Wimbledon Brewery is fortunate in not only having a committed owner, who has had the necessary resources to create something of substance, but to also have the services of Derek Prentice.
As London continues its brewing renaissance through an explosion of new craft breweries setting up shop Prentice is one of the few people who have done time at some of the capital’s key breweries of the modern era.
Truman’s, Young’s and Fuller’s have all benefited from his skills since he joined the industry in the late 1960s. Although he recently left Fuller’s upon retirement there was no way he was going to miss out on the revolution that is currently taking place in London and the rest of the UK.
Especially as he regards the present situation as the most exciting he has experienced in his almost 50 years of brewing. On a recent visit to Wimbledon Brewery Prentice was as enthusiastic as ever: “This is the most exciting time in brewing since I started in 1968. It’s mainly because of consumers as well as the nature of brewing and beers today.”
He believes it is the younger generation’s desire to explore and find new things – in order to establish their own niche – that is fuelling the growth of new breweries and demand for new beers. “The new generation [of drinkers] think lager is bland from the multi-national brewers and they want to establish their own culture.”
This rejuvenation in brewing, combined with the general inability of retired brewers to simply stop making beer, led Prentice to take on a variety of consulting roles with younger breweries before alighting at Wimbledon Brewery following his departure from Fuller’s.
After doing some consulting work with owner Mark Gordon, formerly a City banker, he has since become a founding partner of Wimbledon Brewery and helped build the brew-house. “Mark invited me to join the team and although I’m trying to cut down the amount of time spent at the brewery it is such a joy to have been able to set it up – and introduce some novel elements – as well as bringing on some young brewers,” he explains.
These elements include: mixing automation with manual activities in the production process; adapting the coppers to his specification including fitting China man’s hats; designing a bespoke mini hop-back; providing easy access to the coppers for painless cleaning out; and the installation of a boiler that he jokes took a decent chunk of Gordon’s budget.
The first beer to come out of the Prentice-designed brew house was the pale ale Common. The name harks back to Young’s Ordinary and its flavour components highlight how the beers produced so far have aspects taken from the ales he has helped brew in the past.
“There are bits of Truman’s in Common as well as Young’s and Fuller’s with Maris Otter, Cara Gold and light crystal malts used. It’s the barley that makes all the difference at low strength,” says Prentice.
Next up was Tower – a 4.5% special pale ale – and then Quartermaine IPA (named after the owner of the original Wimbledon Brewery that burned down in 1889) coming in cask at 5.8%.
“This is based on my memory of PA1 Export pale ale from Truman’s. I had one of the last casks brought down from Burton for my 21st birthday that was served in a pub in London. In 1971 Truman’s was closed down and all production shifted to London,” he recalls.
Although Prentice says he could easily just brew cask ale with British ingredients at Wimbledon he recognises the desire from drinkers for a broad variety of beers and more recent output has included Gold Lager at 4.8% served in bottle and keg and Bravo American Pale Ale at 5.5% that uses US hop Bravo and is distributed in can, bottle and keg.
“I like new world hops when they are used well. We are focused on drinkability and quality. Whether it is British or US style beers or others it is all about the quality,” says Prentice, before he ponders on the reason that he finds it difficult to call it a day in the brewing industry.
“Whenever people say they like one of my beers, that’s what I like and that’s why I brew.”
For drinkers in London it must be hoped that long may his love affair with making beer continue.