It’s 7.30AM, I’m standing in Glasgow Central train station, and in no danger of breaking from a traditional Scottish January. It’s absolutely freezing. Not that I mind too much. I’ll take navigating pavements like some kind of arctic surfer and sifting my way through clouds of icy dragon breath for days like today. After all, it’s not every day you’re sent hurtling across the country in search of beery pastures new.
The destination? The Bermondsey Beer Mile – an area becoming so synonymous with craft the local shops may as well begin trading in hops. My hosts? UBREW – true craft beer pioneers, who, with an endearingly modest riposte, take an immense amount of pride in training and supporting the latest craft beer talent. They’ve taken over this month’s beer boxes – and we couldn’t be happier.
There’s something wonderfully exciting about sampling extremely rare brews that are honed with a personal touch. So, understandably, I couldn’t wait to get started. I’m almost 100% certain, after receiving your box, you’re feeling precisely the same way.
Upon arriving in an admittedly murky London, I stepped off at Euston Station and into the hustle and bustle of the city’s unmistakable multicultural, cosmopolitan streets, happy once again to be back in the Big Smoke. I scampered down into the Underground after grabbing a quick bite to eat, slinking on and off those shiny metal pythons that slither around underneath London’s sprawling metropolis, sometimes at depths of up to 60 metres, before the Jubilee line took me to Bermondsey. After walking a short distance from the tube station, I was there. Tucked neatly into the bottom corner of an industrial park, covered by two large railway arches, UBREW awaited.
I was met by Matthew Dunham, who, with a strong handshake and a thick Canadian accent, welcomed me to UBREW and sat me down. At first glance the brewery itself is kind of split into two parts – in one of the arches, you find the brewpub, stock and operations side of UBREW. In the other, the brewing vessels and equipment. When you scratch the surface, however, you find the huge variety of ingredients used by UBREW upstairs, and their impressive 5BBL industrial brewkit – reserved for the craftiest creations on the biggest scale – tucked away, almost hidden, at the back of the first arch. In this section, you also find all manner of creations entering the final stage of their production.
The archways make for a cool setting for the production of creative new beers, and there’s a very modern, progressive feel to the entire brewery, from the shared space to the aesthetic – you get this image of UBREW as outlaw brewing renegades setting up shop and a brewing community in whatever space they can.
The smell is one of the things that hits you first – that mixture of malts, hops, wheat and all manner of ingredients fills the air but the place is remarkably spotless. In fact, I found Toby, one of the head brewers on his hands and knees scrubbing the place when I entered. It’s “90%” of the job he assures me. It’s no mean feat keeping this place ticking over, but there’s a real feeling of community here, a place where everyone pitches in – something that co-founder Wilf Horshall puts at the heart of UBREW.
“Community always has been and always will be very important to craft beer – both the production of it and the drinking of it. We are, first and foremost, a community. And in many ways that’s our greatest asset,” explains Will. “Why it’s even more important to us is because we built the community before we started brewing our beer. The community is what inspired us to set up shop – we want to take brewing and make it a social affair, something you meet new people through, swap ideas and come up with new collaborations together. And we owe a lot to our community – they gave us their support and faith when we were just an idea crowdfunding to get started.
From here, I was introduced to one of UBREW’s brewing community. Andrew is one of the founders of Thirsty Smile and he talked to me about the huge impact UBREW have had on his own brewing adventure. UBREW gave Andrew and his cofounders the chance to make beer in a space that supports them, and the result, their subtle yet flavoursome Blackened Stout, is literally a dream come true. Andrew hopes this will grow into a commercial enterprise, and he’ll thank UBREW for their help in getting there. Being able to give that opportunity is something that makes this place really quite special.
“We’re an open brewery where anyone can brew their own beer,” muses Wilf. “That means you get a membership, turn up and use our gear to brew your beer. It’s all top notch stainless steel, and we’re a licensed brewery, which means if you register with HMRC you’re legal to start selling your beer. We’re the first and only brewery where people can go from learning to brew for fun to selling on an industrial scale under the same roof.”
the same roof.” Another creative element of UBREW comes by also offering brewing courses to anyone who wants to learn the ropes, or the hops. “Experienced brewers or absolute beginners alike can take part and learn something new,” explains Wilf. “We take a hands-on approach, the kit is very manual – this isn’t a case of pressing buttons and waiting for the machine to tell you it’s over – you are the brewer, and you’re piping this beer from vessel to vessel, adding your hops and mashing your grain. It’s an intense crash course, but our guys are there the whole time and you’re in good hands. “
UBREW also brew their own beer onsite – another unique facet to this business and gypsy brewing space, and something that is symbolic of their love of the stuff. From their highly sessionable Rocket Cub American pale ale (my personal favourite) to their dark, thick chocolate stout Beast Mode, their creations are designed to be as unique and brave as they are easy-drinking. As Wilf explains: “We like to brew badass beers labelled up with super radical artwork. We’re constantly experimenting with different techniques and recipes – some of our core beers have transformed dramatically since day one.”
As part of their takeover, UBREW are also launching three new beers, that the Flavourly community will get an exclusive first taste of. Super Moon, a salted caramel Baltic porter, Unholy Alliance, a peanut butter stout and Megahippo, a nicely hopped grisette, are all being launched through our Discovery Club. You get the first taste – how exciting is that?
So, after spending the better part of 5 hours floating about UBREW, speaking with their core staff, and sampling a good few of their beers, I headed off back to Kings Cross to ready myself for the long trip home in the morning. On the way back, I got thinking about something Wilf had said earlier.
He said, “[at UBREW] We want people to feel that drive that comes with any creative endeavour. That feeling of satisfaction you get when something goes really well, that determination to learn from something that didn’t.”
Empowered, and with a few of their beers in me, I wondered if I’d ever produce beer on such a scale myself. And maybe that’s the point of UBREW. It really is YOUR own brewery. It’s our brewery. It’s a chance to make a dream for some a reality, for an amazingly affordable price. And even if these visions had disappeared by the next morning, it ensured that visiting this inspiring little gypsy brewing station in Bermondsey was more than worth the trip.
Originally published in Issue 13. Written by Cameron Willis.