WLS is a black jaggery IPA I brewed for a collaborative installation at WestLane South gallery in Bermonsey, London. It all started with a little trip down the big smoke with a few bottles of TEA…. You can read about the beer under the beers section. Here’s a transcript of an interview I did with the gallery about the beer and the installation and the thinking behind it. Also some nice photos :)…….
WLS : So we generally start these things with a welcome, so welcome to WestLane South
FCBA : Thank you
WLS : So you are quite a busy man to pin down
FCBA : I’m very busy, I have been brewing a lot a beer. I have actually been brewing a beer for the IMBC – independent Manchester beer (and stuff) convention.
WLS : Wow that’s great another show so soon ! Your star’s definitely in the ascendancy ! Joking aside is this another new beer?
FCBA : Yes another collaboration if you like, there is some detail here if people are interested http://www.indymanbeercon.co.uk
WLS : Wow a sort of beer fair if you like then.
FCBA : Laughs , yes something like that.
WLS : Can you tell us a bit about the origins of the beer you made for WestLane
FCBA : Well it’s a black jaggery IPA, which is a bit of an Oxymoron really as IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale
WLS : That’s true because from where we are sitting WLS is very dark
FCBA : Yes
WLS : So what’s that about then ?
FCBA : As I said it’s a black IPA, it’s brewed to the style of an IPA and then made dark by the addition of roasted barley. To make any beer darker you add roasted barley or varying degrees of toasted barley, and in that way you’ll get a taste and a colour. The idea with an black IPA is to change the colour and not the taste. I think American craft brewers were the first to make a black IPA
WLS : So can we ask just a bit about the history of the term IPA, it’s not something we know about
FCBA : Well IPA , Indian Pale Ales were made for export to India when there was a British Empire
WLS : Ok
FCBA : And they were all strong pale ales because they were put in casks and transported to India; they needed to be a good strong beer in order to survive the journey. The thing that really defines an IPA , to help them make that journey , was the addition of lots and lots and lots of hops.
WLS : Why so many hops, what is the significance of the lots and lots ?
FCBA : Well because hops have a lot of preservative qualities and lots of antiseptic qualities, all these factors helped the beer survive that journey and kept them well. So hence the original IPA’s were all strong hoppy beers.
WLS : Why then with all those heavy preservatives going in it, why use the term pale, when you think of the term pale it does’nt seem a strong word?
FCBA : Oh because hops don’t add any colour, they don’t effect the colouration of the beer.
WLS : So where does the ‘black’ come into it , what are the origins of that.
FCBA : The black IPA being a contradiction ?
WLS : Yes
FCBA : That’s something that the American brewers started off, the IPA had a huge renaissance with brewers in the US , they changed it by using it by using American hops, hops with different characteristics and different flavours, then you had this thing called an ‘American IPA’, then after that they pushed on and along came an American black IPA.
WLS : So is that what we have here , a black American IPA
FCBA : Not quite, what I have done is make a black IPA that is kind of influenced by the Americans so as you can’t ignore that attribute , but I have also put a load of jaggery in there too.
WLS : What is Jaggery ?
FCBA : That’s something that has come for the opposite direction, it’s from India and it’s unrefined palm sugar, the kind that you get from Indian grocery stores. It’s an unrefined palm sugar that comes in a block the shape of a FEZ,
WLS : FEZ ?!
FCBA : Yes you know Tommy Cooper, and it tastes fantastic
WLS : The sugar
FCBA : Yes
WLS : And the beer ?
FCBA : Well you tell me
WLS : Yes !
FCBA : Oh and the other thing I put in it was some Fenugreek
WLS : What’s that ?
FCBA : That’s a spice, a seed also associated with Indian food. It has a very maple like taste, they use it in artificial maple syrup to give it that extra mapley type flavour
WLS : Is maple syrup American ?
FCBA : Well yes Canadian really
FCBA : So you see the ingredients, everything that goes into it are all bouncing around these continents, relating to the history and origins of IPA and I find that really interesting, that is what I wanted to do for WLS, especially with your origins being in Bermondsey, with its history of the docks and the wharves, ‘Bombay Court’ and ‘East India Court‘
WLS : Aha ! So its a site specific installation in a bottle really, we like it !
FCBA : Absolutely
WLS : Can we ask, how did we end up doing this project with you ?
FCBA : Well I took your gallery out
WLS : Hey we are not a gallery, we are a proportion of undefined space !
FCBA : OK well I took your ‘proportion of undefined space’ out and got you all drunk and when I left 2 days later the seeds had been sown.
WLS : What the Fenugreek seeds !
FCBA : Laughs
WLS : Wow is that how it happened , is that how you bypassed our curatorial team, wonderful stuff. I do remember someone vaguely muttering something about the importance of the 3 letters, WLS, but thought that surely could not be it ?
FCBA : Ha, yes all of my beers have a 3 letter name, for example Hop was the first beer I designed , then came Tea, and the 3rd beer was Ava
WLS : Ava ? that’s a strange name for a beer
FCBA : It’s named after my daughter, it’s a beautiful hoppy blond, just like her !
WLS : Oh well we love that, so that’s why WLS worked for you.
FCBA : Yes , 3 letters, exactly
WLS : Just moving away from the actual beer for a moment, in the past I know you worked as a practicing artist can you say something about that and about this transition that you’ve made, we wonder if that training you have as an artist has resonated somewhere ?
FCBA : I haven’t been an artist for a long time, but I have always done a creative job I have been a photographer, a graphic artist and then 10 years ago I opened my first cafe, then a restaurant, and now a brewery.
WLS : I think what we’re getting at is if you think that initial training you undertook as an artist has resonated down the line in the decisions that you have made; in the things that you do and the way you construct the concrete reality of the things that you want to deliver ? It seems to us that you have a very defined vision of what you want to deliver
FCBA : Yes absolutely, my number 1 philosophy is to produce quality no compromise. and for me that is in every aspect from the design, production, conception, and it has to be done for the right reasons, there is no reason to do anything unless you put your soul into it.
WLS : We are not sure we are allowed to discuss the soul ! but we get what you mean , but it’s also a business right ?
FCBA : I am not just doing it to make money, I mean that’s not what drives me to set up the First Chop Brewing Arm. If I do end up making money out of it , then well that is just a consequence of me doing it in the right way , a way that connects with people. If you get the first things right then you are going to produce something that people are going to like and appreciate then other things will come and you can make a living out if it. I would never like to make a living out of something that I have not put my heart and soul into. I do not want to be compromised
WLS : Just in terms of making a living, obviously you have your daughter, but there is a lot discussion in the art world about this idea of ‘not for profit’, do you have any thoughts on that.?
FCBA : You have to make a living, you have to support yourself, I don’t believe in just making a profit however, I believe you profit from doing things well and in the right way , the profit you get from that, not just financially, is probably greater. Anyway I also think you have to be very careful about that term, that it’s not just being worn as a a badge, you have to drill down into it and look at exactly how any funding mechanism is constructed, there is always profit somewhere, but the key is to look at exactly how it is being distributed
WLS : Yes we agree, ultimately it is the distribution of wealth that is at the heart of the current battle ground
FCBA : For sure
WLS : Ok so bringing things back into focus a little, there is also something very basic about ‘making a living’, but the way you are doing it, combining your passion and your work will resonate with a lot of people, it’s the aspiration of many or at least the one we are all sold.
FCBA : Yes true
WLS : In a way you are achieving that here, that aspiration, with the brewery , with the other things you have done, it is good.
FCBA : Thank you, sometimes you can lose sight of that, I mean it’s tough.
WLS : Yes it is.
WLS : Going back to the beer, well craft beer , can we ask why you think there has been such a massive explosion in craft ales recently, 170 new independent breweries apparently this year alone ?
FCBA : Erm…….. I think people who go out for a drink are looking for local produce and better value for money, and I think real ale is a place where if you buy a craft beer, it is the equivalent to a fantastic artisan wine but if you made that jump in wine that bottle may cost £60- £70 quid. Where as the financial difference between the cost of a run of the mill beer and a good craft ale is minimal and I think people recognise that. Also the UK is a nation of beer lovers, I don’t know many people who don’t like beer.
WLS : Do you think there is any correlation to wanting to break the strangle hold of the big breweries, the strangle hold they have over the industry, or is that us at WLS just being romantic.
FCBA : Well I have never felt that, people can choose, anyway you can see that a lot of pubs are closing down, the industry is definitely struggling.
WLS : So it’s not a political act to set up your brewery !
FCBA : No definitely not. There are 2 types, there are people who love beer and want to make great beer and really experiment with that process and there are people who are seeing it as a way to make easy money. There is a big difference between the two , the people who want to make great beer are going to be the ones who stick around, those that are doing it for other reasons are going to struggle because they are making it for the wrong reasons. There are so many great breweries around now who are seriously pushing the boundaries that if you go into this market and your product is not up to scratch you are going to fall by the wayside.
WLS : You hear a lot of people say who try to set something up independently that their motivation was the dissatisfaction with what was out there , what was on offer, do you think that is a reason why people are just setting things up themselves?
FCBA : I suppose it could be, if it’s not just a good marketing line. But personally I think being dissatisfied is not a good motivation, you have to do it out of some kind of love for what you’re doing. You may be dissatisfied with what someone else if offering but that has got nothing to do with you. There are also loads of amazing breweries out there but that doesn’t stop me wanting to do something positive , I have my own motivation and that’s what its about, there is definitely enough room for everyone.
WLS : It is definitely a really good insight into this world, thank you. And there is something quite sobering about the idea that it has to be your passion, what you want to do, and that you should focus on the space you want to create, that is what you’re saying and I think we at WLS really appreciate that.
FCBA : I agree but I have to say that ……..well there is nothing sobering about anything I do !
WLS/FCBA : Laughs*
WLS : Yes agreed, definitely, we remember the state of the those who attended the private view.
WLS : What was the percentage again
FCBA : 6.2%, but technically that could be within + or – .5
WLS : Oh so we suspect + !
FCBA : I have to go, a table of 10 have just walked in.
WLS : Ok , good luck and on behalf of WLS, thank you.