Way back in 2000 was around the time I recall visiting Zero Degrees brewery in Blackheath, on the edge of London, after its creation by some pioneering nuts. It was only recently that I made a (seriously belated) return visit.
So much water has passed through the mash tun since then that the scene today is almost unrecognisable to the brewing wasteland back then. There has been a renaissance in brewing in London and Zero Degrees should not be forgotten about in the story. Its beers were among the first decent keg ales around.
They helped give keg beer a good name – much to the chagrin of CAMRA – for the first time in living memory. It was a delight to sample versions of Continental-style beers – Pilsners, wheat beers, red ales, lagers etcetera – that could only really be found overseas.
Returning to the scene of my early tasting of ‘decent keg’ that I’d enjoyed so much all those years back was both enjoyable and odd in equal measures. The former because the beers in the main remain enjoyable and the latter because so much has changed around Zero Degrees. The reality is that it is inevitably playing catch-up to some extent as the young brewing upstarts now set the pace.
The brew house aspect of Zero Degrees looks rather similar to my first visit (as much as my memory holds up that is) but the rest of the room is very different, with its mish-mash of elements that are rather like a Jackson Pollock creation in 3D.
The core beers are certainly reminiscent of the early days with a Pilsner, Pale Ale, Wheat Ale, and a Black Lager all present. A nod to the present scene can be seen with the Mango beer, which is refreshing I have to admit, but the fact it contains mango concentrate lets it down.
What does excite though is the #FirstSips initiative that has been recently introduced. This involves speciality beers – that are produced by each of the four Zero Degrees outlets (Blackheath, Bristol, Cardiff and Reading) each month – being distributed between each other.
Each month four new brews are introduced (that run to 1,000 litres each) and which are available until the batch runs out. On my return visit (in November) Marzen Oktoberfest had run out but Amber Lager, IPL, Belgian Pale and Marietto’s Dunkel were still featured as the #FirstSips beers on offer.
By running such an initiative the Zero Degrees brewpub is very much following the trend among small brewers to produce a constant stream of new beers, while also adhering to the need for a bar to offer a great variety of beers, and in addition it is also highlighting that 17 years on the pioneering operator still remains relevant and can on its day pump out some beers as good as the rest of them.
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider