 to have a chat with James about various beery topics, particularly what kinds of beer we can expect from Brodie’s in the near future. James and Lizzie Brodie (brewery co-founder) were very friendly and enthusiastic and the interview ended with a surprising invite – more on that later.

James B overseeing the expansion work at the brewery

For those of you not in the know, Brodie’s have been around since 2008 and besides the William IV they also operate two pubs in central London, The Old Coffee House in Beak Street in Soho and The Cross Keys on Endell Street near Covent Garden. Brodie’s output can best be described as ‘relentlessly experimental’ – Brodie’s has brewed almost every beer style in the world at least twice, and they constantly innovate, tweak, and develop new recipes. There’s everything from low-ABV sessioners to ABV 22.0 craziness via spiced beers and odd yeast-strand experimentals. “We’re innovating to the extent that we get criticized for it sometimes,” says James. “We never do the same thing twice, and there are a lot of people who think that a proper English brewery should stick to a core range of three beers, two of which are brown.” No surprise, then, that James gets along fabulously with another restless world-class brewer, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø a k a Mikkeller. Mikkeller heard about Brodie’s and came up to the brewery earlier this year to do a collaboration brew, MoFo Stout, and the brewers stayed in touch – Brodie’s are now part of the line-up at highly anticipated festival Copenhagen Beer Celebration (organized by Mikkeller himself) in mid-May, and at the end of May the brewery team are going over to Copenhagen again for a tap takeover at Mikkeller Bar, with 20 Brodie’s beers on tap (readers in southern Sweden take note – you should go!).

Doodle the brewery dog, guarding the hops.

So with this increased international and national recognition (Brodie’s beers are now distributed throughout the UK and Scotland via Manchester-based brewery/beer distributor Boggart), does Brodie’s plan to expand? “Well, we are about to expand from a 12-barrel setup to a 15-barrel setup”, says James – and I arrived just as the prep work was in full swing, with a new electrical system being installed. “It all has to be custom-built, otherwise we couldn’t fit it into the premises”. But beyond that? “No, we don’t really plan to expand or export. Obviously we are really pleased with getting the recognition and with being invited to Copenhagen Beer Celebration (CBC) and a couple of other festivals, and it’s of course great to be collaborating with Mikkel and some other great brewers – but at heart we’re a family operation, a small community-based brewery, and we don’t want to lose that.” It’s easy to see that the Brodies value the community aspect of brewing (and of operating pubs, of course) as they’ve done any number of community-oriented brewing projects in the past four years. For example, a nearby retirement home has a hop garden, so Brodie’s worked with them and did a hop-picking session and then took everyone back to the brewery to create a special beer for the occasion (Old Hopper Ale, naturally). They’ve done a Jamaican Stout using a recipe from the Jamaican family next door. They’ve worked with East London’s gay community to create a special beer for Pride (Pink Pride, of course). And so on. “I don’t want to sound too much like a Disney movie”, says James, “but when we had our Bunny Basher festival here over Easter, we had Chinese people coming in drinking real ale, we had neighbourhood people from Jamaica, Thailand, from all over Africa. You had a couple of children running around in here. As I said, the recognition is great but our main goal is providing beer and a great pub experience for the local community.”

Look for this sign for great beer

So exactly what beers can the local community look forward to in the future? “Oh, we’ve got lots of interesting stuff coming up,” says James. “Right now we have to focus on CBC but when we come back we’re going to do some sour beer – we’re going to do what we call a “Longbic”, we’re going to hoist a fermenter up on the roof and see how that works. In case that doesn’t work out so well we have a backup plan, we have some lambic blend coming from a European supplier. Then the whole thing is going to go into Chardonnay barrels for aging in our barrel storage in Leyton.” But what about the risks of cross-contamination? Some breweries avoid brewing sour beers in the same premises as they brew other beers as the sour beer yeast strains are so aggressive. “Oh, I think those risks are grossly exaggerated, there are also many breweries that do brew both kinds of beers in the same place. We have a good setup here as you can close the door to the other room [where there are currently two fermenters], that should be enough.” And it won’t end with the lambic. “We’re also doing an all-Brett IPA, a big American-style IPA with Brettanomyces only, I don’t think anyone has done that before.”

“We’ve also got some interesting collaborations coming up in preparation for our next big festival, our Birthday Bonanza IV in September, we’re probably going to do something with Ryan (Witter-Merithew) from Fanø Brygghus for that – he’s also going to come here for a Meet the Brewer event in August some time. Ryan and the people at Fanø also helped us source some things we needed for a French saison we’re brewing – we’re using a mix of French saison yeast and lacing it with Brett, it’s a special Brett from 3 Fonteinen that they have isolated from their lambic strain.” It all sounds like Brodie’s have got some very special sours coming up, but true to form they’ve got a million other things planned or currently brewing as well: the 10.0 ABV Peanut Butter Imperial Stout is ready and it is going to be followed by a Lavender Stout James is very excited about.

But with all that experimentation, surely sourcing of ingredients must be a constant issue? “Yes, it definitely is. The most basic one is hops, of course. I think new brewers starting out now will have a very difficult time, you really need to have a contract with a supplier. There won’t be any Simcoe available until January of next year, for example – we’re lucky to have some left in storage. We have a good relationship with our supplier so we are sometimes able to get some extra stuff, but despite that we often have to change our recipes in order to adapt to availability.”

In summary, it is clear that Brodie’s are not going to change any of the things that make them great: small batches, great attention to detail, and constant experimentation. “We’re always finding new things to screw up,” jokes Eric, the head brewer. “Once we know how to do something we go on to the next thing.”

And one of the next things, apparently, is inviting Yours Truly to help brew a beer in the near future. James talks fast and thinks fast, and in a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing he asked me what Sweden was famous for. We chatted a bit and it ended up with an idea for a Swedish Spiced Stout, to be brewed in June (hopefully to be ready before June 22nd, which is Midsummer and one of the biggest holidays in Sweden). A full report on the brewday will follow (naturally), though I can’t help but having Eric’s words ringing in my ear: in asking me to brew with them, surely Brodie’s have found a brand new way to screw up? On the other hand, judging by the Brodie’s beers I’ve had before, a Brodie screw-up would be someone else’s dream brew, so I feel I am in good hands…

PS: This is not all I uncovered in my interview with James – check back here soon for a London Beer Blog exclusive!

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Posted on April 27, 2012, in Brewery, Interview and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. jonasbjallfalk

    I just want to place an order for that spiced stout right now! Make sure it’s a brewer-signed label 🙂

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