A few years ago when I was a budding architect and not a drinker and writer about beer (although I found that the influence of hops on my designs lent a certain piquant eccentricity to my work. By the way, my drinking venue of choice back then was the incredible Miracle of Science, run by the great Matt Curtis..), I ran across a quote which I can’t attribute to anyone:
The problem with minimalist architecture is that it is only for the rich as you need a second home to put your shit.
With something so pure as “minimaltecture,” there is no space to infuse it with anything but empty rhetoric. Unlike a Beckett play, “minimaltecture” is only hygienic and can inspire only in its ridiculousness. And it is also unlike minimalist beers, which in fact can hold a razor’s edge sharpness on the boundaries of innovation while at the same time referencing (and holding dear) a thousand years of brewing history.
Recently, we reviewed some of the beers by Brew By Numbers and began to look at “Linnaean” methods of labelling and category versus the “Allegoric”, the realm of penitent nostalgia, whether it be steam beer, re-discovered recipes, or 19th century typography and design of the labels. In addition to the Linnean, there is also the pure minimalism, opitimised by Crate Brewery.
Crate Brewery is located in the Hackney area of London in an old factory called the White Building. East London used to be a rather tough area of town, but a large number of older warehouse buildings existed and, per norm, the artistic/design communities in London moved in first, to be quickly followed by the developers and the gentry. Crate Brewery has set up an oasis that simultaneously preserves the edge while providing great food and beer for those in the know.
Crate was founded by two brothers, Tom and Jess Seaton, and Neil Hinchley. Tom and Jess had a café nearby and wanted to expand. Neil was tired of radio and was hungry/thirsty. All have been long time residents of Hackney Wick and when the White Building became available, a concept was born. Mr. Seaton Sr. inspired the brewing bug in Tom and Jess and Mrs. Seaton was pizza heir, editing a list of 25 pizzas to a manageable 5.
Let’s deal with the beer for now.
Crate’s minimalist sensibility is evident in their labeling, which are plain white wrappers on standard brown bottles with the most spare of information:
– The label (Crate)
– A simple pattern relatable to the style
– The style
You couldn’t ask for more because any extra would be hyperbole. In contrast, BBNo has several species under each genus, where as Crate seems to be looking for the archetype of style. I was recently sent a sampler pack of their entire range:
– I. P. A.
That pretty much covers all required styles (with the exception of pils). And they even have the confidence to call one the Best (yes, I know it is a bitters. But it is the best…).
To begin, the Lager. Personally, I find lager (and pils) the least compelling of any beer style, but the Crate version is excellent. Slightly darker than your pedestrian lager, it has the effervescence that screams drunk afternoons at Twickenham or Lord’s but maintains a tasteful edge. A highly recommended lager.
The Golden, which should be a stand out given the taste in their other beers, was very aromatic and yeasty. Although some of the caramel hints from the Best were there, the Golden was sweeter. I have done a bit of research on others opinion on this and it seems that the Golden seems to be struck with a quality issue, producing an astringency that may indicate a bit too long on the yeast.
I. P. A.
The IPA is the stand out with all of the caramel, fruitiness, and bread-iness (is that a word? my spell check doesn’t think so…) that is pulled from the other styles. Although thin on the head, enjoyable on a frequent basis.
As a devotee of porters and stouts (“All stouts are porters but not all porters are stouts.”), my interest was peaked with the Create stout. Although it is a little light on the ABV (I mean, it’s called a stout for a reason), the coffee and chocolate tones are complemented by an oily anise flavour. I found this to be the more interesting of all of the beers.
On a final note, the Cider was cider. Cool and refreshing, it did its job. Others have found it exceptional but not being an aficionado, I am influenced by the frequent reference to Somerset apples. Apparently, they are the bee’s knees.
The presentation of the beer and the location of Crate Brewery holds a great appeal to me. From a strategic standpoint, it seems they would like to the best of a particular style, a typical style, but a flavour them of caramel sweetness underlies much of what they do. For some style, this works; for others, it falls down, but I would recommend visiting there fantastic location in Hackney Wicks. It is often crowded, brimming over with mustachioed and tattooed hipsters, sipping a variety of beers while the balmy night sky of London drifts onto the River Lee amongst the canoes. In regards to the pizza, it is generally very good, but for those so versed in the hospitality industry, Crate seems to lack the fundamental quality of service, with queues of an hour for pizza not unheard of. Although my experience was reasonable, I did wait a while for the most simple of meals. Fix this and Crate fixes a whole host of issues and I still stand by the fact that the location is exceptional.