Beer: From homebrew to Henley

Will Hawkes

Henley is a pretty unlikely spot for a revolution, but that’s Americans for you.This genteel Thameside town was once home to that lovibond4 300x300 Beer: From homebrew to Henleyarchetypal real ale brewer Brakspear but the local drop is a bit different these days. For a start, it isn’t cask ale. Oh yeah, and it’s brewed by a Yank.

Not that good beer being brewed by an American should be a surprise. Anyone with working tastebuds could tell you that much of the best beer around these days is being made by Americans, and not just in the USA. Take Somerset’s Moor Beer, for example, where Californian Justin Hawke works his magic. He recently demonstrated his prowess by winning a platinum award at the Mondiale de la Bière in Montreal, but he’s not alone in having brought his skills across the Atlantic. Other British breweries have an American influence that goes beyond a penchant for powerful citrus hops.

Which takes us back to Henley, where former Wisconsin resident Jeff Rosenmeier (below) holds sway at Lovibonds. Jeff has been brewing there for six years, but his history – like so many American brewers – goes back a lot further and demonstrates just why they are leading the world. There is a passion and respect for homebrewing in the US, Rosenmeier explains, that has laid the groundwork for the craft brewing explosion over the last 30 years.

“I got out of university in 1994 and I got a job in Milwaukee, a city that is famous for beer,” he says. “My friends and I experimented with imported beers. One night somebody handed me a beer at a party – it was black as night, really tasty. I was like ‘wow, where do I find some of that?’ and he said ‘I made it.’ ‘What do you mean you made it?’ I didn’t know you could make beer at home. He took me upstairs and showed me the kit; he said ‘you live around the corner from the shop’. I think I had a brew on by the end of the week.

“The brewing scene in the US is like that in baseball, when you have minor league teams that send players up into the professional game – that’s exactly what has happened. You got a lot of people who have come from the passion for beer, from being homebrewers – 30 years on, those people own breweries.”

Rosenmeier came to England in 1996 because of his work, but he soon decided that he’d rather be a brewer. “I wanted to do something for myself,” he says. “I decided to follow my passion.” The result is Lovibonds, which, by British standards, is no ordinary brewer.

That’s because Rosenmeier – who currently brews his beer at Luxter’s, a real ale brewery near Henley, but is planning to build his own brewplant as soon as he can afford it – makes keg as opposed to cask beer. “I started brewing ‘real ale’,” he says. “That’s what everyone did here, it looked to me like that was the only way small brewers brewed beer here.

“But one day I was drinking my own beer at my local and it was sour, after the fourth or fifth day on. Nobody was drinking it. I didn’t understand it because I had been kegging my beer as a home brewer and the beer never went off. I was like ‘what kind of system is this?’”

Lovibonds is also bottled, which means you can try their flagship beer Henley Gold – a wheat beer with the classic flavours of cloves and banana – at the Tate Modern. It’s a suitable venue for such a forward-looking brewery. Rosenmeier’s preference for keg reflects a growing desire among younger beer drinkers for greater choice, and the feeling that hoppy beers like his 69 IPA are better served that way.lovibond6 300x225 Beer: From homebrew to Henley

“I’ll be honest; I prefer to drink beer that is cold and has a bit more carbonation to it,” says Rosenmeier. “That’s probably my American upbringing – I’ve got a German background too – I just prefer that taste.

“It’s not like I hate cask ale. I appreciate both keg and cask but it winds me up that the Campaign for Real Ale guys won’t consider what we’re doing ‘real’. I’ve got a Camra technical advisory note that’s stapled up on my wall. It says ‘At present the technical advisory group is unable to confirm or deny if the beer is real or not’.”

Such attitudes appear increasingly old-fashioned in an era when more and more American beer is making its way across the Atlantic: recently Byron, a hamburger chain, introduced a selection of craft beers to their menu (chosen with the help of beer blogger Mark Dredge), many of which are American. Another burger restaurant, the Hawaiian Kua’Aina (allegedly President Barrack Obama’s burger chain of choice) is now stocking beers from Hawaiian microbreweries.

All of which means change is coming to the UK. Rosenmeier feels this is long overdue – he’s a staunch critic of the beer tie, whereby a publican must buy his beer from the pub’s owner – but he’s still cautiously optimistic. “The beer culture in the UK is changing; it’s a different group of people,” he says. “It’s a younger group of people that have been to the States and seen the craft beer thing there.”

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  • James Howard-Jones

    I had no idea I wasn’t drinking something real. It tasted so damn good I would have sworn it was. Amazing

  • Alistair Reece

    One of the best breweries in the UK!

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