Of all the exciting experiences and firsts that we’ve savoured during our start up process, yesterday’s collaboration brew with Camden Town Brewery will be a source of inspiration for a long time to come.
We arrived into London a little before 9am and made our way, with a key keg of our Session IPA in tow, to Camden Town Brewery, one of the UK’s largest and most successful craft breweries. It is impossible not to respect and admire their peerless range of balanced, drinkable, delicious lagers and ales, and their slick branding, image, and steadfast commitment to quality.
After a warm welcome, candid conversation and a delicious coffee from The Fields Beneath coffee shop next door, and a tour of the first three archways Camden occupies (housing their brewery tap bar, packaging room and brew house) and we were ready to mill and mash in. If you haven’t been to Camden Town Brewery before you’d likely be very surprised at both how big and how small the brewery is. An entire row of railway arches has gradually been snapped up with offices and storage archways as Camden find themselves at the limit of space, power availability, and water intake capacity, whilst their 20hl brewhouse seems impossibly small next to the 120hl fermenters just outside.
As Alex Troncoso (Director of Brewing) and Rob Topham (Head Brewer) showed us through their Braukon brewhouse control system, it became even more clear just how utterly impossible it would be to achieve the volumes and quality they do without a brewhouse that can be programmed with all the necessary details and processes. Micros (samples couriered daily for analysis) are taken after every transfer, and Camden’s in house lab work and attention to detail would also be impossible without the steadiness of such a top quality, automated brewhouse. Periodically, alarms sounded and command lines appear on screen, prompting the production team to check why a process isn’t complete yet, or to make a manual hop addition. There’s a hive of activity as every vessel transitions straight from previous use to next use under the watchful eyes of many experienced, highly skilled, and well trained staff. It’s pretty easy to get the impression that each one of the production brew team could run a smaller or less busy brewery with ease and prowess. With Rob and Alex checking into the brew day several times an hour, preempting and solving any niggles, and suggesting tweaks for alphas that are a little out, or changes to N₂ levels in the malt, there isn’t a stone left unturned. The steady core range and processing precision give the whole team a chance to regularly come up for air, and carry out check after check. The brew sheets and fermentation charts capture every detail of what’s going as it should, and what needs attention and problem solving. It’s impossible to see the inner workings of such a successful brewery and be anything other than deeply impressed and inspired.
Early afternoon, as our collaboration beer progressed, a red lager with a finely tuned malt bill destined for balancing between traditional and modern through whirlpool additions of classic German hops and Antipodean dry hopping, we joined the whole team for their weekly Friday communal lunch in the bar, a feast of middle eastern dishes from a nearby store. Not long after lunch the evening shift production team started to arrive, and the day shift started to transition out. The hive of activity during mid morning to mid afternoon, between the end of the second and start of the third brews of the day, began to decrease as another busy day gradually wound down.
At 5pm, with the collaboration brew in the kettle, our key keg of Session IPA hit the taps, and the first 11 customers snapped up a half and a free glass. Our apprehension around our keg debut (Will it really be as clear as our tests showed? As clear as what came out from bottle? Will the carbonation levels be as we wanted?, etc) quickly disappeared as folk returned to the bar for a second glass, and as positive feedback came through in person and on twitter from Chris Hall and Pete Brissenden.
In some sense, if all five of us at Cloudwater like it, there’s a good chance we’re onto something, but nothing really compares to great feedback from folk with little reason to humour us.
We stood in the then bustling bar, with beer flowing, delicious wood fired pizza cooking outside, surrounded by customers, and hanging out with utterly lovely Camden Brewery staff. I could overhear remarkable customer service at the bar, as the staff worked joyfully towards serving folk great beer. A couple of hours later and our keg had sold out, and our wonderful day at Camden Town Brewery drew to a close. We’re extremely grateful to Jasper, Alex, Rob, and the rest of the Camden team for hosting us, and making our first collaboration and keg debut a memory we’ll cherish dearly. Alex is one of the most relaxed, exacting brewers we’ve ever met, is exactly what the modern beer world needs. The rock star upstart nonsense from brewers out there not even achieving a tenth of what Alex and Rob and the rest of the Camden team do is nowhere to be found at Camden Town Brewery. Instead, and quite rightfully too, employees are paid living wage and encouraged to take their exacting work easily. “We’re not curing cancer” says Alex, as I congratulate him on running such a positive, high achieving team. Inspired by the determination, passion, humility, and achievements, we left with even greater respect for these seasoned pros, and even higher standards for ourselves to work towards. Thanks Camden!