Villages brewery reveal their secret ingredient
Words Julia Jarvis
Photographs Chloe Winstanley
An essential component in creating a successful brew is disco, with a generous serving of jazz, according to brothers Archie and Louis Village, founders of the brewery Villages. And for them, dancing and brewing are mutually achievable. Musical preferences and funky chicken moves aside, their microbrewery produces on average 2,500 litres per brew. Whilst its location is rather unprepossessing – under the railway arches in Deptford – the brothers’ enthusiasm for beer and their ‘everyone’s welcome’ approach creates a convivial drinking haunt for the locals on Fridays and Saturday evenings, when the tap room is open to the public.
But it’s a brewing day for the brothers when Hole & Corner visit. The mash tun has been packed with four different types of malt that will be blended with hot water to create a mash. ‘The temperature we’re looking for is 68 degrees,’ explains Archie, the elder of the brothers, who oversees the brewing. ‘With different temperatures you extract different sugars, which will have an effect on the fermentation, the sweetness of the beer, the viscosity of the beer and lots of other things as well.’
‘I want to show you my spreadsheet,’ says Archie. It’s clear that there’s a necessity to be scrupulous with the collation of all the variables to brew a successful beer. ‘This the master sheet where we keep all the data: I’ll firstly work out what sort of sugar extraction I need from these calculations, based on the different grains, but temperature is the most important thing during the mashing process.’
The mash stage takes about an hour and created from it is the wort – a clear, sweet liquid that’s also known as ‘brewer’s breakfast’ because it tastes a bit like Ovaltine and is good for getting rid of a hangover (an understandable occupational hazard). The wort is then transferred to a kettle where it’s boiled for an hour – and it’s at this point that the first hops will be added. These hops are used to create the beer’s aroma and to kickstart the bittering process. There’s hops added towards the end of the boil too – and these create the flavour of the final beer. Once that’s finished, the liquid is cooled to the correct temperature to ferment at. A Pilsner might be cooled at 9-10 degrees say, whilst a pale ale will be fermented at a higher temperature of 18-19 degrees.
The more creative elements to beer making – the recipe development and ingredient selection – happen over a longer period of time. Villages source ingredients from all over the world, particularly from New Zealand and America. ‘This pale ale we’re making now is our 18th brew of this beer. It’s completely different now to when we began, we’ve changed everything: the body of it, the carbonation, the head retention, the colour, the haze…’ remarks Louis.
In a city where microbreweries have, in recent years, popped up in every corner, there must be a noticeable pressure to deliver a consistently good beer from the beginning? ‘When people order a pint they want the same one every time,’ says Archie. ‘For our very first test brew we wanted to make a 4.6% beer but it came out as 4.9%. We learnt a lot from it, and since then, we’ve been pretty much consistent. We’re still working on the best way to get more flavour and aroma into the beer, as well getting the body as we want it, but those things take time and that’s fine.’
The Villages brothers dabbled in careers from carpentry and travel journalism to graphic design before gravitating to brewing. Archie has a masters in brewing and distilling and both Archie and Louis worked in breweries before deciding to set up together. ‘When you pull out the first pint, you think it’s amazing and you’re blinded by the love a little bit,’ says Archie. ‘But you get more strategic and as you learn more, the fun and excitement shifts into a refinement process.’
Like with any craft, concedes Archie, ‘when you really analyse and try to refine something, it can be exhausting. So it’s really important for us to keep being excited by beer.’ They do this by introducing more complex processes like barrel ageing and working with local community garden projects. They make harvest ales and beers with locally grown hops, fruit and vegetables that are then sold by the growers in their farm shop. ‘We really do want to build something that’s sustainable,’ says Archie. ‘And we’re really interested in creating a closed loop of production,’ adds Louis.
The brewery though, is all encompassing. ‘There’s just so much work’, says Louis. ‘We do everything from the production, distribution to marketing and accounts – the whole lot! It’s massive. And we live together…’ So how do they emotionally stay afloat?
‘It’s all about making sure we are having a good time together,’ Louis maintains. ‘You have to celebrate when things go well – and when things do go wrong, ride it out with a positive mindset, good energy, disco and a lot of drinking.’