Tottenham is getting a new brewery for Christmas, with Affinity Brew Co. set to open its doors this Saturday. With Beavertown, Redemption and One Mile End already in the area, Tottenham now boasts a bona-fide brewing community, and as a resident of the hitherto unfashionable London Borough of Haringey, I am thankful.
I was aware that Affinity had collaborated with Andy Parker’s Elusive Brewing but it was only when I heard about the open day that I realised we’re neighbours. At a time when Hackney Council’s licensing bylaws are becoming ever more draconian and Haringey is increasingly open and welcoming, more and more creative enterprises are looking northwards to Tottenham. I was keen to find out what Affinity will bring to the party, so last Thursday I met co-founders Ben Duckworth and Steve Grae, along with their friend and collaborator Mark Hislop, for a pint and a powwow. We met at The Prince in Bounds Green, a serious beer pub from the people behind The Duke’s Head in Highgate, and further confirmation of the borough’s progress in relation to the cause of good beer.
Steve and Ben are complementary characters: Steve is talkative with a sardonic sense of humour, while Ben is contemplative, forming his sentences in advance (this is all based on a single meeting so requires a massive pinch of salt, preferably Maldon Sea Salt – this is craft after all). Steve’s journey in beer began when he started working at his local pub, the Swan in Hampton Wick, while studying fine art at university. The pub had a wide array of Belgian beers which he ‘familiarised himself’ with, and with his dreams of rock ‘n’ roll stardom unfulfilled, he found himself managing a succession of pubs including the venerable White Horse in Parsons Green and Cask Pub and Kitchen. With brewing experience at Redemption, Ilkley, Tiny Rebel, and most recently, esteemed purveyors of ‘jus de zest and cakegravy’* Brew By Numbers, he developed the ambition of opening his own brewery. Ben’s background is similarly beer-soaked; with a love of cask ale thanks to his brother’s career pouring pints, he was working in project management for Network Rail when he started drinking at the aforementioned Cask when Steve was manager. It was clear they had an affinity (you see?), and in no time Ben had brazenly asked Steve for a job. He duly obliged, and while Steve moved on (unrelated) the two were fast friends. Ben later managed Brewdog Clerkenwell, as well as The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey, but like Steve, he also wanted to be his own boss. Drinking at Brewdog one night, their plan was crystallised and Affinity was born.
Affinity can be found in a shipping container (I never thought I would write those words), based in a much larger development that has been leased to Ben and Steve’s friend Mark’s new venture, Five Miles London – a music and events venue set to open next year. Mark generously offered Affinity the use of the courtyard’s shipping containers with rent paid in kind (i.e. beer), and Ben and Steve are truly appreciative of this – in Steve’s words, ‘it’s not like we’re coming from privileged backgrounds…it really is a labour of love’. The taproom will be open 11-5 on Saturday, followed by a crawl along five venues pouring Affinity’s beers, the proprietors of which Affinity has formed close relationships with over the years. With a 2.5 barrel kit from an ‘off-the-shelf supplier’ which Steve has modified according to his needs, there won’t be a core range as such, but rather a focus on seasonality and creativity; as Ben told me, ‘we want to have that ability to be creative all the time’.
While cask beer won’t be Affinity’s main focus, they won’t be neglecting it and aim to put some beer into casks in the new year. It’s also worth saying that they have no truck with the erroneous divide between CAMRA hardliners and ‘craft beer’ zealots, a false dichotomy if there ever was one. Belgian beers will be prominent but not dominant, and Blanche de Londres, an interpretation of a Belgian wit using English ale yeast with orange zest, coriander, camomile flowers and parsley, will be ‘the beer that initially defines’ them. Steve was visibly excited when talking about the brews and the interplay between ingredients and so on, and it’s clear that this really is a labour of love for both he and Ben.
Following from Saturday’s launch, the taproom will be open again on the 17th, and will return on 7th January following a hiatus for the celebration of the JC’s birthday. One of the beers pouring at the taproom on Saturday is called ‘Cajolery’, and is inspired by the following Aneuran Bevan quoute: ‘No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin’.