Flavourly heads to Bermondsey to check out Fourpure’s brand new brewhouse and what it means for the future of one of the country’s top craft beer brands.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Fourpure had been around for years and years, so synonymous are their brews with the rising popularity of craft in the UK. Their Pils Lager is essentially required-drinking for those on the journey from mass-market lagers to craftier offerings, as well as being one you can come back to time and time again. Their story, however, began less than five years ago when Fourpure was founded by brothers Dan and Tom Lowe in 2013.
Inspired by their travels – to places with incredible beer, of course – Dan and Tom sought to bring some of that flavour to their home country, innovating while staying true to the principles of brewing; their name pays homage to water, grain, hops and yeast, the four core ingredients used to make beer. They’ve blazed trails (Fourpure were the first brewery in the UK to can their entire core range) at the same time as keeping things pure and simple (that same core range features some of the tastiest, easiest drinking beers on the market).
Now, in 2018, they’re ready to take things to the next level. With the installation of 12 new 200-hectolitre fermentation tanks, massive pale and lager malt silos, a new centrifuge, new grain crusher and a gleaming new Craft Star brewhouse, they’ve got some shiny new toys to play with and it’s going to change everything.
A new brewhouse in Bermondsey
Two trains, a taxi and about six hours of travel separate me from my destination. As my driver pulls into the Bermondsey Trading Estate, only a humble awning indicates that I’ve arrived at the home of one of the UK’s leading craft brewers: Fourpure.
As I step through that awning, I’m greeted by dozens of people in Fourpure garb hurriedly bustling around, popping up fairy lights and putting the finishing touches on the enhanced brewhouse and taproom, as they prepare to introduce the world to their new baby in just an hours’ time. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see it; the monstrous new kit that’s an absolute gamechanger for this family-run brewery. A gleaming colossus of steel tanks and pipes; it’s a thing of beauty.
The additional kit, which adds efficiency and increases brewing capabilities, also offers tighter controls, affords better yields and has lots of fun features that allow for better wort management, hop additions and a plethora of technical efficiencies that will refine the beer and enhance their brewers lives for the better. Perhaps most importantly, though, as co-founder Tom Lowe explains to me: “It allows us to brew more.
“We quadruple our capacity. It also gives us more flexibility with tank space to brew different beers. Moving from the old brewhouse where we could brew three times a day, we can brew like eight times a day and we’ve got more [fermentation vessel] capacity so we can hold beer in tank for longer.
“We’ve got capacity to really flex our brewing muscles.”
“The beer quality will improve but also we can fit more one-off brews in. So, we can meet our obligations, but we’ve got capacity to brew imperial porters, imperial stouts, sours, saisons and we can really flex our brewing muscles.”
With the tools now at their disposal to take their brewing to new heights, it’d all be for nothing if Fourpure didn’t have the right person at the helm. Luckily for them, their brand-new toys are in safe, experienced hands with head brewer John Driebergen.
A brief history of brewer John
John’s love-affair with beer started all the way back in his high school days. He tells me: “Although I grew up mostly in the States, I actually went to high school in Switzerland where the drinking age is 16 – thankfully! My dad always had an interest in beer, mostly Belgian styles, so I started to get an appreciation for it.
My favourite place was this brewpub in the city. I’m sure the beer wasn’t great but, at the time, I just thought it was really cool to be drinking beer in the place that it was made.”
Moving back to America in the mid-2000s solidified John’s passion for beer and is where he was first exposed to brewing. “I just started seeking out good beer wherever I could. I had a friend whose dad was into homebrewing so we brewed with him a couple of times. That sort of became a hobby.”
Post-graduation with a career in sustainable investment on the horizon, John had been bitten by the beer bug and there was no looking back. He says: “I got a job, but I realised I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to work in beer. I wanted to work in a brewery, somehow. I’d been homebrewing for five years by that point, really into craft beer by then y’know?
“I just started hanging out at breweries, seeing what I could do. I ended up doing some volunteer work at Brooklyn Brewery – nothing glamourous, cleaning but being close to the action. Living the dream in a sort of way.”
Fate brought John to London before the craft beer boom began booming. He explains: “At the time, the only brewers were Fuller’s and Meantime. So, I got a job at Meantime and, over the course of my three or four years there, I started working my way up. I started off working in the cellar, cleaning and dry-hopping and filtering. Then I started brewing and doing some lab work. Then I started working in new product development.
“I felt, after a time being there and growing a lot professionally, I wanted to move on. I saw that Fourpure were hiring so I applied for the job and they hired me. I’ve been here ever since. Since the beginning.”
Shiny new toys
Over four years later, no one is more excited than John at the possibilities this brewhouse upgrade will bring. He explains: “We had a very rudimentary, second-hand, extremely manual, extremely labour-intensive brewhouse before. We literally climbed into the mash tun with a shovel to dig out every brew before. We didn’t have anywhere near the fine degree of control over every brewing parameter that we do now. I mean, everything is different, and everything is better.
“It’s like when you get an amazing, shiny, new toy – you just wanna try everything.”
“[The new brewhouse] is all controlled by a touch screen on the brew deck where you see all your vessels on one screen, control all your valves, all your pumps. And we also have remote access to that from the brewer’s office via a PC. So, there’s a high degree of automation and sophistication. It’s great.”
Ultimately, all of this control is meaningless if it doesn’t maintain or improve the quality of Fourpure’s beery offering. So far, though, everything is looking – and tasting – better than ever. “We’ve had our first – and starting to see our second – generation of beers coming out of the brewhouse now,” explains John. “I’m amazed, in particular, by how the flavours in the beer are expressed so much more cleanly. And that’s sort of true across the board. It’s like the articulation of flavour is just much more refined and precise.
The malt character is just brighter. The hop character is more intense and cleaner. You can
taste every individual component in a way that you just couldn’t before. It’s to do with the quality of the wort that the brewhouse is producing.”
The new brewhouse does more than improve on existing recipes, though. It gives Fourpure even more scope to try new, inventive and exciting things. “It’s the flexibility that I love,” says John. “Everything from kettle-souring a beer to brewing a very, very traditional German lager with four or five different steps in the mash programme. We can do big, strong, dark beer without sacrificing volume or efficiency.
“I’m excited about all of it really.”
A new member of the family
One of the new beers coming fresh off the upgraded kit is the latest addition to Fourpure’s core range, starring in Flavourly boxes this month, Easy Peeler. The little sibling of their immensely popular citrus IPA Juicebox, this tangerine session beer is tasting fantastic.
The brewhouse warming is in full swing as I bring a snifter glass of Easy Peeler to my nose in the brewery taproom; I’m blown away by the aroma of tangerine peel. It’s seriously powerful but also super fresh. My first sip is unbelievably refreshing, the flavour is perfectly-balanced citrus sitting on a slightly creamy body. On the back end, there’s just a hint of hop bitterness. I waste no time in going back in for another, even bigger, mouthful.
“What I like about Easy Peeler as a recipe is that it’s quite modern,” John explains. “I’ve been looking at different things that have been happening in the modern IPA space and applied different techniques selectively in this beer.
“For instance, about 25 percent of the grist is flaked product; so, flaked oats and flaked barley. And that’s something that I like that’s been happening in the New England IPA space. It’s not a New England IPA but it does have that body, that mouthfeel that does seem to amplify the expression of the dry hop character.
“We focused a lot on drinkability with this beer. One of the best things with the new brewhouse is the fact that, using the same amount of hops, we’ll get just a more intense character from the hop additions.”
Fourpure, looking ever forward
If Easy Peeler is any barometer, this new brewhouse is an exciting prospect for beer drinkers not only up-and-down the country but around the world. The team are already using it to great effect, producing outstanding beers in bigger volumes than ever before. Keen to expand their reach, Tom Lowe explains that, “eight percent of [Fourpure’s beer] goes into export. Seven or eight percent goes into Manchester and the North of England. And an even smaller amount goes into Scotland.
“So, I think if we can replicate what we’re doing here in London in other parts of the UK, and the world, there’s a big market to go for.”
And though the new brewhouse has only recently been officially ‘warmed,’ Tom isn’t for letting Fourpure rest on its laurels. He’s still looking forward. He says: “We see ourselves growing with the craft beer trend, taking opportunities as they come. I guess, in five years, we possibly won’t be here – we’ll be in another site.”