Brewing up a storm

Categories: Product stories, Features

Mark Riddaway takes a trip to Deptford to see the making of this year’s Borough Market beer, Borough Wet Hop IPA—now available at The Borough Market Store, Utobeer and on draught at The Rake and The Globe

Villages. It’s the perfect name for a microbrewery that feels very much a part of its neighbourhood. Located in a railway arch in Deptford, just a couple of miles from Borough Market but far enough from the crowded Bermondsey brewing enclave to have carved out a real niche of its own, it’s a warm, welcoming and thoroughly unpretentious place, its tap room popular with locals. Villages is run by a couple of brothers, Archie and Louis, and it’s to them that credit would be due for coming up with such an evocative and well-suited name, were in not for that fact that Village happens to be their surname. The correlation between their name and their outlook is, says Archie, “a complete coincidence, but a happy one. We’re here to really participate in our local area. We’re trying to make the brewery a real community space. We’re just lucky that our name happens to fit.”

The brothers’ drive to make connections and celebrate locality is part of what made Villages perfect participants in this year’s Borough Market beer project. Every autumn, the fuggles hops grown in Borough Market’s Market Hall are harvested to make a limited edition brew. “This project is partly about making use of Borough’s hops, but it’s also about working with independent local microbreweries, and Villages represents everything that is good about the London brewing scene: DIY spirit, independence, community,” says Daniel Tapper of The Beak Brewery, who has overseen the project for the past three years.

The brothers proved to be enthusiastic collaborators. “Next year we’re getting some smaller vessels so that we can do more small collaborations, more one-offs, more seasonal things,” says Archie. “Doing things that bring people together, that’s our mantra here. Working with Danny on the Borough Market beer is a perfect example of what we want to do more of.”

Borough Wet Hop IPA

Eminently quaffable
The result of their collaboration is around 700 beautifully designed cans of Borough Wet Hop IPA, brought to life by Liisa Chisholm’s vibrant illustration. “Danny made it clear from the start that he wanted a simple, sessionable IPA, and that’s something we do quite well here,” says Archie, whose approach to brewing is informed in part by the brothers’ upbringing in the Peak District, where the pubs were filled with low-ABV cask ales, poured through sparklers to create a proper northern head. The beers they gravitate towards now are of a style that would do nothing to upset the regulars in a Derbyshire alehouse: eminently quaffable, not too fancy or mind-blowingly strong. “We want to make simple beers that are flavourful but sessionable. Most of the beers we make are 4.3 to 4.6 per cent. We like to have a pint, and there are only so many pints of 8 per cent beer you can drink.”

As the name makes clear, in the Borough Wet Hop IPA “the hops are the focal point”, says Archie. “They’re what’s tying it all together.” The depth and grassiness of Borough’s fresh English hops has been balanced with the fruity notes brought by pellets of American mosaic, ekuanot and azacca hops. “The mosaic hops are really remarkable,” says Daniel. “Usually you wouldn’t pair fuggles, which are the Borough hops, with mosaic. English hops are earthy and reserved, the American ones are more upfront and noisy. Fuggles smell like a river—earthy, stony, soily—but the mosaic are like a fruit salad, so it’s not an easy match. But we’ve found that as long as you don’t overpower the fuggles, it’s a match that can work really well.”

It helps that the Borough hops are of a quality that would not usually be expected of such an unconventionally located crop. “They’ve got better every year,” says Daniel. “Hops are very hard to grow, even in the best conditions. In the centre of London, indoors, with massively changing conditions all the time and no direct sunlight, it’s incredibly hard. But Jay, the gardener who looks after them, has got better and better each year as he’s learnt to handle the conditions.”

The base malt in the beer is an extra pale malt from Simpsons of Norwich, Villages’ regular supplier. “East Anglia’s really famous for its malt,” says Daniel. “Breweries from all over the world import British pale malt for their IPAs. Because it’s extra pale, it’s not going to be too overpowering—just nice and clean and golden, letting the hops speak.”

Practical and environmental benefits
Borough Wet Hop IPA, like all Villages’ beers, has been canned rather than bottled, for reasons both practical and environmental. “Bottles take up twice as much storage space, so when you’re in a small unit like ours cans make more sense, but the environmental benefits are also significant,” says Archie. “Recycling cans is so much easier and more efficient than recycling glass, and aluminium can be recycled over and over without losing quality. Weight is a factor, too—if you’re hauling things around, burning fuel, you can take more cans on a load, and the weight is so much less. A bottle weighs 300g or something, while an empty can weighs 12g. It’s a huge difference.”

It’s not only the metal in the cans that has been recycled. Borough Market’s hops were fed using spent grounds from the coffee stalls and harvested rain water from the Market’s roof, and they would go on to find yet another home after their flavour had been extracted. “Fresh hops make a really good mulch,” says Archie. “David, the guy in the music studio next door to us, his wife has an allotment, so I’ll drop them with him.”

The grain, too, was set to continue through the loop. “The grain from this brew will be collected by the Paul Rhodes bakery in Greenwich to be made into bread. Whenever we brew, they bring us some loaves of sourdough and we give them a load of grain. We also send grain to a farmer in Kent to be used as feed for his cows and sheep. Having that closed loop is what we aspire to. Brewing is a wasteful industry, we use a lot of water and a lot of energy, but if you can close that loop as much as possible, really minimise the wastage, that’s great.”