“Excuse me, I’m looking for Dockley Road Industrial Estate, Arch 11?”
It’s the exhausted drooping eyes and permanent frowns set into the chiselled haggard faces of manual labourers that silently size me up. They pause to drag on their smokes, and in unison raise their fingers in theatrically slow motion to point my way in the proper direction. Not a word is uttered. Their attention slowly descend back down to their cigarettes. I make a hasty departure.
The silent directions lead to a miniaturised entrance door humbly accompanied by a small sign. I step through into a bee’s hive of activity and Evin O’Riordain turns to greet me. Beyond him, I spy his team of “labourers” painting a very different picture of work. In fact, they’re trussed in wellies, busy with their drinks. But not in relaxation. Yes, with occasional grins being shot from one to another, they’re crafting beer at this here address.
So first things first when it comes to English hospitality: “Are you thirsty?” Tea or coffee are the options I’m expecting but then – who am I kidding? – I’ve just crossed the threshold into The Kernel Brewery. Evin claims they do start the day with coffee but I must have missed the opening act. With a bottle pulled out of a cardboard box and poured into a beer glass, I’m treated to a frighteningly early drink before a personal tour of the underbelly of the railroad vaults that is the brewery.
Which is obviously no posh design office nor a carpeted cubicle workspace. Cardboard boxes, grain sacks, bottling robots, kegs, machines, gleaming tanks, tubes and chutes, rubber hoses, sparkling glasses, and beer samples shape the jagged interior edges of the brew house. Walking through, I cannot help but notice the brightly coloured children’s toys racked up on the walls like trophies. Evin’s only and cryptic explanation is: “they keep every day exciting and unique.”
But how did all this come about? Speaking on himself, Evin initially holds back: “We are mere brewers, and not good with words.” But eventually offers: “I was many things before being a brewer. Originally I was a tiny infant, like most of us. Got older. More recently I attempted to write a PhD on Samuel Beckett, and yes, sold cheese also.” What I also discovered is that he’s spent some unknown amount of time in New York teaching them how to look after and sell cheese.
“And they taught me about what beer could be.”
With that knowledge he returned to the UK to set up shop. The beginnings of the self-taught brewery – hand-filling and hand-capping the beers – were no doubt laced with hard labour and excitement. Today, Evin has kept that adventurous spirit alive in the brewery: “We don’t have any ordinary days, as far as possible. It helps to keep everything distinct and unique…keeps us feeling alive.” And this idea pervades even into the drinks. Perhaps seeing themselves more as alchemists, The Kernel Brewery strives to make each beer, a unique potion. And The Independent rumours these beers to be drunk in some of London’s most fashionable restaurants and drawing attention from ale enthusiasts the world over.
But the production of these formulas is not without cost. If asked the details of our favourite hangout spot, most of us might favour a pub or some such place after a nine to six. But for this one designer of beers, he admits to rarely enjoying that luxury at all. After all, Evin O’Riordain is the man behind the lovely cold creations from The Kernel Brewery that we step out into the nights to swig down. Should I return to London again, I’ll be selecting drink destinations based on who’s serving The Kernel Brewery.