Beer was what made Jasper Cuppaidge a Londoner. The Australian was in the British capital on his way home from a surfing holiday in Mexico but missed his flight after meeting his mates in the pub and drinking too much. A few days later, he tried again – and the same thing happened.
About 15 years on, he’s the man behind Camden Town Brewery and a key figure in the city’s remarkable brewing renaissance.
The Brisbane native worked his way up from the bottom – collecting glasses at the Westbourne pub in Notting Hill, the place that made him miss those flights.
‘‘That’s where it all started,’’ he says. ‘‘That’s why I never went home. I loved it.’’
Now he runs the Camden Town Brewery, a modern operation housed in a row of railway arches in north London. Camden’s beers can be found in more than 250 pubs and restaurants throughout London, putting them at the forefront of a craft-beer movement that has raised the standard of beer in the city.
Cuppaidge, 37, launched Camden Town in 2010, with a little financial help from three friends who ran the Barworks chain of pubs in London, after five years in charge at the Horseshoe pub in Hampstead. It was here he first made beer, although brewing is in his blood.
His grandfather, Laurie McLaughlin, ran McLaughlin’s Brewery in Rockhampton, Queensland. When he died, Cuppaidge’s mother decided to sell.
‘‘She couldn’t do anything with it,’’ Cuppaidge says. ‘‘She sold it and moved to London. I reincarnated it in the basement of the Horseshoe.’’
His first beer – a cask ale, the traditional British drop served by hand pump – sold well, but it was his customers’ preference for beers such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, served cold and carbonated, that convinced him it was time to bring something new to the market.
Camden’s beers are kegged – served chilled under pressure. This is potentially controversial, given many British drinkers’ devotion to cask ale. The beers, which include four regulars (such as Hells, a beautifully balanced lager, and Camden Ink, a thick, coffee-tinged stout) and any number of occasional brews, have nonetheless become popular. Camden now produces four times as much beer – 10,000 hectolitres a year – as it did when it began.
Cuppaidge says his Australian heritage shines through in the beer.
‘‘There’s definitely something Australian in what we do. We love carbonation, we love cold. We also like beers that are drinkable and sessionable so you can drink them on a hot day – we haven’t followed the American [craft brewers] in terms of making very strong beer.’’
Three more of Camden’s brewers are Australian. Brent Soutar and Renn Blackman are from Melbourne and Ben Landsberry, originally from NSW, has worked at Little Creatures in Fremantle, Western Australia.
‘‘The Australian market is really interesting,’’ Cuppaidge says. ‘‘They don’t have the tradition so they don’t have so much in front of them [unlike new British brewers].
One brewery I really like is Byron Bay’s Stone & Wood. Actually, we’re trying to export beers to Australia. My mum would like me to send some there so I’d come home more often ... She’s sent me a calendar of all the craft-beer weeks.’’
These days, London can feel like a full-time craft-beer festival. More new pubs now offer enormous beer selections, while barely a month goes by without another brewery opening. London has about 30 now, with plenty more in the pipeline.
Cuppaidge also enthuses about the gastropub movement, where food is as important as drink, which began about the time he came to London. Beer, he says, is the final piece in the jigsaw following this food revolution.
‘‘When I got here, cask ale was going through a massive decline,’’ he says.
‘‘I wasn’t part of the cask movement. What Iwas seeing was lots of American influence coming here – breweries like Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn – and the Belgian beer.
‘‘But in a lot of pubs, there was a disconnection between beer and quality. It was just for consuming. The Westbourne had six taps of Stella Artois because that was the cool beer. It was niche, it was sexy – it showed how bad the industry was here.’’
The scene is still changing. Camden Town has outgrown its home and is seeking a new site where, Cuppaidge says, the public will be welcome in the same way they are at Little Creatures in Perth or the Stone brewery in San Diego – part of the brewery will house a bar-restaurant. It would also allow Camden to brew 10 times as much beer as it does now.
‘‘I’m so surprised with how much success we’ve had,’’ Cuppaidge says. ‘‘It’s hard work to try and do what we’re doing but it’s satisfying. We’ve got a nice rate of expansion.
Jasper’s London bar picks
Terroirs, Covent Garden
Natural wines, incredible food and simple philosophy, done with purity.
Best burger in town — beers and burgers, perfect match.
The Exmouth Arms, Farringdon
The first beer bar in the city where you can drink good beer and not feel like a beer geek.
Owner Russell Norman is the one to watch in this city. Everything he does is quality, from food to service.
Caravan Restaurant and Bar, Kings Cross
Owners Chris Ammerman and Miles Kirby are great – calculated but crazy. Their new gaff in Kings Cross is awesome.
The Horseshoe, Hampstead
My place. The farms of Suffolk and boats of Cornwall supply us with the best this country has to offer.