The Great Hop Expedition

by Gabriella Parker - Monday October 16, 2017 2:10 pm

Gabriella hops on a traditional Routemaster on a trip to discover Young’s Brewery’s past and present

Young’s Brewery was founded on the banks of the Thames in Wandsworth 186 years ago this year. As part of the birthday celebrations, the brewery are running a series of events throughout Autumn to celebrate the humble hop. I’m lucky enough to spend an evening at one of the first, jumping on a Routemaster bus to ferry us between three of Young’s flagship pubs.

You know what you’re getting in a Young’s pub. Tradition, good food and wine and knowledgeable staff. But no business hangs around for 186 years without adapting to what its customers want. In the last few years, the larger breweries have seen a chunk of the business come under threat from cheeky young upstarts collectively known as craft brewers.

Many craft breweries have evolved from men with beards and a brewing kit in a lock up garage to men with beards in modern breweries and savvy marketing machines, providing the more discerning beer drinker a tasty alternative to the usual suspects.

Rather than compete with the craft breweries, Young’s has decided to embrace them and offering them a place at the bar alongside their own beers and ales. Tonight we have the tantalising prospect of hearing from four craft brewers about the art of the hop, their range of beers, and how to pair them with food.

First stop is the Duke’s Head, overlooking the river and a stone’s throw from Putney Bridge. Here we hear from two craft breweries:  New Zealand’s Yeasty Boys and Tottenham’s Beavertown.  

Beavertown kick things off with their Neck Oil, a “session IPA” delivered in a funky can, adorned with skulls and skulloons (skull shaped hot air balloons). This is clearly anything but traditional.

Session IPAs, we discover, are essentially lower in gravity (alcohol). In a nutshell this means you can spend a day drinking them in the pub without necessarily falling over / crying / being sick / being arrested.

And Neck Oil is super-tasty too. It’s made from the revered Galaxy hop and is citrusy, tropical and refreshing. We follow this up with Gamma Ray, also from Beavertown, paired with Ploughman’s and Ham Hock and mustard scotch eggs. It’s good with anything deep-fried and fatty, we are told.

Next up is the Yeastie Boys with Bigmouth, another session IPA. Again, the can is cool, with a Smith’s joke on the base (you’ll have to buy one to find out what it is). The beer is good too, with herby and tropical flavours going down well with a deep-fried mac and cheese.

With a few drinks already drunk we hop aboard the Routemaster for the short trip to Wandsworth for the second part of the expedition.

The Alma, is a beautiful London pub, all pristine green tiles on the exterior and a cosy but spacious wood panelled bar inside. We’re ushered upstairs to meet the founders of Founders who have hot-footed it across the Atlantic to tell us about the craft beer scene stateside.

It’s an engaging chat from a small brewery that has transformed a passion and some limited ambition into an international brand. - “I wanted to sell beer in East Michigan” says the founder of Founders.

We’re served a selection of artisan sausage roles but for the moment the idea of pairing food seems to have taken a back seat in favour of drinking.

We sample a tasty and citrusy All Day IPA before hoping on the bus for our final stop: the legendary Ship, slap bang on the Thames in Wandsworth.

In-keeping with the theme of the evening, the tables are decked with bundles of hops. We’re treated to a talk from Young’s master brewers, charting the craft behind their own beers before we tuck into a three course meal paired with the punks-turned-stadium-rockers of the craft beer world: Camden Brewery.

I’m already fairly full of scotch egg and sausage roll but find space for a venison carpaccio with parsnip puree matched with a Camden Pils; steamed sea bream and oysters accompanied with a Camden Hells and a mercifully light carrot cake trifle with a  Camden IHL. The food is washed down with commentary from craft beer connoisseur, Mark Dredge who leaves us with a copy of his latest book, the appropriately-named Cooking With Beer, clasped into our sweaty little palms.

The Great Hop Expedition is bus-loads of fun and an interesting take on how breweries can stay true to their roots while adapting for the modern consumer. Some of the food-pairings don’t always ring 100% true but it’s a real education on the craft behind beer making and an interesting foray into a place you’d more readily associate with the grape than the grain.

Youngs 186th Birthday celebrations run throughout Autumn 2017: www.youngs.co.uk

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