In conversation with Omar Razaq

How a little brewery in Walthamstow is redefining lager, one can at a time.

They (whoever ‘they’ are) say that good things come in small packages and this was certainly the case when a little orange box containing four orange cans arrived at Flavourly HQ. Those cans contained Pillars Brewery’s Untraditonal Lager and I’ve rarely seen a beer create such a stir in the office (our founder Ryan still goes on about it).

The beer is a seamless blend of a pilsner and an IPA, the perfect combination of big US hops, flavoursome British malt and a clean, refreshing lager finish. From the moment the first drops touched our tongues, we knew we had to share it with our community, we had to know (and drink) more. This is the story of Untraditional Lager which begins, rather traditionally, in a little garden shed…

“Pillars Brewery began like all craft breweries ought to, in a garden shed belonging to a longsuffering Mum – thanks Mrs Razaq!” exclaims Omar Razaq, one of Pillars’ four founders. “We first started brewing at home and very quickly developed a passion for it. The fine scientific details really captured our imagination along with the practical process of brewing. The garden shed evolved into a fullyfledged ‘brew shed’ where we kicked out four batches of beer every six weeks over the course of a few years.

“It is hard to say exactly when Untraditional Lager was born, as it went through so many iterations, but one could argue it was born the day we built the shed brewery. We were borderline obsessive about producing an innovative IPL style and generating improvements with each batch.”

It’s becoming increasingly unusual for a modern craft brewery to hang their hat on a lager, the style most commonly associated with mass-produced, fizzy yellow stuff, but that’s exactly why Pillars have done just that. And it’s something the team are obsessively passionate about.

“We felt that the UK consumer was being sold short with the availability of quality lager in the market,” Omar explains. “If you look at the numbers, foreign imported brands dominate and very few independent UK breweries are producing lager. There are several reasons for this including, but not limited to, the requirement for specialist equipment and the inherent difficulties in lager brewing.

“Simply put, there is nowhere to hide with lager. If there is a minor error in the beer, it will not go unnoticed. Despite these difficulties, we see this as an opportunity to produce highquality local lager.

“The other challenge that comes with brewing exclusively lager is removing the stigma amongst some beer drinkers that lager is tasteless and boring. Lager is complex to brew and a hugely under-rated beer. Many mainstream lagers in the UK aren’t doing the mantle of lager justice and can’t even be classified as beer according to the Bavarian Beer Purity law.

“We wanted to challenge the negative preconceptions of lager and create a real lager that craft beer drinkers could really appreciate. Untraditional Lager is the first of the Pillars products but we will continue to develop seminal lagers to fill the gap in the UK market.

It’s taken more than passion to brew this boundary-crushing lager, though. Plenty of practice and a healthy dose of science has gone into crafting the perfect recipe.

“This beer is the result of years of experimentation with lager styles. The ingredients and processes have been carefully and meticulously selected to get the best possible results. We are inspired by the Bavarian Purity Laws (or as we see it ‘The Pillars of Brewing’) and as such we only use 4 ingredients in the beer: water, malted barley, hops and yeast.

“A unique feature of our brewing process is the four-stage water treatment plant. First the chlorine and chloride is removed, then the carbonates such as calcium are removed and finally reverse-osmosis removes all other minerals. This leaves us with perfectly clean, soft water: a base to build from. We then add minerals back in to replicate the water profile we are looking for. For Untraditional Lager, we match the water found in Pilsen, the home of the first pilsner.”

With a fierce loyalty, Pillars have an appetite for lager that is rare in the contemporary UK scene. When asked if they had any intentions of branching out into other styles, Omar insisted that they’re just getting started with lager.

Give unusual lager a go!

“Pillars Brewery will be firmly focused upon lager for the foreseeable future,” says Omar. “We want to be known as lager specialists and, with over 30 recognised lager styles in existence, we have plenty to keep us busy. Our dream is for people to talk about lager with the same respect and enthusiasm as other beer types. Our team are working tirelessly to bring more innovative beer creations and perhaps some new lager styles into the public domain – so watch this pint-shaped space.”

Though Untraditional Lager is the only one of their babies to have flown the coop out into the big, bad world, their Walthamstow brewery taproom is quickly becoming a haven for lager lovers. Alongside their flagship IPL, they’ve been pouring pilsners (of both Czech and German varieties), helles-style lagers, dunkels, ambers and even a kellerbier. With Pillars on the scene, lager is in very safe hands.

“We believe lager is for everyone; from craft beer aficionados to your Nan’s weekly half a pint during bingo,” Omar tells us. “The bad reputation of ‘bland’ lager is exactly what we hope to smash by pushing the boundaries of a beer style that has been neglected for centuries. Give Untraditional Lager a try and join us in a craft lager revolution!”

Originally published in Issue 11 of Flavourly Magazine. Written by Kevin O’Donnell.

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