With more and more interesting pubs popping up, I was delighted to find out that one was being opened just up the road from me. Dan Fox of London Brewing Co. recently set up in the old Bohemia, which sadly for everyone in North Finchley closed last year. Dan also owns a very nice brew pub in Highgate called The Bull. With lots of interesting projects in the works I decided that I would go and find out what’s happening, and what the plans were for its future.
The first thing that you notice when you walk in the doors is the stylish décor. It is a huge space with a high roof and industrial styling. It has been opened up with the removal of partitions at the front and back. There is also a large set of stairs in the middle of the room that wasn’t there before, leading down to another room. The next thing you notice, or at least I noticed, is the bar. Mainly the introduction of several interesting taps. First there is the growler filler. This is something I first encountered in the BottleDog shop near Kings Cross, and was a little bemused as to how it worked until Dan explained. The growler is filled with CO2 first so that when the beer is poured in it doesn’t come into contact with oxygen. This means that you can put it in the fridge, then three months later come back to it and find a bar fresh beer.
Then I saw the hopinator. Another thing I’ve only ever seen in a BrewDog pub. A clear bar tap in which sits a beer with fresh ingredients, allowing flavours to infuse. In this case it was Five Points Railway Porter with fresh whole coffee beans. The resultant brew was an outstandingly smooth beer; the coffee beans really added to it. Dan has also has put in specialist taps for Veltins, a pilsner from Germany, and La Chouffe, a Belgium beer.
I then met with Dan who showed me round. Another interesting concept he has is having the brewery in open view of the pub so people will be able to see their beer being made while they drink it. This will be happening in a very funky area at the end of the pub which at the moment is only filled with a table tennis table. I will definitely be popping back to see this when it has been built, but in the meantime, to help give an introduction to the brewery, and to the brew pubs, I thought I’d sit down and learn his intentions.
B: When and where did the company begin?
D: The London Brewing Company has been going for three years, this is only our second site and we set up July 5th 2011. We’ve been looking for this second site for about a year. We put an offer in last August believe it or not and we’re now in the beginning of July; we’ve only been open three weeks. Knowing that we wanted it to be this site, I think it has taken a bit longer than if we’d gone out and found something else.
B: What interested you in this particular location?
D: It’s my local which meant rather than being convenient for me to come here for a beer, I knew the area really well. I watched it with interest under its previous ownership, they’d not done a bad job, but they hadn’t actually got round to finishing the offer. I think what we’ve done is really built on all the strengths that were here before and capitalised on the extra bits that we’re really good at, such as: beer, marketing, décor, and the design. Also, for a lot of people in North Finchley there is only the Wetherspoons to go to, and Wetherspoons isn’t for everyone, so being able to give some people what they want and knowing what they want, that’s were that local knowledge is invaluable.
B: Do you think you are particularly community orientated in your approach with your pubs?
B: Yes, I think pubs should be the hub of local community. It almost replaces the church in terms of where people meet, socialise, congregate and talk about community matters. Things that really effect people. Both of the pubs have private spaces and we give those spaces free of charge to local community groups, whether they be the local neighbourhood forums, local Finchley or Highgate societies, neighbourhood watch or local housing association or any of the local activity groups. Here we’ve got local political parties using the downstairs. We’ve got a knitting club that has already moved in. A local mother and toddlers group is already booked in. A fair amount is going on and it does have to involve the local community. It’s not just about taking, it’s about giving back as well.
B: Let’s talk about the beer. When you are brewing is there something that you aim for? A particular philosophy?
D: Stuff that people want to drink. Stuff that I want to drink. I think there has to be a bit of a balance. You can’t just brew beer that’s weird and wonderful for the sake of it. It’s nice to do it occasionally, but generally we try and brew beer that we think people will like and also that is going to sell.
B: Do you get involved in the brewing yourself?
D: It’s something that we spend a lot of time developing, working through what we’re going to do with the brewers, then the brewers go and do it. I’ve got two brewers. Two and a half brewers really. Two full time, one part time. And although I can brew, a bit like I can cook in the kitchen I mainly focus on the managing of the pubs. So I don’t necessarily get as hands on as maybe I could, but I certainly have my finger somewhere in that pie. It’s the more fun part of my job if I’m being honest.
B: When did you start brewing?
D: Probably around seven or eight years ago. And although I hadn’t owned a brewery before, I had done a little home-brewing and the odd day with friends’ breweries.
B: Would you say the brewery is an extension of the pub or is the pub more an extension of the brewery?
D: The brewery is definitely an extension of the pub. First and foremost I’m a publican. I’ve been running pubs for 17 years. I got into really good beer probably in my very first pub and I really enjoyed working with beer. But then I moved on and honed my management. I ran the White Horse for five years. The White Horse is where my beer passion came back. It hadn’t really been fully utilised in other places I’d worked in.
B: Why bring the brewery into the pub?
D: So first and foremost I am a publican, however I love beer. I knew I wanted to leave the White Horse and set up my own business but I had to ask myself; how do I stay involved in the wonderful world of beer without just opening another craft beer pub? Craft beer pubs have gone the same way as gastro pubs in my opinion, which is that anyone can open a craft beer pub they just need to put the word craft on the menu, without really knowing the beer. Running a craft beer pub doesn’t necessarily mean anything to anyone anymore. Those people that first opened gastro pubs actually realised it wasn’t just a fresh food menu, it was making the fresh bread and bringing in the provenance and the small rare breed farms and things like that. So I think brew-pubs are the natural next step in the evolution of pubs, brewing stuff on site and actually having it unique to that pub. So that’s one of the reasons why we brought the breweries into the pub to give us that next step. But also to enable me to stay close to the beer that I love so much.
B: What are your future plans for the company?
D: Well we said ten pubs in ten years, so I’ve got to get another eight pubs in seven years, we’re not that far off...
B: Are you keeping the brewery in the Bull?
D: Yes, it’s an integral part of the offer now. We’re not putting a brewery in ten times the size in the Bohemia so we can stop brewing in the Bull.
B: What about future pubs, are they all going to be brew pubs then?
D: Well it may be that not every one of our pubs is going to have a brewery, but I would say three quarters of them will. We will certainly aim to do that. This will give us a bit more of commercial out-put and makes it more accessible in pubs other than our own.
B: A lot of people like to source local beers from local breweries, what effect do you think that has on their communities and on their beer?
D: Well it’s about supporting the local economies, supporting the local area. And the less distance beer has to travel the fresher it’s going to be. This sort of sourcing strategy has been quite popular for about ten years. And in slightly smaller beer savvy places for even longer than that. That’s probably changed a little bit now. If you look at peoples beer ranges, if you’re in a reasonably good beer pub half of the beer will be local, and the other half will be still regional beers not produced by big brewers, but they’ll be from the wrong region. There’s nothing wrong with me stocking Dark Star from Brighton, because it’s still small local brewers regional beer, they’re just not London based. I think this is one way in which ranging has changed, it used to be, let’s have all local beers, and now it’s more, we are all going to have small regional breweries. It allows more choice and diversity.
B: I saw you have Le Chouffe, do you stock many foreign beers?
D: Here probably seventy percent of our bottled beer range is foreign.
B: Well how big is your bottled beer range? That sounds exciting.
D: We’ve got around 60 to 70 different types of bottles and cans at the moment. We just tried to pick a really good example of styles from around the world and supplemented that with brewers we’re really good friends with or know they produce really good beer. So we’ve got a nice small little Belgium range, with some good examples of Dubbels and Trippels in there. Some nice Belgium wheat beers. There’s a nice selection of American cans. A nice selection of London stuff too. We’ve really tried to pick a nice representative beer range.
B: What’s your core beer range for this pub?
D: We have here the three Camdens at the moment which we stock because we aren’t brewing our own keg beers and they’re the most local keg beer producer in the area. Also they’re great entry-level beers for people getting into craft beer. We’ve got their Pale Ale, their Wit and their Ink. It covers a nice little trio of beer styles easily recognisable, easily understood. We’ve got Tremser which is our house beer, a 4% lager. We don’t stock any Carling or Foster, but you do still need a session lager. It’s got a good price point, good provenance and nice taste. It means we can get rid of the crap session lagers and put in a good quality one. Our premium pilsner is Veltins at 4.8% from Germany. A cracking, lovely, dry and fresh lager. Other than that, Aspells cider is here to stay, it’s a good cider. The rest are rotational.
B: And the brewery, what have you recently made?
D: Our core beers are Beer Street, which is our best bitter, Vista, our American style red ale, Skyline our APA and Highrise, a blond session pale. They’re in production all the time; the most interesting thing we’ve done recently would be an oyster stout. Four kilos of fresh oysters for 400 litres of beer. Shells and meat.
Dan has indulged his passion in beer and the result is marvellous. The Bohemia has an excellent ambiance and a beeriness about it that tests my connoisseurs approach; I am tempted in such a place full of such tasty treats, to release my inner student and drink until my standing ability is greatly impaired.
Brew pubs today are still rare, yet the benefits for the pub and the brewery are clear. The beer is the freshest it can ever be, travelling mere metres from the brewery to your glass, and it helps stimulate in the staff and the customer the passion and interest that is needed in a beer orientated pub. In Dan’s pubs the beer truly comes first. It is a step as Dan says, into the future of beer. A place I dream that will be crawling with beery nerds swigging pints made literally just behind them.
At the moment London Brewery Co. beers can’t really be found outside of these pubs, but hopefully with the larger brewery going into the Bohemia it’ll be a little easier to get your hands on some. Certainly when the breweries installed I will be heading in on a regular basis to get my growler filled.