A great idea is often born out of necessity; at least, that was the case for the UBREW founders Matt and Wilf. In a post-recession Britain, the avid beer drinker is turning to home brewing to create their own booze, harking back to a time honoured tradition the nation once held before the arrival of the humble local pub. Indeed, with the price of a decent pint in London near the £5 mark, the savings of home brewing are immediately obvious. But what happens when you outgrow that beer making kit from Wilkos your nan brought you for Christmas? That’s where UBREW steps in.
Devoted home brewers, the founders of this crowdfunded venture once mashed grains and boiled their brews on their kitchen hobs, spilling beery water and generally causing hell for their partners. However, when the two founders met in a shared working space in London, their passion for brewing spilled over into a phenomenal idea; shared brewing space, an open brewery where you brew the beer yourself.
Setup in the heart of London’s craft beer scene – the Bermondsey Beer Mile – UBREW is a boozy heartland for hop snobs, IPA enthusiasts and, most importantly, a community of enthusiastic beer-makers. Enamoured with the concept the moment I discovered it, UBREW’s invitation for Kasha and I to come down and experience one of their Beginner’s brewery courses with one of the brewing experts was rapidly accepted.
A Hands on Experience
When you arrive in Bermondsey, you’ll have to seek out the establishment as it’s slightly off the main stretch of the Bermondsey Beer Mile in Old Jamaica Road. Once you’ve found it, head into the railway arches and take a seat on the long rows of rustic wooden tables and benches to enjoy a drink before the course begins.
In groups of around 8-10 you’ll be guided around the full process of beer making from start to finish. Very much like cooking, you’ll have a recipe to follow that will list ingredients, exact timings and cooking temperatures. In our case we were tasked with created an American Brown Ale, a rich dark beer with caramel, roasted malts and chocolate like characteristics, we were delighted to find out we’d be taking home a portion of this 10 days later once it was ready.
What I loved about the tour is that you get to witness and participate in each stage of the brewing process. You’ll smell and taste the malts and bitter hops before throwing them into a bubbling pot, slowly sculpting the contents of the brew kettle into the makings of a beer.
Something I didn’t expect was to discover the subtle nuances that occur with each and every brew. The basic recipe for IPA’s, Belgian beers and porter is no great secret; it’s the small changes to temperature, balances of sugar and time differences that actually make the biggest effects on the final flavour of each beer.
During the breaks while the concoction reaches the next level, you are free to taste the array of beers on tap in the bar, my favourite was UBREW’s End of Thyme, which, as you may have guessed, contains strong notes of thyme. You can also explore other parts of the brewery like the fermentation room and the bottling station, where I met a UBREW member brewing up a batch of Imperial Stout blended with the infamous liqueur, Riga Black Balsam; a demonstration of just how creative modern brewing is right now.
A Hoppy Community
From start to finish, the energy and buzz of working to create beer around dozens of people doing exactly the same thing is great fun. What you can’t underestimate here is the importance of community, the fact you are not alone makes a huge difference; you wouldn’t drink alone (hopefully), so why brew alone?
At UBREW, the benefit doesn’t just come from the equipment but from the expertise and knowledge of the staff. When you get into trouble as a novice brewer, I imagine this is enormously comforting.
A Beer Revolution
Homebrewing is now a multi-million-pound business, so the concept of a shared brewing space is logistically speaking (especially in London) the next step for anyone looking to up their beer game. Considering the UBREW boys opened doors in March 2016 – and sold all 150 memberships in the first three months – the demand for a step up from homebrewing is clearly there.
In fact, the boys shared with me that they usually operate around 80 brews per month, and around 2,000-3,000 litres a week start life under their railway arch; enough beer that you could quite literally swim in it! If that wasn’t impressive enough, rumour has it they are looking to open up another site in London, Manchester and even Berlin!
Where Do I Sign Up?
Well that depends on what you are looking to do, a beginner’s course, like the one I went on, costs £52.50 or the more advanced Hands-On Brewing Course its £124.79. However, you can get a 20% discount of the next beginner course in June by using the code UBREW20 at checkout, the perfect gift for Father’s Day? I think so!
Or, if you’re already a brewing whizz and you just want to get to it, you can join as a member and start brewing straight away for around £65 a month.
The concept is ingenious yet simple. Brewing is costly and requires a lot of space, knowledge, expensive equipment and ingredients. UBREW solves all of that and creates a lively community where every type of brewer is welcome, from complete beginner to commercial craftsman. With regards to their beginners beer brewing course, this experience opened my eyes to just how simple brewing can be when you take away all of the waffle and scary diagrams. My advice to anyone interested in making beer would be to give this course a go, it helps you to see in a practical way the level of detail and care needed to create a good batch of the amber nectar and inspiration of how to aim high with your brewing.
*Pin me for laters*
Disclaimer: I was invited by UBREW to join the beginner’s course, but as always any opinions expressed are entirely my own.
If you liked reading about all this beer stuff, why not check out my journey to visit London’s blossoming Robot Pubs!