Underneath the Arches
WORDS & PICTURES: Richard Croasdale
Friday 02 March 2018
This article is from
The Isle of Eriska Voyage
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Partizan has been a beloved fixture of London’s Bermondsey beer mile since the brewery was founded by Andy Smith and Chris Heaney in 2012. Its ever-changing range of complex, balanced, often delicate small-batch beers has earned Partizan a stellar reputation, both among serious beer connoisseurs and those simply looking for flavoursome, drinkable brews. Throw in the highly recognizable label art of Alec Doherty, and you can be sure that ordering a Partizan beer will always earn you cachet among your beer-drinking peers.
I’m excited to visit Partizan in its new home just around the corner from the established haunts of the beer mile. Thankfully, it’s still in a railway arch (Partizan simply wouldn’t be Partizan without the periodic rumble of trains overhead) but considerably larger than its previous residence, with space for extra kit, storage and even a proper taproom. This will come as a relief to anyone who frequented Partizan’s old taproom, where you were essentially either in the queue or in the car park.
The fit-out is about 90% complete when I arrive, and Andy is pulling a pallet of empty keykegs in from the front yard. It’s a really great space, with the wide arch of the taproom separating out into two smaller arches toward the back, one of which contains the brewhouse, and the other storage and office space. The whole thing is lined with white corrugated steel and minimalist chipboard (which also forms the taproom furniture). In the very centre, at the point where the two smaller arches join, is a horseshoeshaped bar, topped with four brilliantly colourful, bespoke fonts, again designed by Alec Doherty.
Despite having opened to a few guests the previous Saturday, Andy explains he and the team are still working hard to get fully back up to speed. “We’re still finding our feet a little,” he says. “There’s stuff everywhere, and we’re low on stock just now. We’re just waiting for the new chilling unit and two extra fermenters to arrive, and then we’ll get the stock back up quite quickly.”
We’re still quite small; we want to maintain a small staff
One of the main reasons for the move is to accommodate a doubling of the brewery’s capacity. Although it’s had a 20-hectolitre brewkit for some time, its meagre three fermentation vessels essentially limited Partizan to one or two brews each week. With three larger FVs now in place though, and another two to come, plus a small mobile bottling line, the plan is to shift up to two or three brews a week soon. That said though, Andy has some very definite views on growth and the kind of brewery he sees Partizan being
“That’ll put us up to twice the capacity, but we’re still quite small; we want to maintain a small staff. I see lots of other breweries growing and you seem to get to this magic number of eight staff. Up to that point you’re all on a team and then you get to nine and you’re suddenly two teams. You can make that work, but you need strong management and regular meetings so distance doesn’t grow between the office team and the brewery team,” he says.
As exciting as the new premises is though, I’m keen to talk beer. One of the things that has always attracted me to Partizan’s style is its apparent reluctance to aggressively push a heavily branded range of crowd-pleasing core beers, preferring instead to experiment and vary its most popular styles with smalltweaks to the recipes. Andy confirms this was a conscious decision and is a core part of the brewery’s philosophy.
“We’re not anti-brand, but we never want to get trapped in to doing just the same things over and over,” Andy continues. “I’ve always felt that if you start becoming a brand-led drinker, you only engage with the brand and not really the drinks. For example, where I grew up all the clubs did Red Stripe deals, so now if I’m buying a beer for the park, I just grab a Red Stripe out the fridge. And I know why, but I still do it. It works!
“But we never wanted people to choose our beer just because we’d done some clever branding exercise or a partnership deal or anything like that. We change the artwork all the time and the recipes in the beers; even the basic styles that we keep coming back to, we’ll try and mix them up a bit with different ingredients.”
While you could never accuse Partizan of being gimmicky, its extensive range of brews has certainly included some creative and unusual concoctions. Sometimes the guys take inspiration from classic flavour combinations – recent saisons include lemon and thyme, and rose and lychee – and sometimes from their extensive interests and contacts, both within the beer world and further afield.
Andy says: “I like looking into other industries; it’s really nice to meet those people and to find ways of working with them. I think it’s really hard to do collaborations in beer without rehashing, as people will generally reach straight for an IPA or a DIPA. It’s becoming a bit homogenous. So it’s nice to look outside beer.
“For example, we recently worked with a tea company to create an iced tea beer, but it’s about processes as much as ingredients; we might think it’s good to put coffee beans in the boil, but someone else might be getting an interesting character another way. By finding out what the coffee guys are doing, that might feed back into what we’re doing here. It’s generally more interesting and feels more like a genuine collaboration and less like a crossbranding opportunity.”
These collaborations often happen quite organically, and are based on a shared passion or good personal relationship. One good example of his was the beer Partizan produced with Alex Kratena of the Artesian Bar; Andy and Alex realised they both really enjoyed negroni cocktails so set out to create a negroni beer. While the negroni itself is a relatively simple cocktail, Campari – a key ingredient – has over 30 ingredients of its own, all of which had to be sourced to achieve the authentic character the pair wanted.
Until the new chilling kit is in, there are only two FVs currently full, hooked up to a temporary chiller. One contains a pale ale (stocks of which are seriouslow) and the other a collaboration DIPA with California’s Modern Times (see Ferment #20). Despite not being a fan of “that American import thing of big, bold aggressive flavours” Andy is very happy with the well-balanced 8% juice bomb currently in the final stages of fermentation. Even from the uncarbonated sneak preview, it’s not hard to see why.
Everyone keeps asking us to make that beer again, but we just remember the smell of boiling blood
“This is our 420th batch of beer a significant number in cannabis culture, though nobody can quite remember why] so we decided to mark that by making a very dank beer. Modern Times seemed like the perfect partner for that, and it’s been so much fun working with them. We’ve got some interesting ideas for the launch; for example I’m talking to a good friend who works in cocktails, about the possibility of serving it with vaporised hop oils that will look like smoke.”
Andy is obviously keen to get back up to full production, but also to welcome drinkers into the new space, not only to enjoy the lovely new bar, but possibly also to look around the brewery itself.
“We’d love people to feel like they know us,” he says. “And I think seeing the brewery and talking to the staff here will really help with that engagement. Of course people will still come in and ask for the closest thing to lager, or blindly order the pale ale without looking at the board, but I think if we get the chance to talk to them about what we’re doing, they could get a lot more out of it.”
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