For this week's Brewer of the Week we head to London and to the brewery which makes some of my favourite beers, and for which I have a huge soft spot owing to the fact that my father's side of the family come from the same neck of the woods.
Name: John Keeling
How did you get into brewing as a career?
My mother made me get a job. The local brewery Wilson’s took me on as a laboratory assistant where I stayed for a couple of years before studying brewing at Heriot-Watt.
What is the most important characteristic of a brewer?
To drink beer. I think it is very important for a brewer to drink their beer in the pub with their friends. This will enable them to understand what it is that people like about their beer, it will lead to great satisfaction that other people enjoy your beer and that will drive you on to produce even better beers.
Before being a professional brewer, did you homebrew? If so, how many of your homebrew recipes have you converted to full-scale production?
I did home brew at the age of 16 to 18. It was so long ago I cannot remember any of the recipes. However it did give me a love of brewing.
If you did homebrew, do you still?
No I don’t homebrew. After a day’s work I would prefer to relax over a pint than make a beer.
What is your favorite beer that you brew?
London Porter. It simply is so different to the other beers. The aromas of coffee and roasted malt fill the brewery. Even the surrounding streets have the aroma of coffee
If you have worked in other breweries, which other beer did you enjoy brewing, and why?
When I was with Wilson’s my first job was to sample the FV’s every day. I loved this job because we would make 8 different beers in one day and looking at the different colours of each and the different aromas would fascinate me. My favorite was Mann’s Brown Ale again because it was a dark beer and so different to the bitters and lagers.
Of the beers you brew, which is your favorite to drink?
The brewer’s favorite is Chiswick Bitter. When I first joined Fullers I worked for the Assistant Head Brewer Philip Eliot who insisted that we all drank Chiswick. When he retired we calculated that he accounted for 0.5% of all Chiswick Bitter sales.
How important is authenticity when making a new beer, in terms of flavour, ingredients and method?
I think to be honest is important in all walks of life. I think that it is better to be honest than to argue about authenticity. For many years we used maize in our recipes. We did this because it made the beers easier to fine not because maize was cheaper than malt. Nowadays because the malt is of higher quality we are 100% malt. However it would be more authentic to use maize! The same is also true about methods. Modern methods get a bad press because people think that traditional methods are best and many brewers use modern methods just to reduce costs. However modern methods will improve quality too. Why did we use maize? Because malt quality was not good enough. Why is it so good now? Because of adaptation of modern methods.
If you were to do a collaborative beer, which brewery would you most like to work with and why?
We are planning something along those lines. I actually believe that breweries have always collaborated to a degree. We want our Junior Brewers to do something with other brewers. We will be exchanging brewers with Stone this year hopefully and maybe something will come of that. I have many friends in brewing and perhaps I would work with them. Maybe I could work with my friend Toshi in Japan or perhaps with Stefano and Kelly at Thornbridge. I have never met the Brewdog people but I bet we would enjoy a pint together. If I had to pick one to work with then it would have to be Hardknott Dave.
Which beer, other than your own, do you wish you had invented?
I don’t think that beers are invented they kind of evolve.