Now, Albrecht von Wallmoden is waving to his neighbours at Belgo before ducking into a cellar in his Soho Brewing Company restaurant in Earlham Street, Covent Garden, donning his Jarvis Cocker spectacles and checking the progress of the Nottinghamshire barley malt and Washington State hops in his Red Ale.
There are brand-new, gleaming copper-clad kettles above the entrance hall, and fermentation vessels downstairs, behind glass. Between them, a long stainless-steel bar and blond plywood tables heighten the message of industrial chic.
The Soho Brewing Company has produced three beers in its first weeks. A lightly acidic, summery, quenching, Bavarian-style wheat beer is typically fruity, though with less of the typical banana than a perfumy, restrained nectarine. These flavours, and a cloveish spiciness, derive from the type of yeast traditionally used, and the wheat; no fruit is added. This example also has a touch of colour, from amber malt, and a slight nutty smoothness.
An English malt, Kent hops and Yorkshire yeast are used in a golden pale ale that is light, dry and appetising. "Is it hoppy enough?" Albrecht frets. His first brew of this product could have taken more hoppy dryness; a second is more assertive. Despite the English ingredients, it has some of the in-your-face flavours of the pale ales made by American micro-breweries.
The third of the early beers is in a style that might be termed Irish- American: a Red Ale, with a luminous cherry colour and a soothing, toffeeish, malty smoothness. There is a good underpinning of hop, this time from American varieties.
The food, by Andrew Parkinson, formerly of Quaglino's, is also cosmopolitan, though billed as "modern British". The most beer-friendly dish? I was tempted by thyme sausage with celeriac and mustard, but settled on a splendidly juicy pork loin with mixed leaves, black bean, ginger and soy. Coincidentally, the next day, I attended a formal tasting at the brewpub and the management had chosen to serve the same dish.
The production of eclectic beers and foods under one roof is not unique, nor is the cosmopolitan flavour. The former Benedictine monastery that now serves as Germany's best-known university faculty of brewing has among its few British graduates Alastair Hook. I wrote here about his work six years ago, when he was making outstanding lagers at a brewery in Ashford, Kent.
That brewery was short-lived, for a variety of reasons; one being that the beers were too good: drinkers in Britain have become accustomed to the notion that lager should be tasteless, as most of the "famous" international brands intentionally are.
It is tempting to see British beer-drinkers as being divided irreconcilably into two conservative camps: people who want something cold, purportedly refreshing, alcoholic and undemanding, and those who understandably see no reason to deviate from a good cask-conditioned ale. In both camps, there are liberal wings. There are also more adventurous types who buy German or Belgian wheat beers, Trappist ales and suchlike, in considerable quantities, from supermarkets, and would like to find such styles in pubs and restaurants. There are, additionally, blessed souls who sometimes prefer a beer to a gin and tonic, or to a glass of wine with their food.
Hook has for the past couple of years been making beer for these open- minded characters. He did it first at Mash & Air, Oliver Peyton's pioneering new-generation brewpub in Manchester. Now he is doing it at the London branch, called simply Mash.
There is also a beer called Mash, made with Nottinghamshire malt, Czech, British and American hops and a German lager yeast. As Manchester's water is softer than London's, the capital version is drier. It reminds me of a good Dortmunder Export lager. Hook is easing back on the hopping in search of his own balance; I hope that he does not tame it too much.
Mash likes to brew in its own style rather than following the classics. Its wheat beer uses a German yeast but is refreshingly spiced, Belgian- style, with cinnamon and ginger (the two conspire to produce a lemony taste). A Peach Beer is only lightly fruity, with a balance of malty dryness. "It is meant to be a beer, not a cocktail," says Hook. An Abbey beer, inspired by the work of the Belgian monastery brewers, is strong (6.5 per cent), with a big maltiness, but less rich than anything from the Low Countries. Try one after dinner.
Here, too, the brewhouse is in the entrance, but when I called in for dinner, the server neglected to give me the beer-list, and mentioned only wine as an aperitif or accompaniment to my meal. I almost forgave the restaurant reviewer who complained she'd been served the wrong wine while barely acknowledging that Mash is a brewery. Another reviewer was moderately enthusiastic about the food but said he had not "risked" the beer.
Perhaps he was unaware that, like bread, all beer was once made on the premises. This practice never quite died, and in the past couple of decades has been greatly revived. One advantage of the brewpub is that the beer is fresh, and this should be evident in aroma and flavour. Another benefit is that, even if it makes only a standard British bitter, every brewery has its own house character, and these new ones add enormously to variety of choice.
Most important, "micro" batches offer the opportunity to create beers in the same way that a chef tries out new dishes. If the customers are not keen on a new beer, it may take a little longer to sell, but the brewpub will not have wasted millions on focus groups, market research or television commercials.
Many of the brewpubs that were established in the 1970s and 1980s did little to innovate, but Soho and Mash represent a new generation, inspired by the lively new brewpubs of the United States, especially those is in cities such as San Francisco and Seattle. The same is true of a brewpub called Pacific Oriental, due to open at One Bishopsgate, London, in July. This will marry Pacific Rim dishes with a Bavarian-style Pilsner, an India Pale Ale and a wheat beer.
To succeed, these new cosmopolitan brewpubs, with prime sites and designy interiors, have to work also as restaurants. Apparently, the notion of a brewpub is difficult for some restaurant critics, although I fail to see why. Can anyone with a genuine interest in food be lacking in curiosity about beer? I know of no wine writer who suffers from such myopia. Perhaps some restaurant reviewers are less interested in aromas, flavours and textures than in the arts of being a social columnist, pundit on popular culture, or critic of interior design. Let me reassure them, and any confused customers, that the brewhouses visibly highlighted in these places actually work. Yes, they contribute to the decor - but they are there to make beer
Soho Brewing Company, 41 Earlham Street, London WC2 (0171-240 0606);
Mash, 19-21 Great Portland Street, London W1 (0171-637 5555);
Mash & Air, 40 Chorlton Street, Manchester M1 (0161-661 1111)Reuse content