SAMUEL ADAM WALTERS FREELANCE WRITER
FROM RHYTHM TO BREWS
We met Logan Plant, the long-haired rocker turned quirky craft brewer…
When long-haired rocker Logan Plant (who also happens to be the son of Led Zeppelin’s front man), tired of the lifestyle, he turned to booze . . . brewing it that is. Now, with a small team in Hackney Wick, he produces some of the most quirky craft beers out there. With his intriguingly named Beavertown Brewery gaining die-hard fans by the day, we thought we’d better find out what’s what…
So how did Beavertown begin?
The last band took me to New York where I was showcasing for some record companies. I walked into a place after a gig that served loads of great traditional American barbeque and had loads of beers coming out of the walls. The atmosphere was amazing and it just turned my head straight away.
. . . Turned your head so much that you even left music?
Yeah, I came back a week later, quit the band, cut my hair, had a shave . . .
That’s an incredible turnaround!
I think I was looking for something, and that something was always inside. The brewing, and pairing it with food, just seemed like a natural progression. I met a mutual friend and we started Duke’s Brew and Que which is a restaurant that does American barbeque and craft beer. It’s where I started the brewery, right opposite the smokers. I actually started brewing the 8 Ball and the Smog Rocket to go with the pork and the beef.
So you saw that there was a market for the beer and went from there?
Duke’s was a great place to test recipes, get feedback and to learn continuously. I used to have to drive the wort from the brew house and then ferment about a mile away in a shed! That was a pain in the arse and we needed to brew more beer, so eventually we moved here and now brew six to eight times a week.
I think what makes us special is we like to experiment and we’re not scared. We think a lot about what we try and achieve and generally we pull it off. I’m really proud of the beers, especially the more experimental stuff which is quite quirky.
Beavertown is an unusual name. Where did that come from?
It’s just from where Duke’s is. De Beauvoir being in Hackney and East London is a little bit posh for the locals so Beauvoir became Beaver and Beavertown was born.
How did you first get into brewing then?
Through drinking beer! My local pubs back in the Midlands are very much old-school: pork pie, pork scratchings and a pint, but a really good pint in a lovely environment. Most of them are in the country backing onto a field or a river. For me, it was about the whole thing that surrounds beer and the beauty of it.
Precise work for consistent flavour
Were you homebrewing at that point?
Not at that point. That was only after I left the band, about 18 months before we opened the brewery. I was working on the 8 Ball, the Smog Rocket and a couple of different recipes. It went really well. My mates and I used to have some good nights…
You opened in 2012 so you’re still a young business, have you found it hard to break into the market or has there been a lot of room for your kind of product?
The way the craft beer market’s gone in the UK, and now throughout Europe, it’s becoming a world phenomenon. People want more from their choice of beer and people want more from their disposable cash, whether it’s food, alcohol or a night out. I feel we’ve done it the right way: we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along.
What about battling the big beer brands?
I think as a group we’re just giving people a more considered and flavoursome option. With Beavertown and the craft movement it’s about personality as well. It’s about becoming more than just a bottle of beer. It’s about the art, the brewers and everybody who works here. It’s a way…
What do you think is behind the changing image of beer in this country? How did it become so hip?
Stylistically it’s changed. I think the epicentre of what we’re talking about, here in Britain, is London. London has had a massive surge within its food, its drink, its pop-ups and its restaurants .It’s all part of the same thing. Why go and eat at the Chicken Cottage when you can go and eat at Honest Burger or Dukes Brew and Que or something that’s got so much more passion and personality about it. That resonates with people I think.
I saw recently you were looking for a new head-brewer. Does that mean big changes are coming?
Yeah, we are expanding next year. The kit’s been ordered so we’ll start brewing on that in the middle of April 2014. We already have great homebrewing experience, but to take us up to that next level I wanted to bring in somebody who’s been educated through the system and worked on big kits for a number of years.
And you’ll be canning as well? That’s new…
I’ve spent a bit of time in the states and drinking the cans and craft beers over there is immense. It’s just so fresh! With a can there’s no light penetration and minimal oxygen. Basically it’s like a little keg and whenever I drink our beer in keg, it’s the best beer in the world. Although, there are mixed perceptions around the can.
Well exactly. So do you think it’ll be hard to sell?
No I don’t. The only reason there’s a bad perception about cans is because there was bad beer in those cans. Things like Carling and Fosters and Stella are … cack, and that promotes a perception. The can is actually lacquered so there’s no pick-up from the metal. And artistically for us, as a brewery that’s based around its labels, it will give us a good platform to manipulate.
Your art work and labels are pretty cool. Some of it reminded me of the Monty Python stuff…
The guy who did our core labels is American. He’d taken the logo that I’d come up with and then he lifted what is essentially the dollar bill. The pyramid changes in every landscape. The Smog Rocket is like a Victorian, industrial London. Black Betty is the old penitentiary wagon that used to take the prisoners to the gallows pole. Then there’s the Neck Oil, which is like you’ve hit oil and it’s spouting out of the pyramid.
. . . Neck Oil?
Well Neck oil is an old Midlands’ term. My great granddad used to say: “I’m going down the pub for a pint of neck oil” . . . to oil his neck basically! I loved it and I thought it was a great name for a beer.
Brewing Smog Rocket must be a slightly different process because it involves smoking the malt?
Well we buy the smoked malt in from Bamberg in Germany. They use beech and it just gives it that extra tone that I wanted to pair with the beef ribs back at Dukes. We don’t smoke our own malt yet. We may do, we’ve got a couple of barrels here and we’ve turned one of them into a smoker. That might be a really good option if we do a really pokey-smokey beer!
The Black IPA is described as “a big fat contradiction, jet black but light and hoppy”. Since it’s still a fairly new style of beer there are plenty of opinionated beer enthusiasts out there who have taken issue with it.
Yeah, there’s a little bit of “how can this be an IPA when it’s black? What’s going on!” To be honest, it’s just a new style that I think the Americans came up with. It’s a style that we embraced and I think most craft breweries are doing them now. I love it because when I was a kid there were these sweets I used to love called Black Jacks and they’d turn your tongue black, which was always a laugh. I feel that what we tried to do with Betty was re-create that kind of slightly roast aniseed with loads of tropical fruit on top and I think we got pretty close. I love Betty, I absolutely love it. She’s a great beer and she was embraced from the off.
What about your experimental range of beers?
Alpha Series is a line we do of experimental beers. We brew a new one every two weeks. We get to experiment and if something really sticks and the feedback is great we’ll bring it into the core range.
Anything out at the moment in that range?
We’ve got a soured version of the Barley Champagne and we’ve got the Spiced Pumpkin Stingy Jack that was out for Halloween and Thanksgiving. We’re also about to try our first wildly fermented barrel.
"Jet black but light and hoppy" - Beavertown's Black IPA Black Betty
Like a Lambic?
Yep, pretty much, but Hackney Wick style! It’ll be like a house strain of infection and fermentation within the wood. You create a micro environment and let the beasties go for it. It’s quite scary because it’s unlike anything else that we brew!
What’s the weirdest ingredient you’ve experimented with?
Within beer…? The weirdest brew we’ve done has been a Slavic elixir, which is an ancient recipe. It’s basically raisins, lemons and loads of loaves of rye bread in the mash. It produces a very earthy, spicy, lemon vibe that tasted a bit like iced tea. It’s a real divider which is great because it’s nice to put a curveball out there once in a while.
Have you ever used an ingredient that’s gone really wrong?
As long as you are as considered as possible in your recipe then generally you’re going to be within a ballpark. Although, when we poured out the Barley and Wine we did, there was a slight cheesiness going on. I don’t know what was going on there!
If you were forced to choose, what would be your desert island beer?
One beer for the rest of my life? If it was one of my own I’d choose Black Betty. I’m really fond of Betty. She just tickles me in so many ways. She makes me laugh. And for a beer to do that, that’s quite something. As a beer out there it would be Bathems Best Bitter. When I go back to the Midlands to see family and friends we go to a particular pub to drink that particular beer. It’s got a big cow on the logo and it’s very simple. It’s really nostalgic. That’s where it all started for me as a beer drinker so I’ve got to keep that close.
What’s your favourite bar snack?
The Bastardo Chicken Wings from Dukes Brew and Que always go down well!
Not back to pork scatachings and the Midlands roots then?
No! Scratchings make me cry inside.
Finally then, we can’t finish without asking about your father! How did growing up as the son of Led Zeppelin’s front man Robert Plant affect you and your taste in beer?
He loves beer. He doesn’t drink a lot but he appreciates it and he loves his local pub. I’d sit there with a Vimto and a packet of cheese and onion and watch him drink with his mates! I guess him dragging me around the world to different pubs and bars and introducing me to the beers definitely helped. I didn’t think that at the time as I was really bored, but as I got older we could drink together. He loves what we’re doing, he loves the brand and he loves the beer. He prefers the smog rocket over the hoppier stuff, which is interesting. He talks highly of it, which is great.
Aesthetically pleasing packaging for a growing market
Ilovegoodbeer mag - 11/11/2013