What’s an unfashionable brewery? Is it one whose staff don terrible clothes and refuse to look like rock stars? Or is it a brewery whose beers refuse to — as what is commonly known — stretch the boundary of what we know as beer (guilty of using the phrase several times but…shrugs shoulders)? What’s a fashionable brewery then? That’s an easier question to answer. BrewDog, Thornbridge, Kernel, Camden: four names that swim into my consciousness with the sleekness of a torpedo slamming into the steel plates of a rusty old destroyer (the latter a metaphor for unfashionable beers perhaps?). Hops, collaborations (it’s good to see that beer has reclaimed the word collaboration from its taint of Vichy and Quisling), a certain swagger, shout-outs from the fans, expectations, great epoch shattering beers (if beer can shatter an epoch which it palpably cannot but what the hell). What about the unfashionable breweries then? Are they doomed to linger alone and unloved by those who see themselves in the vanguard of beer fashion? To be picked up and preened by the nameless many?
These navel-gazing thoughts come to me after I’d drunk a bottle of The Leveller from Springhead, a defiantly unfashionable brewery in defiantly unfashionable Sutton-on-Trent. Visited them several years back, always enjoyed Roaring Meg, their strongish blond beer whose naming following the brewery’s tradition of using an English Civil War theme for their beers’ names (Roaring Meg was a cannon used during that period — it roared and like ships the guns were given women’s names, perhaps a subconscious male desire to haul pacifistic women onto the militarist bandwagon). At the time the Springhead brewery was an internal landscape of stainless steel, pumps and undeterminable metal instruments. A brick-built, single-storied home that had little romance about it — they had moved there in 1992 and expanded to four units. Now their expansion continues and they’ve recently moved to a converted old mill in a north Notts village and I suspect that the new plant will have a similarly abstract ambience about its interior. They might be unfashionable but they’re doing well.
And The Leveller (I don’t think I have to explain the origins of this name)? It’s a dark chestnut colour with crimson tints. The nose has a dusty, powdery chocolate — milk — character. On the first gulp I’m minded to enjoy its milky, coffee-mocha chocolate feathering with the sweetness kept under reins by a resiny, earthy, almost woody-like sternness; there are also some hints of blackcurrant. The carbonation is a bit brisk but it’s nevertheless a beer that I rather enjoyed. And all this from a brewery that slips below the radar — it’s not going to change the world but it’s rather delicious and a pretty satisfying partner to roast lamb (even use some in the gravy).