Beer? Beer’s just beer, isn’t it? Well, yes and no. We’ve come to find out a bit more, among the frothing tanks and tuns at the Kernel Brewery, which occupies a railway arch just off Maltby Street, SE1 (the place for artisan food shopping on a Saturday in London).
One of the healthy-looking half dozen who brew and bottle here in Bermondsey tells me that, yes, all beer is made using the same basic ingredients: water, malted barley, hops and yeast. But no, all beers are not the same. The mass-produced stuff, you’d guess right, is bland and blah. Traditional cask beer can taste more interesting, but it’s still formulaic. A tiny producer like the Kernel Brewery has the freedom to experiment with flavours and keep things lively.
‘One of the things people like about us is that our beers are always changing,’ says founder Evin O’Riordain. ‘It’s part of what we do – we’d get bored, otherwise.’ He and his small, matey team work creatively from a handful of six basic old-school recipes for pale ales, India pale ales and London porters and stouts, varying painstakingly the hoppiness, maltiness, bitterness, ABV and so on. They rarely make the same beer twice, so there’s always something new to try for customers who visit them on Saturdays at Maltby Street.
You can also find Kernel beer in London at Selfridges, Drafthouse pubs, St John, Hawksmoor and the Dock Kitchen in Ladbroke Grove. Along with the rest of the Maltby Street traders, the Kernel Brewery is moving this spring, a few roads east to roomier premises in a set of arches on Spa Road. ‘Our aim when we get bigger is to keep trying new things,’ promises Evin. ‘If we stuck to one recipe, that would be like saying this is the best beer we can make.’