Monday, 3 February 2014

Anspach, Hobday and the Beers New Breweries Brew

One of the true pleasures of living near Tower Bridge is that I am on the doorstep of many wonderful breweries. Kernel, Brew by Numbers, Partizan and Fourpure are all round the corner, and many-a-Saturday afternoon I can be found sitting at their wooden tables quaffing their delights. This week, however, a special event occurred: my friends and I ran into the opening day of the newest brewery in town, Anspach & Hobday (A&H). Pleasingly, this is less than a minute’s walk from my house under a railway arch.

On entering, the buzz in the air was very real, very palpable. Something new – perhaps something great – was getting started here. Those serving, who were all involved in the company, were clearly proud of the two beers on sale: ‘The Smoked One’ and ‘The Porter’. Pleased to chat to those coming through the door, I got talking to Paul Anspach, one of the founders of the brewery. His and Hobday’s road to setting up a brewery was a familiar one. About two years ago they started home brewing, inspired by the range of good quality beer coming out of America. They decided to move to commercial brewing in late-2012 and raised money to do this through a Kickstarter campaign – the first example of crowd-funding in the British brewing industry that I have come across. Gradually, they refined their recipes, worked out the kinks and moved into permanent premises in November 2013 (118 Druid Sreet, Bermondsey), but not before their porter had won a Silver Medal in the International Beer Challenge – an impressive achievement for a new brewery.

A poured and devoured 'The Smoked Brown'
A&H are interesting to me as brewery for two reasons. While they have an IPA in the works, their brown ale and porter are clearly their centrepiece products, reflecting the brewery’s ethos of brewing traditional London beers. The Porter is sublime, but that’s clear from the Silver Medal and I am sure it will get many reviews. But to my mind the brown is excellent too. While smoky in texture, the beer also has notes of vanilla, nuts and caramel and a slightly bitter after-taste, which combined make a highly drinkable brew.

The second point of interest about A&H is that their choice to lead on their first day with a porter and a brown ale is going a bit ‘against the grain’ of what new British breweries are doing. Over the last two weeks I have been compiling through links on the Quaffale site a database of the beers produced by breweries which started operating in 2013. The goal was to see whether there are any discernible trends or fashions in what new entrants into the market are choosing to brew. Because I realise most of these breweries are small, I have not included those beers that are seasonal, and instead have been logging their core ranges.

According to Quaffale’s lists, 166 breweries started operating in 2013 (not A&H though – this has been included in the sample), but I only found beer information for ninety-two, mainly because many have not established websites yet. These produced in total 370 different beers, meaning that on average each brewery produces 4.02. The brewing industry does not seem to have standard names for beer styles, the result being that I logged forty-two of these. Now, my knowledge of beer styles is not comprehensive, but I sorted these as best I could into fourteen categories: the results are below. The first and second columns detail the number of beers in each category that are in production, while third and fourth show the number of breweries creating them (a more detailed breakdown can be found at the end of the post – Appendix 1).

The headline story from this data is that those beers at the lighter end of the beer spectrum – your Pale, Amber and India Pale Ales – are dominating the output of the new breweries. 169 of the 370 beers in the sample (45.68%) are of these types, and they are brewed by eighty-five of the ninety-two breweries (92.39%). It could therefore be inferred that new British breweries are influenced heavily by those in America, where pale ales are all the rage, even perhaps if the brewers themselves don’t know it. Breweries opening in 2013 may be following trends established by new companies which started operating some years ago, who themselves were influenced by the American brewing scene’s preference for lighter beers. That said, an alternative suggestion is that most new breweries are simply brewing paler beers to meet market demand, having realised that darker beers just do not sell as well.

Traditional Bitters come in second on the list, with sixty-five of these beers (17.57%) being brewed by fifty-two of the breweries (56.52%). Clearly there is still a large market for Bitter, but perhaps its popularity is in decline? For many decades Bitter was considered the quintessential British beer, but if it was a popular as tradition would dictate, it could be argued that it should dominate my sample, which it does not. Indeed, its popularity may be suffering because of the rise of the paler ales. Ultimately, only further research will reveal whether this so. (EDIT: Thanks to Richard Conroy who correctly pointed out that I am not taking into account the volume of beer produced, just the number of brands launched - see his comment below.)

The data also suggests that dark beers – stouts, porters and, perhaps controversially, black IPAs – are also popular. Given forty-one of the breweries set up in 2013 (44.57%) are producing between them fifty dark beers (13.51%), it can be suggested there is a healthy market for them. I’ll even go further and make a massive assumption based on my own experience.  I remember a time when porters were hard to find in pubs and the only stout available was Guinness. Thus, as darker beer styles are more common, I suspect they are gaining in popularity.

Some beer types are only produced by a few breweries. Ten beers (2.70%) produced by ten breweries (10.87%) were ‘Red’ or ‘Ruby’; Six breweries (6.52%) are producing seven strong or imperial beers (1.89%); thirteen Belgian-style beers (3.51%) and produced by six companies (6.52%), and, lastly, fifteen producers (16.30%) are producing between them nineteen brown beers (5.14%). In addition to a wide range of other styles shown in the table, it would seem that very wonderfully there is a diverse range of beers being produced in Britain in varying volumes. There will be many reasons why breweries are producing a varied array of beer styles: customers may request them, the brewers may be acting on a whim, for some reason a market for a particular type of beer has developed in a particular place, or, possibly, the owner of a brewery may simply like a style. Clearly, I need to do much more research on this.

But how do the excellent beers of A&H fit into all this? Given I have suggested that the market for dark beers is potentially growing, their medal-winning porter will undoubtedly do very well indeed: its reputation can only go from strength to strength. Their brown beer also has the potential to go far, despite this style not being brewed so often by new breweries. Given the beer’s high quality, the unique fact that it is smoked, and the fact that the rising popularity of dark beers may broaden the appeal of their slightly lighter brown cousins, I am sure it will likely draw beer hunters in from far and wide.


Note: As I am no expert on beer styles, any suggestions and corrections are welcome. 

1 comment:

  1. Some theories:

    New breweries launch into a crowded market, with healthy incumbents. Generally they must compete on quality and innovation. Darker beers, stouts and porters would have become popular as a launch beer, because there was only one alternative (Guinness), and a new micro could compete on making something better or a different interpretation.

    Bitters OTOH have a lot of strong competition. New Micros will tend to skip launching with a Bitter as part of their core range, unless they are extremely confident in their recipe and cask management. That usually rules out smaller micros that don't have the manpower or scale for it.

    Lastly US style pale ales offer a lot of innovation potential around the use of hops. New ingredients, used well can expand a breweries repertoire. It is also hard for a large brewery imitate (the limited supply of these hops ensures limited availablity of the beer).

    You might want to look at your data as well - you are counting the product launches rather than the volume of product. Bitter is very much alive and kicking. A brewery specialising in real ale will be higher capitalised and have bigger distribution, than a small bottle & keykeg microbrewery.

    A&H's launch products could be simply about not imitating their neighbours. I wouldn't want to launch a pale ale 5 minutes walk from BBNo & Kernel.