Blue Brick Café on Fellbrigg Road was packed with tipsy vegans last Thursday.
The Dulwich Vegans, a branch of the South London Vegan Society with over 300 members, invited Andy Skene from Dominion Brewery Company and Pitfield Brewery to talk about vegan alcohol: its ingredients, its brewing process, and, of course, its flavor. He brought four beers: Eco Warrior, Red Ale, 1850 London Porter and Sovereign IPA, each brewed organically.
The Canadian was very passionate about brewing beer. Words like “wort,” “fermentation,” “sturgeon” and “malt” echoed in the cozy café. Luckily, Andy was keen to explain what these words meant to the casual drinkers there who don’t think much about the origin of their beer.
Beer is made of four ingredients: malted barley, water, hops and yeast. Sometimes cane sugar is added as well. The malts are a kind of cereal grain which Andy let us sample. There was a pale malt, a chocolate and coffee malt, and a caramel malt. Each at first tasted like nothing, then, if stored in the cheek for long enough, changed flavor subtly. Thomas Micklewright, who led the Dulwich Vegans meeting, said, “I can’t explain it. It’s like magic.” These malts are part of what flavor beer.
There are also hops, which Andy passed around in a large Tesco bag. Hops are female flowers used as a flavoring and stability agent in beer; they give beer its tangy flavor. Andy instructed us to smell the bag – a very strong, sometimes citric smell – and then to rub a handful of hops between two palms, making them sticky and smelly. While many thought the smell was too strong, I enjoyed the residual aroma on my hands.
However, these ingredients are found in non-organic beers as well. So what makes some beer organic, and some beer not? Well, what many don’t know is that most beers are vegan, in that they’re filtered without the need for animal products. However, British cask ale producers don’t filter the beer at the end of the production process, and thus require finings, such as egg whites, blood, milk and fish swim bladders, to clear the beer of its cloudy appearance and yeasty flavor. Pitfield Brewery uses dehydrated yeast, which ferments and then drops completely out, without the need for any finings.
While Andy Skene could clearly talk about beer all day, soon people were clamoring to try some. We opened the beer and dove in, trying a small cup of each kind. Andy Skene had us try the beer in an order which made the successive beer stronger and darker than the last. The Sovereign IPA, the last beer I tried, was 7%, and Andy rattled us with a story of his first Canadian beer, which mixed Canadian and British roots and was 9%. Everyone whistled in disbelief at the thought.
While vegan beer is fairly common, there’s an iPod app that will identify whether the beer you’re holding is organic or not right away. It’s called Barnivore: Your Vegan Beer, Wine and Liquor Guide. Any beer bought from Pitfield’s Brewery will be organic, and those are served at the Duke of Cambridge in Battersea and are sold by the bottle at The City Beverage on Old Street in Shoreditch.
Even though I wasn’t a vegan, I had a great time learning about veganism and beer, and listening to Thomas Micklewright talk about Dulwich Vegans. Veganism is everywhere, and more and more people are becoming passionate about it. At the Brighton Veg Fest last weekend, there were allegedly over 17,000 visitors.
Dulwich Vegans reaches out to South London residents to promote veganism. They now use Google Maps to network with local businesses and schools to promote meat-free days, where one would go one full day without meat because “it is healthier for humans, lighter on the environment, and improves animal welfare,” according to their website. The group was also just offered a grant, but is having trouble deciding how to use it.
If anyone has any questions about veganism, has an idea for how to spend the grant on a project or just wants to connect with a friendly and open group, send Dulwich Vegans a message on their Facebook, email them here, visit their website or follow them on Twitter.