To talk about craft beer as a ‘revolution’ is surely a case of over-yeasting the hops, or over-sugaring the alcohol. At any rate – it has to be an exaggeration.
But consider this. In 2007, there were 10 London breweries, a number that has swollen eightfold in a mere nine years. Craft beer, brewed locally and with a far wider and more ambitious flavour palate, has stolen a considerable march on mass-produced global brand lagers, for whom the way back, in East London at least, is not altogether clear.
Original Gravity is a 30-minute documentary about London’s craft beer industry in which behemoths of the New Beer such as Peter Hills from Hackney Brewery and Logan Plant of Beavertown look back at how far the phenomenon has come.
Writer Pete Brown, sitting in a pub with pint in hand, tells us that beer is the “social glue” of civilisation, a statement indicative of the film’s concern with the ‘romance’ of beer over the complexities of its creation.
The new brewing we are told took off in the bowels of the 2008 recession as disgruntled (or maybe just redundant) office workers in their late twenties decided to swap the City for “something meaningful”.
Inspiration came from America, as Evin O’Riodian of The Kernel Brewery recalls the variety of IPAs and craft lagers available there, and how he would return from Stateside trips to the comparatively barren beer landscape of London.
Meantime, acquired by SAB Miller in May 2015, was the trailblazer we’re told, a brewery started by Alan Hook in 2000, based in a small lock-up in Greenwich, that went on to achieve ubiquity in London’s pubs.
The owner of Sambrooks Brewery recalls how difficult it was in 2008, traipsing around London pubs trying to convince them to take a chance on a local beer. Now the tables have turned and pubs are proactively enquiring after new brews.
Hackney Brewery claims to be the oldest in the borough, established in 2011, a decisive year apparently for the ‘revolution’ with Beavertown and London Fields Brewery also starting up.
Much is made of the collegiate nature of independent brewing, with brewers sharing knowledge and even equipment in times of crisis. “It’s not really you against other neighbourhood breweries, at the end of the day it’s all of us together against terrible beer,” says Doreen Barber of the Five Points Brewing Company.
Amid the banjo soundtrack and the talk of anti-corporate authenticity one could easily find reasons to be cynical.
Afterall, only last December Camden Town Brewery was bought up by drinks giant AB InBev in a deal thought to be worth £85 million. So much for a ‘neighbourhood brewery’.
Then there’s London Fields Brewery and its founder Jules Whiteway, the former leader of a drugs ring who was arrested in December 2014 on suspicion of tax evasion.
But while the self-mythologising, almost evangelical tone to Original Gravity may not be to everyone’s taste, there is no denying that – whether a revolution or not – the industry has breathed fresh air into London’s pubs, and that the bad old days of identikit lagers on draft are unlikely to return.
Watch Original Gravity at Hackney Brewery, 358 Laburnam Street, E2 8BB on 17 February.