This U.K. Brewery Is the Perfect Mix of U.S. and British Craft Styles
Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin said, “What people don’t realize is that professionals are sensational because of the fundamentals. The sensationalism has taken over the professionalism.”
He was talking about sports, but the same could easily be said for the U.S. craft beer scene. Trendily hyper-bitter, rich, and sour flavor profiles are often overzealously pursued by new brewers in search of superlatives. They go straight to the experimentation phase without mastering the fundamentals.
At the other end of the spectrum is the U.K. network of brewers, which hews to a specific dogma of orthodox brewing practices. Beer is brewed there, in large part, the way it has been brewed for hundreds of years.
Enter the Kernel, a London brewery aimed at producing beer that is neither basic nor gimmicky. “We have taken a lot of inspiration from the States because of that lack of dogma,” said Kernel’s head-brewer and founder, Evin O’Riordan. “On the other hand, the English tradition, in its strength, provides a framework.”
Established in 2009, the best-of-both-worlds operation brews out of an old railway arch near London Bridge. The pocket of Bermondsey in which it’s situated resembles a farmer’s market on Saturdays, when a miscellany of small, artisanal businesses collectively open doors to the public. “We’ve got a couple of coffee-roasters, two or three butchers, a baker, jam, cheese, cheese, cheese, three or four wine importers,” said Evin. “So that’s our ‘family.’” The Kernel’s contribution to this family dynamic has yielded some of London’s very most sought-after beer, appearing on the menus of such top London restaurants as Yotam Ottolenghi’s Nopi.
The team of 13 brewers—all of whom chip in to perform even the company’s most mundane tasks, such as cleaning and paperwork—now produce nearly 200,000 gallons annually. Having perfected low-alcohol table beers, stouts whose recipes date back to the 19th century, and wine barrel-aged saisons, the team's American-inspired IPAs may shine brightest of all. Nailing the fruit flavors from New World hop varietals (such as Citra, Galaxy, and Mosaic), the terrifically turbid, bright results of their efforts never veer into the unpleasantly astringent.
“It’s a little bit tricky at the beginning to start to get people into the idea of a short shelf-life,” said Evin, as these brews need to be consumed fresh. “But we’re lucky enough to have a bit more demand than we can meet, so we can control who we sell to.”
It's pretty easy to come across Kernel's beer if you are in London, a refreshing change for anyone who has spent time hunting down similar caliber beers in the United States. (Sometimes this involves waiting in long lines; others it involves camping out at release events.) At the city’s better craft boutiques, fresh bottles of the crew’s unostentatiously packaged brews will invariably be available. “There’s a psychological difference, I suppose, between the way, say, Americans approach things and the way English do. I think Americans are perhaps a little bit more obsessive,” said Evin. “Beer should be a little bit ‘everyday.’ It’s quite hard to enjoy a beer if you’re so nervous about drinking it.” A drinker should feel lucky indeed to be able to count beer from the Kernel as quotidian.