A Matter of Taste – A Touch of Belgium in East London

Solvay Society is no ordinary brewery. Take the name for instance. It comes from the physics conferences that were set up by Ernest Solvay, the most famous of which was in 1927 when 17 of the 23 attendees had, or were to gain, Nobel prizes. The chemicals company which Ernest founded with his brother still exists today.

The brewery’s owner, Roman Hochuli, is a little unusual too. He is a physicist by training (which explains the brewery’s name) and he was doing a post doctorate at University College London before the brewing bug finally took over completely. Physics is certainly in the DNA of this brewery and its influence is even in the naming of each of the beers, from Exotic Physics and Structure of Matter to Tritium (an isotope of hydrogen) and Coulomb (an electrical charge).

Roman’s unusual background also extends to his heritage; his mother is from Brazil, his father from Switzerland and Roman was born and brought up in Belgium. The latter uncovers the final link in the brewery puzzle; all of the beers that Roman brews have a Belgian influence.

Roman behind the Bar

The forming and development of the Solvay Society has been quite a journey. Brewing first took place in the cellar of the Warrant Officer pub in Walthamstow but, as Roman explained, “Every beer I produced there had an infection.” Consequently, a move was in order and the next stop was the Hops and Glory in Essex Road where Roman could brew in batches of 50 to 100 litres which allowed him to develop his core range. The need to expand then took the brewery to Newbury Park, to take over the former home of the Ha’Penny Brewery which had closed the same year in which Solvay Society were set up. Roman took possession of the brewery in 2016, complete with the famous white peacocks who wander the site and whom Ha’Penny always had problems keeping away from the malt store! The brewery is on an old farm which, despite being on the Central Line, is quite a way out of London. Accordingly the next initiative was to open a tap room to bring the beer closer to London’s drinkers. This can be found in railway arches near Leyton tube. Roman commented, “We got the keys in February and it took about two months to kit it out. We needed to decorate and put in cold storage for the beer. At the moment, although we are in a high residential area, only a few of our customers are currently from the local community. We do get a few people attending Leyton Orient games though.”

Solvay Society’s beer is in KeyKegs (80%) and bottles; most are unfined and suitable for vegans. All the bottles are hand filled and hand labelled. Like most brewers, Roman is continuing to experiment with his beer range: “I want to change people’s perception of Belgian Beer over here. Not all of it needs to be strong.” Two examples of this are Minimise, described as a Table Saison at only 3.2% ABV and Superposition, a wheat beer/session IPA at 3.8% ABV. The latter was his best selling beer this summer. The name is based on Schrodinger’s Cat, in that it’s neither one thing nor the other! Other additions are barrel aged beers, which tend to be at the other end of the alcohol spectrum, such as the strong Belgian pale, Aurum, at 12% ABV.

But whatever strength of beer you like to drink, a visit to Solvay’s Society’s Tap Room for a taste of Belgium is rewarding and the tube is very much cheaper than Eurostar! It is open every Thursday and Friday 4 to 11pm and Saturday noon to 11pm with an occasional Sunday; see: www.solvaysociety.com.