Thursday, 23 June 2011

Brew Day with The Kernel

Underneath the black bricked arches, within an Olympic stones throw of London Bridge, lives The Kernel Brewery. Packed in alongside a cheese maker and a meat curer, at first glance it appears like a home brewing hobby that's got out of hand.

After relatively little convincing, the owner Evin agreed to let me join them for a brew day. I am a keen home brewer and wanted to see first hand how things work when brewing is scaled up. I've done my fair share of brewery tours, with the usual parade of giant steel vessels and swept warehouse floors, but these generally give no indication of the passion or the buzz of excitement involved in the hands on brewing of beer. It's the craft, passion and smells that stir the soul.

Their 650litre setup is only a year old but already has plenty of outward character showing. It is tightly squeezed in alongside a makeshift fermentation and bottling room, with sturdy shelves that still hold the 80litre stainless steel pots that once formed the basis of Evin’s home brewing hobby. These now get used for sanitising and holding finished beer to feed the bottling machine.

The Kernel focus on brewing highly hopped US style Pale ales and IPAs, as well as a diverse selection of rich dark beers, strong stouts, Black IPAs and even a Coffee IPA. The focus is all about the ingredients and what they bring to the beer, often isolated in order for the individual ingredients to shine. The labels again reiterate this simplicity, hand stamped designs reflecting an attention to detail noticeably present in the beer. There is no core range of beers so each brew day is different. Each beer is unique, something which customers must find so exciting in this age of conformity. The hops are usually the stars of the stage, prominently stamped on each label, educating the customer to their own tastes and stirring excitement about the ingredients within.

On my day the focus was on a Pale ale, single hopped with Mt Hood - a lot of Mt Hood. Four and a half 25kilo sacks of the finest Warminster Maltings Maris otter, a few buckets of Munich, CaraMalt and Cara Gold, left to rest for a simple one hour mash at a 67c target temperature. A 30 minute reticulation followed to clean the wort, before sparging commenced with its reassuring rotating squeak of the sparge arm.

The run off and subsequent boil took 2 hours, enabling everyone to turn their hand to some bottling. 4 bottles at a time are filled by a machine intended for wine bottles, requiring a final hand delivered splash to top up. The brewery seems to offer an open door policy during the day, with customers collecting, and fellow brewers and artists all visitors on the day, folk milling through and recognising there was something special going on under these arches, an antidote to the formulaic replication of standard beers.

Handling hops is always an exciting experience. Rubbing them together in the hands to release powerful aromas is a brewers treat, but being asked to measure out 4kilograms of them into four buckets was sensory overload. I got the chance to add the aroma hops at 15, 10, 5 & 0 minutes, there was barely time to get them all submerged before the next batch was due, repeated until the wort surface resembled a Celtic marsh , completely obscured by hops.

It was then time for the plate chiller to get to work, cooling the 650litre brew to 21c nearly instantly. 19c was the target but after a bit of flow adjusting it was decided to pitch slightly higher. Out came a brick of US05 yeast, pitched dry into the filling fermentation vessel.

That's where the journey ended, open fermented in a side room with four other steel fermentors, each fermenting a different beer and each with their own distinctive aromas. No such luxury as temperature control, just a noisy old cooling unit to help fight the warmer summer evenings.

The final tasks of the day were to dig out the mash tun, something it seems is reserved for guests wherever possible, and reclaiming the hops from the kettle. The amount of spent hops was impressive, so impressive that I understand a visiting James Watt of Brewdog felt compelled to take a picture.

Brew complete, we all took some time to crack open a few bottles. We compared notes on which we preferred, but mainly agreed that we liked all of them, like proud parents being asked to choose a favorite child.

So what's next for The Kernel? Well I understand that plans for new premises are progressing. This will offer a bigger capacity, but will still focus on the same unique bottled beers. It's the hand craft that makes Kernel what it is, and I can't see that being compromised.

Kernel’s beers are available in most good London bars, online at BeerMerchants, but I recommend that you pop in and join them for Saturdays at The Kernel and get a chance to see first hand the craft and care that goes into these fine beers.

For Homebrew Geeks all the pictures I took that day are here on my photobucket account.


  1. Nice review Ed I love every visit to the kernel great people great beer.

  2. Thank you! Kernel is my favorite brewer.

  3. Missed this the first time round - so do they not add any bittering hops and get all the bitterness from the aroma additions?