Trying to put a plan together at the Great British Beer Festival can be difficult, so many beers so little time. But Duncan Sambrook and his drinking buddies had a great route mapped out, starting in the counties of the South West of England and working their way geographically to London, visiting loads of great breweries from all the different counties on the way. The year was 2006 and although it was easy to visit many great breweries during this county pub crawl, when Duncan and his mates got to the end goal of London it was a disappointment that it only featured one brewery. In 2006 Youngs had recently stopped brewing in London, and Meantime had only just started up but brewing a very different type of beer that CAMRA would not have invited along to GBBF, this just left Fullers on their own to represent London. It was there that Duncan thought that this had to change, London needed more breweries to be able to stand up against its surrounding counties. In 2008 he opened Sambrook’s Brewery.
Fast forward 8 years and my beer buddy Martin Oates is standing at the bar in the lovely taproom at Sambrook’s Brewery recording a chat with Duncan for the Hopinions podcast. I am sipping on a pint of cask Battersea Rye, a beer that has lovely berry fruit flavours and warming mouth feel from the rye malt. The taproom is one of the nicest taprooms I have been to in London in some time, after climbing a set of stairs you enter through the doors into the taproom, immediately your attention is drawn to the sight of the brewery to your left. The taproom sits high above the brewery and even at the time of our evening visit there was still people working hard. The second thing that will grab your eye is the sight of a large bar, 4 cask beer pumps, 4 keg lines, a big fridge with lots of bottled beers and even non beery drinks, will make your choice of drink a tough pick.
It taken Duncan and the rest of the brewery team a lot of work to get them to where they are, as we drank a few beers Duncan spoke of the history of the brewery. After lots of unpaid work experience at several different breweries Duncan had a chance meeting with David Welsh, ex Ringwood managing director who had recently retired after selling Ringwood to Marstons. When Duncan told David about his plans David encouraged Duncan to go in big, he even put back on the brewing uniform and helped Duncan create their first beer, a 3.8% best bitter ale called Wandle. It took a few attempts to get it right but between the pair of them and for the first year Sambrook’s only brewed Wandle, the second year they brewed the excellent Junction, a 4.5% bitter named after local train station Clapham Junction, and is arguably their best cask beer.
It was still to be a few years till the London beer scene exploded, for Sambrook’s opening in 2008 was very different to opening in 2016. In the earlier times it was harder to break into a bar selection, most pubs had old faithful’s and people wasn’t seeking out new beers like they are today. But once you did get your beer on a pubs beer menu it was easier to keep that beer there and become regular, unlike today where it is easier to get onto the bar as people want to try new beers but getting your beer to stick is much harder. It was also just as recession hit the UK, Duncan told us that he felt although it was a terrible time for businesses it did result in people returning to the pub, “instead of people going out to restaurants to eat, they were returning to the pubs and eating meals in the pubs as it was a bit cheaper. Eventually people wanted to drink beer of better quality with their food. This opened up opportunity for us brewers”. Brewing in London is unrecognisable now compared to that time Duncan visited GBBF and I think it is fair to say that Sambrook’s Brewery are one of the vanguards of the new brewery wave.
Duncan gave a great tour, describing the brewing process as we were shown which parts of the brewery does which task, it was explained in an informal way, with enough technical information to please those who have basic brewing knowledge already, but not too much so that those who are new to seeing a brewery wouldn’t be lost. During the tour we noticed that each of the fermentation vessels had different train pictures on the side, the premises that the brewery now sits in used to be filming studios and Thomas the Tank Engine was one of the programs that was filmed there, so each of the fermentation vessels are named after a different character from the classic train stories. We returned to the bar where we looked at the ingredients of beer and continued drinking some of their beer so we could identify those ingredients. We worked our way through a fair amount of their beers, including the new keg IPA which is really good, it’s not a hop bomb, it leans towards an English IPA but with enough American hops to keep it really juicy and hold the citrus flavours. Both Martin and I was very impressed with the IPA, it really excels on draught keg, and will certainly be a beer I will seek out again. We spoke about the newer range of keg beers, each using inspiration from different countries, the pale ale is brewed using German lagering techniques, and as a result is a really crisp easy drinking pale ale, which I think will appeal to both lager drinkers and ale drinkers. The black IPA I had before our visit was a great example of how I think a Black IPA (or black Cascadian dark ale) should be, punchy, spiky tropical fruit and only a hint of roasted flavours.
Once we worked our way through the draught options we started a mini bottle share and split a few special bottles, first was a bottle of Buffalo Badger Brown Ale, a brown ale which is a collaboration between Sambrook’s and Heretic Brewing Co, brewed while they were in the UK just before brewing Peacherman with Beavertown. The beer glows a mahogany brown in the glass, starting off lighter at the bottom of the glass then blending into a deep dark brown before reaching the fluffy beige head. You get lots of toffee on the nose with a slightly smoky end to the aroma. Big flavours of toffee and caramel are complimented with hints of tropical fruits, if you can get your hands on a bottle then I recommend seeking it out. The Imperial Stout is seriously dangerous, one of the most “easy drinking drinkable” 10.2% beers I have had, lots of balanced licorice flavours make this beer far easier to drink than it should! The easy drinking and smoothness could also be found in the excellent barley wine they brewed for their 5th birthday, which I massively regret not purchasing a couple to bring home, it was a perfect beer to finish the evening on.
My earliest memory of Sambrook’s was when I first see Wandle in the small Tesco store where I grew up, the beer selection there was terrible, you was lucky if you got a Leffe Brune! It was just before the new beers of London were starting to come into my life and I was over the moon I was able to a decent beer on route to a friends BBQ. Duncan was really interesting to chat to, Sambrook’s Brewery has watched the London beer scene change so much, from both a fan of beer and someone working within the industry perspective. If it wasn’t for likes of Meantime and Sambrook’s then who knows where we would be now, and I admit myself I think it can be easy to forget that. When brand new breweries are opening by the week it can be easy to not focus your attention on someone who has been around for a while. Sambrook’s beers are so incredibly balanced. The introduction of the new keg line of beers will help them open up to a new audience, even this week I have seen Pale Ale popping up on the kegs of Wetherspoons. I really recommend visiting their taproom or attending next years festival, I think you have to pop in and enjoy the beers in the taproom to really appreciate their beers and it is a great place for fans of cask and keg beer to drink .
It was great to hear Duncan talk about how he wants to do more locally in the community and their future plans to bring local people closer. He ended the nights conversation on a great quote, which I will end this blog post on. “Thing I’ve always said about brewing and the thing that really appealed to me when first setting up the business, if you cast your mind back to the times of the brewer in the Victorian times, the brewer was right in the centre of the community. The brewer had the same sort of status as the Mayor, and people looked up to them as a bit of a moral compass. People were proud to have them in their community and I think we are coming back to a time like that”.
Tours take place the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of the month. You can visit their website for more details and the link to tickets, tours cost £15.
You can listen to Martins interview with Duncan Sambrook on this weeks Hopinions podcast which is due to be released Friday 7th October and you can find the podcast here.
Website – www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk
Twitter – @SambrookAle
Instagram – @SambrooksBrew
Address – Unit 1 & 2 Yelverton Road, Battersea, London, SW11 3QG
Disclaimer – Martin and I was invited to Sambrook’s Brewery, we didn’t pay for our brewery tour, the beers we drank or the bottled beer I tried at home, but I don’t think this changed my opinions and I look forward to returning to the taproom soon.