Brewery #2 to watch in 2009 – Lovibonds Brewery, Henley-on-Thames

Catching up with a serious backlog of blog entries washing around in my head, SF Beer week review, Belgian Brew News, Barcelona Updates… I started a series of Breweries to Watch in 2009 – here’s another one of the breweries that I have been really impressed with.

Jeff a native of Wisconsin, an ex-long time homebrewer and Brewing Network fan, came on my radar through his activities on the website ProBrewer some time ago – when he was asking about barrel ageing beers in the UK!

Most of us in the beer and brewing circles know about the Lovibond colour scale, but not many are aware of the history associated with the name. When Jeff Rosenmeier was looking for a site to expand he stumbled across a site in the centre of Henley-on-Thames and uncovered part of John Lovibond and Son’s rich history. Despite advice from many he chose to revive the use of the Lovibond name, founding Lovibonds Brewery in 2005.

I recently shared a couple pints with Jeff… Lovibonds has gained quite a following and not always from the typical British beer enthusiast. Jeff has found a small niche in the British beer market, preferring to compete with the big brewers instead of other local craft brewers. Jeff explains, “I started out with a couple firkins and I was really disappointed with the variable nature in which my beer was presented in the pub. The main issue with dispensing from a cask is that the publican is ‘venting and tapping’ the cask, thus opening the beer up to the cellar’s less than sanitary atmosphere, causing it to rapidly decline. My desire has always been to serve our beer in its best possible condition, on a consistent basis, and this method wasn’t cutting it for me.” To guarantee consistent quality for his customers, as well as provide 100% return for the publican or bar manager, Lovibonds decided to deviate from a majority of small independent brewers in the UK by serving their beer from ‘keg’.

Jeff says, “I had been using kegs as a home brewer for 10 years with great success. You could come to my house and I would have at least 3 different beers on at any given time. This system kept my beer fresh for months, with the beer often getting better all the time as it further conditioned. We decided that we would serve all of our beer this way, alleviating the risk of our beer being served in a poor condition.” Jeff also found that this unique system allowed them to market their beer to customers that wouldn’t otherwise have a local craft brewed option on the bar. Jeff says, “We found that there are many local independent bar, hotel and restaurant owners that want to have a locally crafted beer on offer, but don’t have the knowledge or guaranteed throughput to make cask beer viable. What they end up with is a selection of the same mega beers you see everywhere else. In this scenario, we are able to offer a local beer, completely unfiltered, unpasteurized and unadulterated in any way, in a package that the customer already understands.”

This tends to rub certain British beer enthusiasts up the wrong way, but Jeff states, “We have a lot of people that would normally drink a bland mega lager that now realise that they have an local alternative.  We are taking custom away from the big boys, not our friends at other local breweries.”

Henley Gold was the first beer in the line up and is Jeff’s interpretation of a Bavarian wheat beer.  Jeff says, “There are a lot of small brewers in the UK doing wheat beers, but I found myself disappointed with many of them.  The brewers tend to just add a little wheat and carry on using their house yeast strain…what you end up with is a slightly more refreshing Golden Ale.  I wanted to do this properly and we start with over 50% malted wheat and use a famous Bavarian yeast strain, Bavarian noble hops and follow Rheinheitsgebot [Bavarian purity law] to the letter.”  The result is a highly drinkable wheat beer with loads of character.

In addition to Henley Gold, Lovibonds produce Henley Amber, a low gravity session ale that showcases Jeff’s love of hops.  Henley Dark, recently winning Silver medal in the Regional SIBA competition, is inspired by the London Porters of old and is a blend of seven different malted barleys, including one that Jeff hand smokes with local beech wood.

Lovibonds are also producing a Reserve series, which are limited edition and packaged in individually numbered champagne style bottles, hand dipped in wax.  The first was released in May 2008, Lovibonds Dark Reserve No. 1, which started as a strong version (7.4%) of Henley Dark that aged in whiskey barrels in the Lovibond cellar for 6 months.  Lovibonds Gold Reserve (7.3%) was just released and is tagged a ‘Wheat Wine’.  Jeff explains, “Most people have heard of a barley wine, we wanted to spin off of this and took our Henley Gold recipe to the extreme.  When you have a big beer like that, you tend to loose drinkability.  To counteract the heaviness of that much wheat we chucked in over 60kg of local honey and fermented with our Henley Gold yeast.  The result is a rare treat, full of flavour and character, yet dangerously drinkable.

Rumour has it that Jeff is now setting his sights on producing a proper IPA, none of this 3.4% IPA rubbish…. given that he’s not adverse to hops.. rolllll on!

It’s always worth passing by, getting in contact – I was also drinking something completely accidental that was well…. if I said what it was that’d give the game away!

More information about Lovibonds Brewery can be found at their web-site