Good Beer Hunting

Critical Drinking

Critical Drinking with Beavertown Brewery's Logan Plant

Beavertown Brewery opened in 2012 as part of a BBQ restaurant in East London called Duke’s Brew & Que. Logan Plant, son of Led Zeppelin frontman Robert, founded both after leaving the music industry to pursue his lifelong ambition of running a brewery. In less than four years, he went from brewing by himself on a 4-BBL kit in the kitchen of his restaurant, to a team of over 40, brewing 16 times a week at a brewery with a net capacity of almost 40,000 BBLs. That’s one hell of a growth curve. 

The first Beavertown beer I tried back in 2012 was called Neck Oil. Back then it was an English Best Bitter, but didn’t ignite my senses in the way that beers from The Kernel and Brewdog were at around the same time. But a year later, the same beer had undergone a complete transformation. Gone was the residual sweetness and herbaceous English hops, replaced by an ultra-light, pale body and intense citrus notes from North American hops. With U.S.-inspired beers like Neck Oil, now a Session IPA, and its flagship Pale Ale Gamma Ray now a part of its core range, Beavertown quickly took the UK by storm.

The brewery’s HQ, now in Tottenham, North London, is currently home to two very different brewing projects. The main brewhouse produces as much volume of its core beers as is physically possible, but with demand off the charts it’s still not enough. In a second warehouse across from the main facility, Beavertown’s original 4-BBL kit has been given a new lease of life, producing beers specifically for mixed-fermentation and barrel aging as part of a project dubbed Tempus.

I visited the brewery to chat with Plant about the brewery’s beginnings, how Beavertown got here, and what’s next.

So why has it taken you four and a half years to finally brew a core IPA?

I guess that’s just the way it went. We included Bloody ‘Ell, our Blood Orange IPA, into our seasonal range and bar the infusion of blood oranges, that’s a pretty straight IPA. There was never anyone willing against it, IPA is one of my favorite styles of beer. I always thought we needed an IPA as part of our core range but we just never got around to it. 

What yeast strain did you end up using?

Just our normal house strain. We tested about three or four different yeast strains, and out of the 10 experimental IPAs we brewed, which all varied in terms of grist bills and hopping ratios, the yeast strain was the defining component. I really wanted to see if the yeast could make this beer into something else, but what it came down to for us as a brewery that’s growing as fast as we are is actually managing that yeast strain. How can we do this day in, day out and know that we’re gonna get awesome results consistently? In the trials we did, I think the third batch we released used US05. We kept the grist really simple, as I don’t really like crystal malt. We then loaded it with a bunch of hops that we love and for us it rated best, so that’s where Lupuloid came from. 

And then you put it in a bright pink can. 

And then we put it in a bright pink can! It’s always been about how we can define ourselves on the shelf. What I love about Gamma Ray, our core pale ale, is that we use these bold colors to make it stand out and that’s become synonymous with Beavertown. I wanted to do the same with Lupuloid, design and color brings a product to life and helps people to engage with it. I’m looking forward to getting some good, constructive feedback once it’s out there. It’s the start of a recipe, I’m really happy with where it’s at now, it may twist a bit over the coming months but I think it’s a really good start. 

You’ve just been out in Escondido collaborating with Stone on a 20th anniversary beer, how was that experience?

Stone are one of the forefathers of inspiration for me as a brewer. I’ve met Mitch Steele a few times while I’ve been in the U.S. and when he’s been to London. He’s also visited our brewery.  He’s such a nice guy and his beers are defining of IPA culture. 

How did you feel about him moving on from Stone?

I was really proud of him. As a guy who’s been through many iterations of brewing both at Stone and Anheuser-Busch, and now to take it on a step further to something more tangible, something he can really get his hands into, that’s a good move, it’s ballsy.

He was there when we were out in Escondido, I saw him at the Stone 20th Anniversary Festival, playing guitar in his band. I think they’re called The Fermenters? But yeah, to go out there and to experience Stone after everything I’d read was amazing. For us, moving forward, what Stone have created in Escondido is very similar to what I’d like Beavertown to be able to express. 

It’s kinda like beer Disneyland out there in Escondido isn’t it?

Yeah, Malt Disney! That’s mine, by the way! Yeah, we’d like to create a Malt Disney. I want the experience of Beavertown and what we represent as a team to be inclusive and to give our customers that accessibility to brewery and our brewery—that’s key. So going to a place like Stone and seeing their bistro, bar, the brewery—that whole experience you have as a consumer is second to none.

You’ve collaborated with guys like Steele, Sam Calagione and Doug Odell, as well as guys like Boneyard and Other Half. How does it feel to be working with these guys after only being in business for four and a half years?

It’s absolutely humbling. Beer is all about relationships. I love the friendships we’ve created throughout the world and it’s all down to one thing and it’s that every one of us wants to create great beer. The defining factor of the guys that you mentioned is that they all care paramountly about the quality of their product and being the best at what they do.

They also care about being an individual. Each one of those breweries has its own personality. Doug Odell was here yesterday, actually. We didn’t brew, but we were fortunate just to have him in to chat about his brewing and his journey. For me to be able to sit down with people like that, as such a young brewer is invaluable. 

Before you opened your restaurant and brewery, what were you doing?

I was a musician for about eight years after I went to university to study sports science. After university, I went traveling with my best mate and we started busking in New Zealand. We’d fucked around on a little four-track tape recorder since the age of 18, just the two of us playing loads of blues stuff.

Eventually, along with a couple of other mates, we formed a band called the BCB’s. We actually just did a track for the Lupuloid IPA launch video. But the band eventually fell apart because of our other relationships. I moved to London and started working in the events industry for a company that did big corporate events. There, you were just driven to create amazing experiences for the client, whether it was food, drink, or whatever, we’d build these huge sets and then run the whole thing. That taught me a lot about food, drink, recipe development—I worked with some amazing chefs who taught me how to appreciate this.

Then I started another band, which looking back at it probably wasn’t the best idea. I’d just had a couple of kids and I didn’t want to go back into the music industry, but the drummer was a lovely guy and he persuaded me, so we started rehearsing. That band went on for four years, but it wasn’t quite my fit. With whatever you do you’ve got to love it, and I didn’t really love the way I was trying to sing in this band.

That came to a head when we were in America. I’d always been drinking beer, I’d always wanted to start a brewery from the age of 20, and as a singer, I was so conscious about looking after my voice that I stopped drinking—and I didn’t want to stop drinking! I also didn’t want to stop enjoying myself, but I found that was starting to happen. It got to a point where I thought, “Bugger this, I’m going to go for my dream.” And that was to start brewing and to put that within this food environment which, for me, was barbeque. 

You wanted to be a brewer from the age of 20?

Yeah! I’d had this vision while sitting there, back in the Midlands where I’m from, in these amazing beer gardens drinking Batham’s Bitter, this amazing local beer. I’d be with James and John, my best mates from the original band, and I always thought that one day it would be great to encapsulate this experience. And the way to do that, other than by running a pub, is to brew beer. My initial idea was to start elsewhere. My family has this old farmhouse in Wales that was bought in about 1971, it’s right on the coast by the Dovey Estuary, and my initial idea was to build it there. But I thought, “Who the fuck’s going to drink my beer out here?” It’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s just sheep.

What did your dad think when you told him about your career change?

He just wants happiness and good health for his kids. He’s been nothing but supportive. He also knows exactly what the music industry is like and what it takes to succeed. That was also a defining factor, growing up in that environment and knowing what it takes. He was away a lot, he had to be, he’s been out there touring during my lifetime solidly. In the music industry you’ve got to do that.

That wasn’t the reason why I moved into beer, but it was definitely in the back of my mind. Happiness and sanity. And now I travel even more than when I was in the fucking band! But I get to spend a lot more time with my family, they get to travel with me, and the beer environment is a lot more inclusive than the musical one. 

How did you jump from Batham’s Bitter to Hoppy Pale Ales and IPA?

People talk about Batham’s being so residually sweet, but they use so many hops in that beer it’s almost like an IPA. My palate was definitely attuned to hops and bitterness, but to then go into expressing in a more American dynamic has a lot to with what I was reading in the early days. About six months in, I was reading Sam Calagione’s book and thought that this is exactly how I feel, this is what we’re doing. I felt empowered by that and the beers he and other people over there were brewing. It was one of those eureka moments.

My first assistant at the brewery, James Rylance, who now brews at Redchurch Brewery, came in with this fever of experimentation. He really added to that early dynamic as well. We were definitely influenced by the U.S. market, but also by what was happening here in the UK, drinking beers from The Kernel for example.

The Kernel kinda changed everything, certainly in London.

I think so. For me to be drinking something so hop forward, delicious, and stimulating made right here in London was a big thing. I also remember drinking Brewdog Punk IPA on cask around 2010 and thinking, “What the hell is this Brewdog thing?” At the time, it took my palate somewhere else, at least compared to Batham’s, Banks's Mild, and other things I was drinking back then. 

In 2012 you were brewing on a 4-BBL kit in a restaurant. Now you’re on a 30 BBL brewhouse at the helm of one of the largest and fastest growing breweries in the UK. How have things changed for you personally?

I’ve definitely got more grey hair and I’ve got a lot more friends. [laughs] And by that I mean all the people that work here. At the moment we are making a mark on the UK industry that is never going to happen again. Not just us as Beavertown, but the whole craft brewing movement is resetting the beer industry at large. It’s just totally taking beer into a new realm. But there’s great compassion between traditional beer and what we’re doing. I still lean on tradition all of the time.

It’s a dream come true to have a marketplace as vibrant as this one. I think if we didn’t take every day and try to be better then we might as well pack up, because what’s the bloody point! So now we’re brewing 16 times a week, that’s 90,000 Liters (770 BBL). We can get up to almost 50,000hL (42,600 BBL) on site, which is great, but we’re at capacity. So now it’s about what we do next. 

You’re turning down new accounts due to demand for beers like Gamma Ray that are far greater than supply. How do you plan to cope with this demand long term?

It’s heartbreaking to still be in that position after all the expansion we’ve done. My aim from the beginning has been to have great beer on every street corner. You get that in America. You go to gas stations or 7/11s and you’ve got a great range from the local and national breweries. One day it would be great to get the UK to that level. And how do we do that? We’ve got to grow and everybody around us has got to grow, which they are.

I don’t want to be this brewery that sits there and manages where we’re at—I want us to keep growing. We’ve already started planning for that expansion and the creation of a new brewery, so hopefully in two years time we’ll be having this conversation again, but somewhere else! 

We’re in your third home since you opened in 2012, right?

Yeah, this is our third home and we’ve expanded many times here. So the next one will be that Malt Disney we talked about—Beaverworld. I thought this place was going to be that, I thought we were going to be here for 10 years at least!

I realize that this will be a big step for us financially and in making sure that we’re growing the right way, with the right people. That means not going into the wrong accounts for the wrong reasons. These are all things I’m trying to weigh up so we don’t make the wrong moves—not just for us, but also for the industry at large. We can’t go through beer becoming a commodity again by just throwing money around for nothing. That’s how we’d lose everything we’ve built.

We can’t go through beer becoming a commodity again by just throwing money around for nothing. That’s how we’d lose everything we’ve built.
— Logan Plant

I hear you’re actually pulling your beer out of the US market after exporting there for a little while. Is that to help meet demand in the UK?

No, I just felt pressure. The U.S. is an amazing market full of great beer. I think that unless you’re actually there, brewing in market, local and fresh, then there’s no way we can send tankers full of Gamma Ray over there, because an equivalent is on every street corner. We’d stand out, and I’m sure we could make a success of it over there. The exporter we were working with at the time wanted everything that was crazy from us, but I wanted that to be driven into the UK and markets that we feel we can support and service. I think the UK market is going through a great curve and if we can be part of that with our wacky stuff as well as our core offerings, then that’s where I’d rather it be, as opposed to 3000 miles away.

Where do you see your relationship with the U.S. market heading?

I’d love to go back into the market when we can facilitate more capacity and provide the same service level as we do in the UK. One of the things that for me defines craft beer is that level of education, that one to one conversation that resonates between brewer and drinker. That’s the experience we want to give and I don’t think we can do that in the U.S. market at the moment.

In fact there’s many markets we can’t do that in. I want to be in markets that we can send both beer to and people to so that they can bring it all to life. Going back into America would be amazing. I go over there regularly because of the friendships I’ve formed. I learn something new and feel inspired every time I come back from a U.S. trip.

But we’ve got big plans at home, even at this site. When we do eventually move we’d love this to become wholly dedicated to our Tempus project, so lots more wood action and experimentation going on and I’d hope it would become a hub for that. Then we’d have the volume of our more unusual stuff to take to other markets too.  

You’ve grown from a tiny brewery to a medium size brewery quickly, and it doesn’t look like you’re slowing down. How do you stay in touch with the local beer community that put you where you are?

We stay in touch by having this taproom, by offering that inclusivity and accessibility to our people and us as a brewery. Events are crucial, we’ve got a full time events manager, Sam Millard, who’s absolutely amazing. I think we do at least one or two events a week at the moment, and that’s key because that face-to-face contact is absolutely killer. If you stop doing that then you end up living in your own bubble.

Do you build a big brewery outside of London and just sit there brewing loads of beer or do you try and build something in London, which is then plugged into London and into the heartbeat of the people living here? Somebody was asking me the other day why we do so many events and I replied, “Because you’re standing there with me serving you and talking about it is so much more powerful than just walking past a can on a shelf.”

Where do you see yourselves four years from now?

I see us in this Beaverworld. I hope that it’s in a similar area to where we are now in Tottenham so that we remain connected to the city. We’re a London brewery, and I never want to lose that. I see us having a bigger brewery and a bigger experience for people to come to and be a part of. I see us having our Tempus project four years down the line. What were doing over there is a decade of experimentation and we’re learning so much as brewers. I see that project growing immensely and I want it to be one of the best in the world. I see us having a couple of bars, and that’s it, really.

As a team we’re going to grow. I want to keep the culture we’ve got here as tightly knit and as expressive as possible and that’s down to the people we work with and that we’re lucky enough to hire. I also see craft beer consolidating what it does as a movement. We need to maintain that the market is going to chance and of course it will slow down a bit as the acceptance of the beer we produce becomes the norm.

Which Beavertown beer is your dad’s favorite?

That’s how rock ’n’ roll [my dad] is—he takes his Gamma Ray to bed.
— Logan Plant

Gamma Ray! He used to love Smog Rocket because hops used to give him a rash. He would drink Batham’s, for example, and he’d come out in a bit of a rash—it’s done it to me too. I don’t know what it is about Batham’s, other than it being awesome. So he got into Smog Rocket, our Smoked Porter, and he really liked that. Then all of a sudden he rang me and said, “Can you bring me up a couple of cases of Gamma Ray?” I said all right, and he replied, “Yeah, I really like it, I take a can to bed.” [laughs] That’s how rock ’n’ roll he is—he takes his Gamma Ray to bed. I think the Lupuloid IPA will tickle his fancy. He’s just a beer lover, he’s the guy that got me into beer dragging me around pubs as a kid, that’s where it all started for me.

Words + Photos by
Matthew Curtis