“It’s important to have people who critique your beer in an honest way. The first rule at London Amateur Brewers was: don’t say anything nice. Be slightly harder than you would be normally, so we can dig out what’s happening. How do we fix it, make it better? That’s how you improve.”
So said a now eminent London brewer and early LAB member, and this is a principle LAB has lived and prospered by from our first meeting on 10th October 2007 to the present day. The format of our meetings was specifically designed to ensure that we were not simply a drinking club, but that we should discuss a range of topics relevant to beer and brewing. This has developed into talks, presentations, practical demonstrations, guest speakers, as well as technical Q&A sessions and beer tastings and has remained the basis of our meetings to the present day.
Guest speakers have included, John Keeling (Fullers Brewery), Paddy Johnson (Windsor and Eton Brewery), Andy Moffat (Redemption Brewery), Melissa Cole (beer writer and beer sommalelier), Robert Humphreys (All Party Parliamentary Beer Group), Jane Peyton (beer writer and beer sommelier), Andy Hamilton (homebrew author), Martyn Cornell (author and beer historian), Jamil Zainasheff (US brewer, author and broadcaster) and John Palmer (US author and home brewer).
Our founder, Ant Hayes (now sadly deceased), set up the club with a challenge that he’d set with James McCrory, founder of the Craft Brewing Association. This was that we could regularly attract between 20 to 25 members to every meeting, something that was largely unheard of in other homebrew clubs around the Country. The challenge was achieved within our first two years, and meetings now regularly attract 40-60 members.
Such has been the success of the club and the enthusiasm and skill generated that a number of our members have gone on either to set up their own commercial breweries or to work in the brewing industry. These include Evin O’Riordain (Kernel), Bryan Spooner/Gregg Irwin (Weird Beard), Mike Ellenberg (Ellenberg Brewery), Mick Harrison (Mix Brewery) and Pete Hughes (Mighty Oak/Brewhouse and Kitchen).
Simple, there are no rules other than an outline agenda for meetings, and a Chairman elected by the members every two years. We felt it was important for us not to become bogged down by rules, constitutions, fees, etc. – the sort of things that can often undermine and take the focus away from a club’s main objective. The Chairman is supported by a Deputy, a Competition Organiser and Website Administrator.
You can find a list of our past Chairmen on the Roll of Honour & Medals page.
It had always been our founder’s intention that our meetings should be held in central London, in order to attract members living and working on London and the Home Counties, and at a time that would enable people to come straight after work. For the first four years we met in the somewhat cramped and often smelly upstairs room at the iconic Wenlock Arms in Islington. But our steadily growing membership meant that we needed somewhere larger. After trying out a few venues in 2012 we settled on the Draft House, Tower Bridge, where we remained until redevelopment work at the pub in 2014 meant that we had to move on. The Bermondsey area seemed popular and convenient and a number of meetings were held in the railway arches at The Bottle Shop, before three years at UBrew. In early 2019, we moved to our current home at The Barrel Project on Druid Street in Bermondsey
LAB has successfully been running an annual homebrew competition since 2011, when we took over the London and Southeast Homebrew Competition from Richard Burns, the then proprietor of Cheers Winemaking and Brewing. Venues have included a school hall and a social club, before moving to the Beavertown Brewery in 2014, the Trumans Brewery in 2015, (250 entries from 159 participants); and then onto Fourpure Brewing since 2017, peaking at 550 entries in 2018. 2019 brought a new name for the competition – LAB Open.
Our founder, Ant Hayes, was one of the first Beer Judge Certification Programme (BJCP) qualified judges in the UK. His aim was to recruit and train judges in order to raise the standard of competition. LAB held the first ever BJCP sanctioned competition in Europe at its meeting on 5th July 2010. On 29th January 2011, at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, LAB held the first BJCP exam in the UK and possibly Europe. We currently (2019) have 32 fully qualified BJCP judges and 10 National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges (NGWBJ) and now regularly hold courses for judges for both the BJCP and the NGWBJ.
It has been a mark of LAB’s success that we have been invited by a number of breweries to participate in collaboration brews. Our first, in 2010, was with the Brodies Brewery in Leytonstone. Further collaborations have been with Kernel and Weird Beard. In 2014, Paddy Johnson, from the Windsor and Eton Brewery, asked LAB to find a recipe to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. We held a competition to find a strong old English ale. The winning beer, by Manmohan Birdi, included yarrow, ground ivy and liquorice, and was brewed at Windsor and Eton on mid-summers day.
In 2013, we were asked by the legendary Peter Darby, who runs Wye Hops Ltd, the British Hop Association research centre, to brew a standard English style bitter using an experimental Fuggle type seedling (coded 19/6) bred, grown on and harvested at Wye Hops Ltd during the 2012 growing season. The objective of the trial was to assess the qualities of the new hop and compare it to the commercially available Fuggle, with the view that, if it proved to be a suitable substitute, it should be grown on during the 2013 season. Our brewing trials concluded that 19/6 had all of the characteristics you would expect from a commercial Fuggle. As a result, the seedling was propagated for farm-scale planting in 2014 to assess its potential to yield.
In 2018 we marked our ten year anniversary with four 10th anniversary collaboration brews with LAB alumni (and current member) brewers: Kernel, Weird Beard, Elusive Brewing and Rockhopper Brewing. All four were on tap at our 10th anniversary celebration at Mason & Co. in Hackney Wick.
The next competition is Lager Than Life, on the 7th March. Places are full, but judges and stewards, or anyone who just wants to help out are encouraged to register!