Interview with Logan Plant of Beavertown Brewery

Aliens, skeletons, beavers with gammaraypistols. Fermentation tanks with Bose headphones. There is a lot going on in the funky beavertown and Beavertown is growing even faster than the London beer scene. What makes Logan Plant a proud beaver, you can read in this interview.

Our traditional opening question: Which of your beers would you have served beer hunter Michael Jackson?

All my beers are like my babies and I love them all, so that’s a really tough one. But momentarily, I am very proud of Gamma Ray. It’s kind of our lead hero and it’s the staple that keeps us going, it being 45 percent of our production. It got voted into the top 15 pale ales in the world last year. Which is an amazing thing considering the competition in America and other countries.

Why do you think Gamma Ray is the successful one?

In the first six months of brewing we only did the 8 Ball, a rye IPA and the Smog Rocket, a Smoked Porter, which kind of complemented the barbeque. I love pale ales so when we wanted to expand, we wanted to do a juicy, tropical, almost like a juvenile fruit punch drink.
Gamma Ray came around through a couple of experiments. We imagined hops to be green and gamma rays are green and this beer being so full of green, we called the third one Gamma Ray because it be a great name. Then 18 months ago we moved into new graphics and into cans. All was just an amazing alignment of a beautiful beer, great artwork and the right packaging form. It really represents us as brewery.

So you would have served him Gamma Ray?

Actually, I’m also really proud of the beers that are coming through our barrel programme, like the barrel aged Sour Power. It’s a beer we brewed with Mikkel and Arizona Wilderness 18 months ago. Half the batch we released fresh, the other half we barrel aged for 18 months. Primary fermentation was the Dupont strain saison yeast and then it was aged on redcurrant and sour cherries and aged in the barrel with brett lambicus. It’s a really nice wild, slightly sour and beautifully fruity beer. I’m really happy with it.
There’s also a beer that we did called Dr Jekyll, which is a Belgian brett pale ale we aged on gooseberries, which is amazing as well. I would like to serve him those, just because of their complexity and the depth of character within them is amazing.
It’s tough to choose, but just for the pleasure of going into wood and some new characters coming through, it’s what I’d serve him.

Tell us a bit more about these sour beers.

It’s from a new programme we have called Tempus. Tempus obviously meaning time in Latin. So everything we do over in Tempos is all about time in the wood. And it’s basically driven by mixed cultures and wild yeast and bacteria and different forms of barrels.
We got about 150 barrels going at the moment and Sour Power is a nice example of what we are doing, I guess. We have always had barrels. Back when we started we may have had five or six whiskey barrels on the go. We’ve extended it into a new warehouse, away from the clean production side. So it’s been running properly for about 18 months, I guess.
Now there are a lot of little experiments: We’ve got a lot of beers where there’s maybe four barrels of mixed fermentation, then maybe 6 of another and 12 of another. There might be two beers with this strain or that bacteria. And hopefully in a couple of years, we’ll have a beautiful range of wild beers.

Are you going to can them?

[laughs] We just bought a new canning line and we were thinking of keeping the old one. It would be great to have it for when we do brett IPAs and brett pale ales. We could keep the hops nice and fresh in them.
But no, we are putting them into bottles. By taking them back into a lovely bottle and working back into that form is something we want to do.
But yes, for our core range and seasonal it’s all cans and kegs. That’s about a 50/50 split.

So if someone is finding a Beavertown bottle out there, then it’s not a real one?

Unless it’s a really old one, which could mean the beer is really horrible by now. Thus, unless it’s a Tempus barrel programme, it’ll be very old.

I once saw a news report that in the UK counterfeit liquor bottles is a problem. They produce a rum and then bottle it in copied Bacardi bottles and offer them to small business owners [This also seems to have happened to super expensive wines – ed]. That’s going to happen with whales in the future.

Wow, can you imagine? I don’t know about that. That’s quite scary.

Now, sometimes we ask our interview partners who they’d like to see us interview next and what their first question would be. You were “nominated” by Tom of Brew By Numbers and his question is: How do you deal with your growth?

[laughs] With amazing people surrounding me. I’d say that full stop. You cannot achieve anything on your own, I say to the team here: Everybody is a leader. Every day, everybody has to stand up and make a name for themselves, whether they are brewing the beer, packaging the beer, selling the beer or whatever. Each part is integral to Beavertown. And that comes down to the people.
It’s been a hell of a journey and I’ve been super lucky with the people I’ve come across. Long may it continue.

What are the discussions or decisions of constant growth?

In my mind, it’s knowing in my head that we can still do what we want to do, with regards to quality and consistency, and improving. That’s what we are about.
We want to grow and continuously invest in better equipment, in better procedures, in new and improving techniques, and also bring in new people who have experience. You know, me coming from a homebrew background, I’ve had a lot of nice ideas. And we’ve done really well, brewing some nice beers. So it’s about investing into the future and quality.

Would you be too big if the quality goes down?

You can never be too big as long as the quality is at a maximum and you’re still maintaining your ethos and pride in what you do.
I am very conscious that I was still brewing in my kitchen four and a half years ago. And this year we’ll do 30,000 hectolitres or something. But then I look across to America and see great breweries like Dogfish Head, Stone or Firestone Walker, breweries we look up to, who are of a big size, and are still producing amazing beers. Breweries like New Belgium are massive! But they invest in how they can maintain their quality and they keep pushing quality.

What was your last epiphany in connection with the beer industry?

Let me think. I think it’s having confidence in ourselves and the industry, knowing that we as a young brewery can continuously express ourselves in a wider market. We recently expanded our production: We doubled our capacity, maybe three months ago. Which is a massive step for us.
18 months ago we started at this location with eight 120 hectolitre tanks. We’ve got 24 now, thus it’s kind of been a multiple every six months.
Thus my epiphany within that and within the team is knowing that we can keep taking these big strong steps. And we can keep driving forward and getting better.

In the States the tap-room is such an integral part of a brewery and plays a huge part in its success. Tell us about your tap-room.

It is open on Saturdays, from 2 to 8pm. We have ten beers on tap and many specials in the fridge. We also have some great food traders that come up and we play a lot of games and music. It’s a massive part of who we are, bringing people into our environment and getting them to feel what we are about, whether it’s the beer, the music, the vibe, the people that work here.

Could you open your tap-room every day?

We tried and want to expand the tap-room on site and build an external space in the yard outside the brewery. But we just have to go through certain procedures to get there and hopefully achieve that. If not, then we still got the little space that we’ve got now.
But we are going to be opening our first bar within the next six months in London. That’ll be a great extension to our tap-room and to where people can go and drink. Drink not only the freshest Beavertown beers: We want to start to bring in beers from our friends who we’ve met from around the world. And complementing that with a really nice menu.

You already have a restaurant.

Yes, Duke’s is our birth-place and our tap-house, I guess. It’s doing amazingly well and still does the best barbeque in London. It still has a great range of beers. But the new bars will be straight up Beavertown.

Now you used the plural of bar and said “new bars”.

Yeah [laughs]. At some point, if we can afford it. We look to open one or two in London and see where it goes, I guess.

Your beers are now available in Switzerland [at Beers’n’More – ed.]. How do you pick your accounts?

It’s always been a choice of working with the right people. Being from a very small start, it was always vital to get the beers into the right hands and then pass that on to the right people, who talk about the beer in the right way and educate through the medium of the beer. I feel we’ve done a really good job so far.

You have very striking artwork. What can you tell us about it?

Some of the experimental beers that we used to do, we used to get new artists to create labels for the bottles and Nick Dwyer, the designer, was one of those. The first he did was Black Betty, which is two skeletons together. And the second one he did was Gamma Ray. As soon as I decided to go to cans, I picked up an old Gamma Ray label and wrapped it around the can and was blown away: There’s no way you would walk passed that on a shelve, without picking it up or at least noticing it.
Nick used to work as a waiter in Duke’s. I used to brew in the kitchen and Nick used to draw when he was waiting to start his shift. We became friends. All his art was based around skeletons and I am a massive fan of Day Of The Dead and psychedelic stuff. He was wafting his art under my nose every now and again, and I just felt it was perfect. Nick kind of sums up through his art what I love and what we are about as a brewery. It was one of many wonderful coincidences.

Does he have free reign when he creates the labels?

We sit down and discuss things. For example, when we were coming up with the core range for the cans, we sat there for about three or four months, just digesting ideas and coming up with different landscapes and influences.
So, there was a lot of input in the beginning. Now I occasionally drop him an idea or an inspiration. But Nick comes up with so much stuff on his own, he’s is a formidable force.

Does Jenn Merrick [Beavertown’s head brewer – ed.] have free reign?

The brewing is very much a team affair. Jenn’s come up with some great ideas and I continuously come up with ideas, as well as some others of the brewteam. We put all ideas on the table and dissect then, put them back together and come up with a beer.

How does a typical discussion go?

Something like: “I like this dessert, how can we make it into a beer?” Or “I really like this cocktail, let’s try to infuse these onto a Berliner Weisse”. It’s a pretty open debate.
Jenn came up with the Dr Jekyll & Mr. Hyde idea [the collaboration beer with To Øl – ed.], which is one yeast strain that has now become two. You’ve got the McEwan and Duval yeast strain, which we used in two separate beers. So obviously one character with split personalities; that was the case of the beer.

Is it also being debated if people should drink your beers straight from the can or out of a glass?

I think it’s all down to where you are and what you’re doing. I love drinking out of a glass, but that’s because I like to get my nose in there and give it a good ole sniff. But I also really appreciate the drinking a beer on the beach, up a mountain, on your bike or on the train. Sometimes you have to do that.

I ask because, as you probably know, The Alchemist is very insistent on people drinking Heady Topper straight from the can.

That’s interesting. But, I’ve never had a Heady Topper. I’ve had the Focal Banger, at last year’s Firestone Walker Festival, which was amazing. I was serving there and thus obviously was able to get in there quick before the crowd came in. I drunk that out of a glass and was very happy I did.

You’ve never had a Heady Topper?! [by the way, neither did the bierversuche staff, send us beer! – ed.]

No, I’ve never been lucky enough. But I’ve held one. [laughs]

But you know people.

Yeah. Maybe. It’s just one of those things. When I’ll get around to it, I will. The beer itself inspires me because of what it is and what it’s built up to be. We’ve dug into what we think is a similar yeast strain to what they probably used and we’re looking into creating our own.
We’ve never done a core IPA at Beavertown, like a straight up IPA. So we are releasing that in the summer and we’ve been messing around with the Vermont strain and a few others that we think may work really well. It inspires us even if we have never drunk it.

I hope the consequence of this interview will be that they’ll send you a case.

[laughs] That would be nice. I should actually just reach out to him: I’ve got his card and I know he’s a lovely guy. I looked at interviews with him on YouTube.

Are you still a beer hunter or have you ever been?

I was obsessed from the age of twenty. Wherever I was travelling, I would always be sampling beer, taking notes. Nowadays, I don’t get out much other than supporting Beavertown. But wherever I am, I’m always after finding new beers.

You’ll be at the Craft Beer Conference, the Copenhagen Beer Celebration. You just came back from the Hunahpu Festival, you’ll be at the Tilquin Festival. That’s not the worst kind of travelling.

Pierre was really kind to invite us to serve our beers at his Tilquin Festival, which is amazing! But when we got the invitation, I’ve already booked my flight to the US. Now another couple of our brewers are very, very happy to be going and serving our beers there.

How was the Hunahpu Day?

I was out there for three days. It was a hell of an experience: 160 breweries, 400 beers and sunshine. It was mammoth!
But they pulled it off. It was in a lovely park at the river in Tampa and the weather was 80°F (27°C). We took a couple of really nice beers that went down really well. I was a very proud beaver.

160 breweries?! That’s too much. I am already scared of the 70 breweries that’ll be at this year’s CBC.

Oh really, is that right? I’ve only been the last couple of years and what can I say, it’s a very popular event.
I love those guys, I really love working with them. Mikkel’s a great guy and he’s got a great team there as well.

Do you know which beers you’re going to bring this year?

Not off the top of my head. But we’ll bring the barrel aged Sour Power.

How many festivals do you do in a year?

I don’t know. We are very lucky in the festivals we are invited to. To me the whole thing about the Craft Beer Movement is that it’s kind of a fraternity. It’s a group of people, men and women, who get together to create something and make it better. When those people are putting festivals on and inviting us, we just want to support what we can, be there and be with them.
But how many? There’s a few in the US we are going to, like we went to Tampa, we’re going to Firestone, we are going to Stone’s celebration in August and then Dogfish Head got a big event in September.
I really feel like I’m living a dream, which is very humbling. Now I get to make notes on all these beers [laughs].

You’re writing notes down or you’re secretly on Ratebeer and Untappd?

No, I just have a little notebook. I really appreciate those sites, BeerAdvocate, Ratebeer, Untappd. Any love we get from those guys is greatly appreciated. But I try not to go on them. I just try to keep my head down and do as best as we can.

The other day I read a blog post on the Food And Wine website about Heavy Metal brewers. What would be one way to incorporate music into beer or how would you do it?

Music and beer goes wonderfully hand in hand. Whenever I listen to Heavy Metal, Hard Rock or Rock, I’m having a good time. And when I can have a beer in my hand whilst doing that, it’d make it an absolutely amazing time. Thus I totally get that.
We also play our fermenters all sorts of music. I think it’s really good for the beer. Sometimes you play a bit of Black Sabbath or Metallica or Alice In Chains or whatever and it makes good beer.

Now here I find it unfortunate that I talk to you on the phone, because seeing your face would probably tell me if you’re just yanking my chain.

No, no, I’m serious! [laughs]
We play music throughout the day down in the brewery and I think that makes a big difference for the beer.

I wonder what’s the debate on the playlist like. But I actually read about someone that plays Wu-Tang to his fermenters.

Well, there you go! We want to get the biggest headphones in the world, wrap them around one of our fermenters and make the hardest, darkest beer ever [laughs]. We need to work with someone like Bose to get some awesome headphones to do that.

Now let us wrap this up with another question we ask everybody: Name five beers people should drink before they die.

Oh crums. Now that’s a tough one off the top of my head. I don’t know if I can name five that I can stand by. But let’s say, beers I’ve had within the last twelve months:
Focal Banger from The Alchemist was delicious. Oude Quetsche Tilquin à l’Ancienne avec Prunes de Namur, which was aged on Belgian plums, was immense.
As an undeniably crushable beer, something like Pivo Pils by Firestone Walker. It is a great example of a pale ale/pils crossover, which I think is a great style of beer. And we’re going to brew something similar to that in the summer and releasing it into our core range.
And then Fort Point Pale Ale Double Dry Hopped by Trillium and Sanctification by Russian River.

What is in your fridge at home right now?

It’s full of Beavertown. There’s lot of Skull King, which is a new fresh Double IPA that we’ve just released. Then there’s also the collaboration we’ve done with Brekeriet and Beerbliotek in Sweden, called Lovechild. That’s a mixed fermentation beer.
But you know, I think there’s a few ciders in there as well. I’ve got some funky ciders from Oliver’s, which is a great cidery in the UK.

This interview was done on 17 March 2016 by phone.

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