Utopian Brewing – a different approach to lager

Utopian Brewing may not be a name that is on every Londoner’s lips but there are links to the capital and, before the lockdown, their beers could be found in seven bars and a restaurant mainly in central London.

Utopian Brewing had originally planned to be based in south west London, at Merton Abbey Mills on the banks of the River Wandle. The intention was to locate the brewery in a pub with a visitor centre and tap room but, after eight months of trying to get planning permission, they gave up and decided to look further afield. Devon was chosen because one of the founders, Richard Archer, has family connections to the area and so it was there that Utopian Brewing was founded in 2017. Richard has no regrets: “In retrospect, it worked out very well for us as we have much more space, which is important for brewing lager, and it will be much easier to do the sustainability things we plan to do down here than in south west London. It’s cheaper too, of course, but the real added bonus is that we all get the quality of life benefit of living and working in such a beautiful part of the world.”

Brewing started in 2018, using brand new kit designed specifically brewing lager style beers. It’s not unusual for breweries to concentrate on lager style beers; Signal and Bohem are two such in London but what makes Utopian Brewing unusual is that they pride themselves on using both British malt and hops rather than using imported ingredients. Their website explains their ethos: ‘We are proud to use only British whole grain malts and hops in our brews. British growers produce over 30 different hops with a huge range of interesting flavours and character. UK maltsters also create a wide range of malts from British grown barley, wheat and ryes, producing a huge range of taste and colour options’.

Utopian currently brew four core beers: Pilsner, Lager (in both filtered and unfiltered versions) and a Dark Lager. The Dark Lager will appeal to those with a sweeter tooth and the Unfiltered Lager recently won a bronze medal at SIBA’s national judging; my favourite however was their Pilsner. This is a Czech influenced beer using Jester hops; it is well balanced with lemon and biscuit sweetness overlaid with an increasing bitterness.

As well as top quality ingredients, the track record of head brewer, Jeremy Swainson also ensures top quality. Jeremy studied for his Brew and Maltmaster qualification at the Doemans Academy in Munich, graduating top of his year. He then spent some time with Camden Brewery, where he managed a team of six brewers and was involved in the commissioning of their new brewery in Enfield. Richard explained, “Jeremy had already left Camden when we hooked up and was back in Germany, where he trained, planning his next move. He didn’t have any links down here but he loves the outdoor life and so when he came down to visit our brewery on a farm, with Dartmoor in the background, it made my job a lot easier getting him on board. He enjoyed Camden but just didn’t like living in the city.”

So what of the future? Sustainability seems to be a key driver for Utopian. Of course, using all British ingredients reduces the product miles and all of their packaging is recyclable but they are also planning to install solar panels and a bio waste water plant. To finish with a quote: ‘We have an absolute ambition to become carbon neutral’. Not a bad goal whilst producing some very drinkable beer at the same time!
You can buy their beer online from their website.

TASTING NOTES

Utopian British Pilsner (4.4% ABV) – Czech influenced beer using Jester hops. Rich gold in colour with a sherbet lemon and biscuit nose and a sweet flavour with some faint honey notes. These are well balanced by an increasing lingering bitterness. The finish has some initial spicy hops that fade. Smooth, clean and easy drinking.

Utopian Unfiltered British Lager (4.7% ABV) – hazy golden beer influenced by the Bavarian Helles style. Sweet nose with a hint of fruits. Flavour is bready, with a soft lemon curd sweetness which continues into the bitter finish with a little spicy hoppiness.

Utopian Filtered British Lager (4.7% ABV) – same recipe as the unfiltered version. The filtering gives the perception of a slightly sweeter beer as the lemon character is reduced. There is still a spicy, peppery finish which lingers with the dryish bitterness. Easy drinking.

Utopian Dark Lager (5.4%) – golden brown with a slight haze. Has an aroma of caramel and a little fruit. Smooth mouthfeel with notes of caramelised orange, sweet fudge and hazelnuts. The sweetness remains in the dry finish with a hint of spicy hop and some gentle bitterness. Utopian’s interpretation of Bavarian Dunkel.

Christine Cryne