We speak to Paul Anspach, co-founder of London’s Anspach & Hobday brewery, to find out about their beginnings, their approach to brewing, and our brand-new Flavourly exclusive collaboration beer: The Mild.
First of all, who are Anspach & Hobday? How and why did the brewery come to be?
Jack (Hobday) and I (Paul Anspach) met at kindergarten, went to secondary school together, and both attended University in London. Whilst our original plan was to try and forge some sort of career in the music industry, we soon became distracted by beer and realised that people were far more interested in our alcoholic output that our musical offerings.
One of Jack’s lecturers had suggested we give home brewing a go as a cheap way to drink, and as I was working in a wine shop and developing a keen interested in the craft beer of the time (2011/12), we embraced the hobby with vigour. We were soon producing recipes that went on to become some of our first commercial releases, most notably of which was The Porter which remains largely unchanged to this day. Through relentlessly handing out samples at the wine shop, we attracted the attention of a few people keen to invest in a startup brewery. This, coupled with a Kickstarter campaign, afforded us the means to take on the Bermondsey arch, buy our first brew kit, and start production.
How would you describe the Anspach & Hobday approach to brewing beer?
As a brewery, we definitely have one foot in the past, and one foot in the present. Whilst we are very much a contemporary, modern brewery, we have a huge respect for all that has gone before us, and fully appreciate that a lot can be learned by looking back through the tomes of brewing history. For us, brewing is about precision, balance, and drinkability, and whilst we are more than happy to experiment with new ingredients, flavours, and techniques, we never want our beers to stray into the realm of novelty. The craft of brewing is about the development of skills and techniques gained over years of focused experience, education and attention to detail. It’s these principles that we endeavour to apply to every one of our beers, be it an interpretation of a historical style, or something completely new and experimental.
Ok, onto the main topic; our new collaboration beer, The Mild. Not very many craft brewers are brewing milds, let alone canning them – what inspired you to brew this style?
We’ve always had an interest in traditional styles and have often delved into to history books in search of old recipes and techniques. Mild has a really interesting history and is a great example of how fluid beer names and styles can be. Originally the term just meant ‘fresh’ and was assigned to beers that were drunk young, as opposed to older, aged Keeping or Stale ales. This being the case, a Mild could actually be a beer of any style. For example, brewers who produced Porter would offer both a Mild and a Keeping version. Over the years, various factors such as taxation, war and temperance movements all contributed to the lowering of ABVs, and as other styles diverged away from Mild/Keeping terminology, the meaning of Mild came to settle essentially as a style of its own; a low ABV, mahogany/brown dark ale, typically dispensed from a cask. Whilst this style has somewhat fallen out of favour with the modern drinker, it seems that every few years it threatens a comeback. With a history as rich and interesting as it has, it’s been a style we’ve wanted to have a crack at for a long time!
The recipe is very traditional and uses a lot of fantastic British ingredients – how did you come up with the recipe and what do the ingredients bring to the beer?
In keeping with the history, the development of The Mild starts with another one of our beers, The Three Threads, which is itself a historical take on Porter. Following a recipe and procedure dating back to the late 1700s, we used a simple malt bill of pale, amber and brown malts, all of which were mashed three times to reach the desired volume in the boil kettle. The runnings of each mash were boiled separately over the same charge of hops and were then combined in the fermenter where the yeast was pitched. This unique but labour intensive way of working the raw materials makes for an incredibly complex beer, born from simple ingredients.
Following the historical precedent of ABV reduction, we re-worked the malt bill to bring the ABV down from 6% to 3.6%, and simplified the mashing procedure to bring it in line with modern day brewing methods. The resulting beer retains all the complexity of its stronger forebear, but is lighter, fresher, and incredibly drinkable. In contrast to much of today’s brewing, The Mild is real showcase of the malts, with the Maris Otter providing a solid, biscuity base, the amber bringing toasty notes and the brown contributing a hint of smoked; the brown malt used is actually a combination of smoked malt and crystal malt, as traditional English brown malt would have had a smokey character as a result of being kilned over open fires. Brown malt is no longer produced in this way, but the blend we use is a good approximation of what it would have been like.
And lastly, what does the future hold for Anspach & Hobday? Any more releases we should be watching out for?
Probably the most exciting thing we have coming up is the launch of The Arch House, our Bermondsey taproom and mixed fermentation site. Originally the home of all of our production, we’ve refurbished the space creating not only an awesome place to drink our beers at their freshest, but a permanent and dedicated home for our mixed fermentation and barrel program.
The first beer out will be The Arch House Saison, a mixed fermentation beer using a blend of French Saison yeast and Brettanomyces Brux. We’ve experimented a lot with mixed fermentation beers in the past, and can’t wait to have a dedicated home to further explore this approach to brewing.
Interview by Kevin O’Donnell