Friday, 10 April 2015

London Beer People #1: Doreen Joy Barber - The Five Points Brewing Co.

Back in August 2014 I penned a long read titled London Beer People. It charted my experience at the events during London Beer City, a week long celebration of beer organised by Beer Writer and Journalist Will Hawkes, which also took in visits to the Great British Beer Festival and the London Craft Beer Festival. In the piece I drew the conclusion that the backbone of the London beer scene was not in fact the beverage we all covet, but the people behind it. I'm not just talking about Brewers here, London's Beer People includes Bar Staff, Distributors, Writers, Van Drivers, Sales People, Marketers and more. There is a myriad group of people behind the curtain, working hard to bring you the best beer they possibly can. In London Beer People I aim to get behind that curtain, see what makes London's Beer People tick and how they come together to make it one of the best beer cities in the world.

I first met Doreen Joy Barber of Hackney's Five Points Brewing Company at an event they held at Craving Coffee in Tottenham. Like many people I meet in the world of Craft Beer, Doreen was fizzing with energy and enthusiasm as she introduced me to the wonderful beers that The Five Points produce. As well as working for a brewery, Doreen also organises the London Brewers Market at Old Spitalfield's an incredibly popular event that bridges the gap between beer enthusiast and casual passer by. Quite simply, she never seems to stop to catch her breath, and so makes a fitting first glimpse at the people who make London's beer culture so very special.

Hi Doreen! Tell us who you work for, a little about them and what you do there.

I work for The Five Points Brewing Company in Hackney, East London. I've been working there since our first commercial brew day on the 9th of March, 2013. Originally, I pretty much did everything but brew - orders, sales, social media, events, communications and whatever else that needed doing. Now that we've added more staff to our team, I now mainly focus on the events and comms side of stuff. 

How did you end up working in the beer industry?

A mix of factors probably contributed to why I now work in beer, the most important of which is that I love to drink it! My employment background saw me work in cafés and pubs that stocked amazing beer on both sides of the Atlantic (I’m from Florida), and I spent (and still spend) quite a bit of time in bars with great beer. 

Additionally, I have a Master’s in Anthropology of Food, and I did my dissertation on CAMRA, which has given me a great insight into the world of ale here in Britain that I don't think many non-Britons have. In fact I get a lot of British folks who ask me what the difference is between ale and lager, for example. Which is cool - you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy good beer, and I like that people are asking questions about what makes beer the way it is. I think this curiosity is great for smaller breweries like us who have a story to tell and brew with the best ingredients we can get our hands on. 

You’re also involved in the London Brewers Market, how did you come to be involved with this project?

Ed Mason, the owner and director of The Five Points, had previous contacts with the Independent Label Market when he used to own an independent record label. These were rediscovered when a friend of a friend suggested to someone at Old Spitalfield's Market the idea of a ‘beer event’ which evolved into what it is now. We love working with the Independent Label Market, and we feel that the two events are very complimentary.

What do you think makes the London Beer Community so special to be involved in?

The independent beer community in Britain as a whole is full of some of the loveliest people you can ever find, and it’s not that much different with folks within the London beery community. We support each other’s efforts - whether it’s loaning another brewery 20kg of hops, collaborating with each other on events or beer, or (my personal favourite) drinking each other’s beer. Most folks are very sociable and are up for a pint and a chat. 

Since working at The Jolly Butchers back in 2011, I've seen the London beer scene really flourish. It’s great to be a part of that with The Five Points and organising the London Brewers' Market. 

Can you describe a particular ‘beer moment’ that made you realise that beer was more than just the fermented sum of its parts?

I don’t really have a beer moment. There’s no “beereka!” but rather a slow burn. Back in Orlando, there’s a place called Redlight Redlight which started out in the upstairs of a bakery, but now the space is in its third incarnation and it’s such a phenomenal place for beer from all over. I went there frequently and would drink a range of beers - at the time I'd frequently drink Belgian beers or Belgian-inspired beers. 

I was also lucky that my local supermarket would stock loads of beer. Not so lucky that one of my ex-boyfriends used to drink all the beer I bought, but it would encourage me to buy different ones to try them out - blueberry wheat beers, hefeweizens, wits and lots of pale ales and IPA's. They tended to be the lighter brews, because of the Florida heat, but I got really into my stouts and porters as well, particularly when I was ordering beer for Stardust Video & Coffee.

Bar The Five Points, which other breweries, London or otherwise, really stand out for you?

Within London, I've been incredibly impressed with what Simon McCabe at One Mile End has been putting out. The White Hart is now sort of my new local, so this could mean trouble! I also really enjoy Pressure Drop's brews and the stuff from the stalwarts at Redemption Brewing Co. Big Chief all the days! Other breweries I really like here in Britain are Fyne Ales, Marble, and RedWillow. I’ve also enjoyed a lot of what I’ve had from Ilkley recently. 

Where is your favourite place to drink and what are you drinking?

My favourite pub to drink in is The Railway Tavern on St Jude Street, in the Mildmay area near Dalston. I've either got a pint of Five Points Pale on cask or Big Chief from Redemption Brewing Co. Although it could be a Railway Porter, depending on the time of year and my mood. 

You're originally from Florida, is there anything you miss about the Florida beer scene that you'd like to see happening here in the UK?

I miss Redlight Redlight, which is a great place to drink if you’re in Orlando! Shout-out to Stardust as well with its two big beer fridges. I also miss how commonplace it would be to get decent beer, particularly in restaurants, cafés and bars. I remember last year being stuck in a random bar, complete with busted jukebox that played music way too loudly while a crazy Florida storm raged outside. The beer on draught featured a lot of the bigger names of the American microbrewing scene. It didn’t bill itself as a craft beer bar - it was just a bar. Likewise the supermarket would have a stupidly good range of beers. Good beer was just everywhere, particularly regional brewers such as Cigar City.

I hope, eventually, good beer will be more normalised as breweries grow and proliferate here in the UK, so even if you rock up to a gig or go to a random restaurant, there’ll be something you want to drink on the bar or in the fridge. Right now we aren't there yet, but hopefully we will be soon. I hate going to a gig and having no choice outside of Fosters or Becks. 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

British Breweries And The Brewers Association of North America

Could some of our young, well-loved British craft breweries be on the verge of joining the Brewers Association of North America? Perhaps more importantly, should they?

Sat in the newly renovated and refreshed Horseshoe in Hampstead, North London, I was captivated by Chris Lennert of Colorado's iconic Left Hand Brewing as he spoke to the room with confidence and experience. Before him, we had listened to the evening's co-hosts, Logan Plant of Beavertown and Jasper Cuppaidge of Camden Town Brewery, tell us a little of their brewing history and about their beers. However, these two tall poppies are barely five years old, despite their successes they are infants in terms of the wider industry. Although they've seen rapid growth they both still have long journeys ahead of them if they are to achieve something remotely similar to Left Hand.

Left Hand Brewing have always gone against the grain. Back in the 90's, when all and sundry around them were brewing increasingly more potent India Pale Ale, they built their brand on the back of a stout. A brew that's now pretty iconic as far as beers of the craft revolution go. Lennert tells the gathered crowd of the Longmont brewery's twenty-two year history, of gruelling legal battles and trademark disputes, of hard graft and obstacles overcome. Left Hand's success wasn't just handed to them on a plate, they made it happen themselves. 

When the topic of Lennert's address changes to that of the Brewers Association of North America I detect a change in his tone. It's an increased note of seriousness mixed with real sincerity, as he talks about an organisation for which his passion is obvious. The Brewers Association is an industry run trade body that has more than 44000 members from over 2500 of North America's 3000 plus breweries, as well as incorporating the American Homebrewers Association. Its purpose is simply to protect and promote American craft brewers with the biggest beneficiary being the people that choose to drink its members beers. They run, amongst other things, the Great American Beer Festival, the Craft Brewers Conference and the bi-annual World Beer Cup. They provide education both technical and financial, tools that help both young and established businesses, including legal advice, as well as significantly increasing both the awareness and knowledge of craft beer on a consumer level. Put simply, there's no other trade body in the industry quite like it. 

After his speech, Lennert makes sure to sit at every table and introduce himself to every guest dining at The Horseshoe this evening. When he finally reaches my table he continues to speak with passion about the work the Brewers Association does and shoves some literature into my hand, as he does with everyone else before the conversation is over. I'm puzzled as to why a trade body based in the United States is so eager to push its message onto drinkers from the United Kingdom but after a little observation and some careful thought it begins to come clear.

I watch Lennert speak to Plant and Cuppaidge as the guests begin to depart and the night draws to its close. He continues with the same sense of seriousness, bordering on urgency, whilst the two owners of successful yet fledgling British breweries look on with apparent reverence. Could these two breweries, who arguably exist in part because of the work the Brewers Association has done, be on the verge of becoming some of their newest members? What benefit could joining a trade body operating in another country possibly bring to their businesses?

Both Camden and Beavertown have export operations that have been key to their growth. Countries such as Sweden, Australia and for Beavertown, even the US, have provided key export markets. The Great American Beer Festival, unlike its British counterpart only serves American beer, it is the Great American Beer Festival after all. It's also a festival that sees 49000 attendees and last year sold out its ticket allocation in just 32 minutes. If there's one festival that any brewery looking to crack the North American market, the largest in craft beer, wants to be seen at then surely it's this one. It's just one of a myriad of reasons why joining would make sense, that plus a deep well of experience and support that no other trade body is able to provide. Quite simply, the existence of the Brewers Association has been and will continue to be one of the reasons beer has become as widely successful as it has.

One of their actions though, stands out for me from all others. In a sea of fierce debate and indecision, in order to protect its members and help them grow, the Brewers Association defined craft beer. It's not perfect and you may not agree with it but it exists and not one other trade body has had the stones to do the same. If Britain's various trade bodies can't work together to make this decision, then I would say the Brewers Association is the organisation that the industry really needs. With their combined ability to help businesses new and existing grow and to both educate and excite consumers, I also think it's the organisation we all want.