Friday, 18 January 2013

Bermondsey's reluctant brewer

Andy Smith likes his music loud. Approaching Partizan Brewing’s base under an railway arch in Bermondsey, you can hear the brewery before you see it. Specifically, you can hear the music of Gang of Four, a suitable choice since Smith, 31, comes from Leeds.

“I’ll just turn that down,” he says with a smile. Behind him is the brewing kit, a gift from Evin O’Riordain at The Kernel when they moved from their own Bermondsey railway arch to a bigger one, and a huge pile of boxes filled with bottles.

Smith, sporting a thick woolly jumper and an even thicker beard to combat London’s winter chill, is somewhat wearily attaching Partizan’s stylish, witty labels to the bottles: not everything about brewing is as glamorous as some appear to think.

But Smith wasn’t attracted to the world of beer by glamour, but by money. Back at the tail end of 2009, he was working as a chef at a restaurant in Chelsea which was struggling to pay its staff.
In order to deal with his bills, he got a job at The White Horse in Parson’s Green, where he ended up working in the cellar. That’s how he met Andy Moffat, head brewer at Redemption in Tottenham. “Andy was dropping off some casks,” he says. “I’d been homebrewing and asked him if he wanted some help.” He did.

More than two years on, and having enjoyed the full Andy Moffat experience (“He’s almost too nice at times,” laughs Smith. “It gets to five o’clock and you want to finish your job but Andy’s pushing you out of the door!”) he has his own brewery.

If it seems a natural next step, it didn’t appear that way to Smith. “It wasn’t something I intended to do,” he says.  “When I was a chef, it was always ‘are you going to open your own restaurant?’ ‘No, I’m not interested!’
“I had a chat with Andy in January. We talked about my future, I felt I wasn’t getting anywhere anymore. It felt like I was doing a 9-5 job. He’s a really open guy to talk to about that. He said I could try and get a job at a big brewery like Thornbridge, or start on my own – which I wasn’t too keen on.

“I talked to a few people, including Evin (The Kernel), and he offered the brew kit for nothing. That was decisive – it was almost impossible to decline.”

If Smith sounds at all half-hearted, a taste of his beer should be enough to dispel any misgivings about his commitment. The Foreign Extra Stout, in particular, is excellent: it comes from an old Courage recipe, he says, and it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as some of London’s other recent revived recipes.

“The beers I make are the beers that I want to make. They won’t all be very strong [like the FES, which is 8.6 per cent]. I’m making a Saison which should be four or five per cent. They have to taste good. With strong beers, it’s like reducing a stock: the more you reduce, the more flavour you get. That’s what I want.”

Smith’s background in cooking makes him an interesting brewer. Plenty of people have compared brewing and cooking, but Smith isn’t so sure. “Organisation is the big thing you learn in cooking – have everything laid out,” he says.

“That’s helpful in brewing, too - but when you’re cooking, you can taste as you go along. If you make a dish and didn’t taste it until the end, that would just be the worst thing to do. There’s nothing you can do about it when you’re brewing – you have to wait until the end, fingers crossed.”

His career as a cook began in Leeds, and it’s there that he first got a taste for great beer, too, at one of the country’s foremost craft-beer haunts. “We used to go to North Bar; it was a big chef hangout on Friday and Saturday night – you’d have a bottle of [Schneider Weiss’s wheat dopplebock] Aventinus after you’ve finished service on a Saturday night. It’s about eight per cent but it goes down incredibly easily!”

Smith believes that London has something to learn from Leeds when it comes to beer appreciation. “The drinking culture there is different,” he says. “You can go to a nightclub and drink cask ale, which is unheard of down here.”

Partizan’s beer can be found in a number of London’s best craft-beer pubs and bars (if not nightclubs), but if you want to get a closer look at the brewery it’s now open on Saturdays. Just follow your ears.

You can now buy the Craft Beer London book here, while the app can be downloaded here