Going into the seemingly tiny railway arch in Brixton which houses the London Beer Lab, my excitement was growing – I was there for a brewing session, not something I had done before, and I was going on my own. I was hoping the tasting aspect of the session would help with that part.
There were 16 of us there, broken down into groups and each given a recipe designed by the head brewer. I was part of a dream team making a single hop Citra, with cold brew coffee – an interesting concept. We were using a brew in the bag system – essentially a huge tea bag which you fill with your malt and soak, saving the effort of sieving out the grain after – so weighed out our ingredients and threw them in to mash for an hour.
While that was going, we were given a really interesting and thorough talk by our guide, who talked through different types of grains used in brewing, and passed around samples of each for us to see, smell and taste. I’ve tried malted barley once before during a brewery tour, but it was amazing to see and try all these different types alongside each other – I really started to get a sense for how they can affect the end result of a beer, and where some of the flavours you drink come from. Next up were different types of hops, some British, some European and some American, which had the same effect on me. I’ve smelt hops before, but to get them in direct comparison was a new experience.
I should say at this point that this was also a beer tasting session – something to grease the wheels of spending 4 or 5 hours with complete strangers. We’d tried the London Beer Lab Table beer by this point already, and were now onto their Tip Top Citra APA, both of which were lovely to drink, as was the pint of the Session IPA I had downstairs at the bar a little bit later (and it was rather nice to share a pint with some new people – we’d all bonded a bit by that point). Being able to hold and smell Citra hops in one hand, whilst holding a beer made from them in the other was yet another great experience, and something which really helped me to feel like I understood the whole process a bit better. I have to say that it all tends to get a bit confusing when I try to read up on malts and hops and their flavours but the real-life, literally hands-on experience was completely different.
Anyway, once we brought our wort to the boil (if you haven’t brewed before, the wort is basically sugary water and the basis for any beer) and thrown in our first portion of hops, we had an hour to kill. This is when I got my pint in, and also when I took the opportunity to pick out the £25 worth of beers which came as part of the session – there was also the option to take home a brewing kit, but I already had the equipment at home and it didn’t come with any ingredients, plus it’s Christmas soon and I wanted some beer. By the time I was done browsing the shelves and fridges in the taproom I was actually over the £25, but was happy to pay the difference. I’ve listed out the beers I bought further down, but wanted to make sure I took some London Beer House own-brand home with me as a memento.
Once it was ready, we cooled the beer quickly with an immersion cooler (a coil of pipe which you run cold water through – much easier than the sink full of ice I have used when homebrewing in the past) and added in our next load of hops. Then it was a case of emptying the beer into a bucket, chucking in some yeast and sealing the top. The LBL team take it from there, and once it’s ready I’ll get a notification on Untappd and hopefully get a chance to go down to the taproom to taste it.
All in all, I loved the experience. I’ve done a little bit of homebrewing before (literally three times) but I don’t think you would need to have done it to understand the process and enjoy the session. Having that very real connection between the ingredients and the process makes for a really rewarding and educational few hours that have definitely changed the way I think about beer and reignited my interest in brewing at home.
Book your own session here:
Beers I took home:
- 2 bottles of London Brew Lab Mosaic Ekuanot Pale
- 2 bottles of London Brew Lab Session IPA
- 2 bottles of London Brew Lab Tip Top Citra IPA
- Double-Barrelled Seven Dollar Saturday Milk Stout
- Mondo Brewing/Yeastie Boys Ask for James
- Wiper and True Plum Pudding Porter
- Oliver Brewing Co/Stillwater Artisanal Shaken Not Stirred (Ramos Gin Fizz)