November 2008: a big month for Duncan Sambrook.
Within the space of a few weeks, he turned 30, got engaged and opened a brewery – after being about sixty grand in the hole. He’d given the Spanish archer to his job as City accountant during the credit crunch (a move made because of a powerful desire to water the people of London, rather than out of economic ignorance) and found himself well short of the dough he needed to start selling beer.
“We scrabbled and scraped and got the money together just before the crash,” says Duncan, who with veteran brewer David Welsh set up Sambrook’s Brewery in a former television studio in Battersea, a few minutes’ stroll from Clapham Junction.
Funding the place wasn’t the only difficulty; giving it a name was also a nut-ache. Duncan wanted to honour his granddad Alward but reckoned it was too difficult a moniker to pronounce clearly over the phone. Plus, people would misspell it.
So, he opted for using his own surname – and now he gets called Sam or Mr Brook (but not Chris, even though he has the appearance of Chris Barrie… if the Red Dwarf star had been a scrum-half. No one calls him Barry, either.)
Sambrook’s recently offloaded its millionth pint of ale – and now it’s launched a limited-edition porter, the first of many seasonal drinks planned. It’s a tasty swig, so it is: like a bar of 85% cocoa chocolate mixed into a black iced coffee and served in a pint-sized popcorn kernel.
It’s an alluring colour, too. When black malt was first produced in 1816, it made up around 5% of most porters’ malt mix. At Sambrook’s, they go for 25% of the dark stuff in a beer that’s a weighty 4.9% ABV but doesn’t stomp on your palate like a fat pearly king doing the Lambeth Walk. It’s probably a lot more forgiving than the original, gob-slamming porters necked in the 1700s by the Big Smoke’s grizzled working geezers.
Sambrook’s latest drop will be available in cask and bottle around the capital – Salisbury-born Duncan is keen for the business to be considered to be a London-wide concern, not limited to south of the river – until the new year.
The porter is the firm’s third (and strongest) beer after Wandle, a cheerful session pint with a grassy finish and strength of 4.2% ABV, and Junction, a fruitier, spicier swig. The former is named for the river on which the microbrewery sits (one of the country’s best-regarded trout-fishing spots of the 18th and 19th centuries, angling fans).
Wandle beer, brewed using Fuggles and Goldings hops and Boadicea whole hop leaf, comprises two-thirds of Sambrook’s output, and it’s delicious in batter for cod – as BarLifeUK discovered when Duncan, David and co. threw on deep-fried eats at their porter’s launch party.
At 4.5% ABV, Junction is a premium glass made with Bramling X and Challenger hops, Fuggles whole leaf hop and roasted barley. It celebrated its first birthday this month, having been named the top ale at the Battersea Beer Festival earlier this year.
You can try it and its foamy friends of private tours of Sambrook’s during weekday evenings and Saturday afternoons, or at the brewery’s open evenings that are held once a month. The website has all the details: www.sambrooksbrewery.co.uk.