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The New Old Brewery at The Royal Naval Academy, Greenwich

Submitted by on March 2, 2010 – 11:32 AM3 Comments
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On the outskirts of London, England at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, a nearly 300 year old brew house is getting kicked back into shape as part of the £6 million Discover Greenwich renewal project. The folks over at Meantime Brewing Company, a Greenwich based microbrewery run by master brewer Alistair Hook, have renovated the historically rich compound, installing eight giant copper brewing vessels, converting the space into The Old Brewery, an active brewpub and restaurant.

Copper Brewing Vessels in the Old Brewery (Credit: Discover Greenwich)

Resting along the Prime Meridian at the foot of the Royal Observatory, Greenwich, The Royal Naval College started life as a Naval hospital in 1694. In order to keep pensioners at the Hospital adequately imbibed, a brew house was installed in 1717 and a second was built in 1836. This second site, as well as a neighboring squash court, is where The Old Brewery has taken root. Out of use as a brewery since 1870, the site of the Old Brewery served as an electricity sub-station for a nearby power plant until 2008.

“It was the decommissioning of this plant that presented the opportunity to return the space to its original function,” said Alistair Hook, founder of the Meantime Brewery. “As a listed building on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the fabric of the building was well maintained (there are some very rare features such as cast iron ‘fish belly’ beams which get the architectural preservation chaps quite excited)…[and] it creates a wonderful space for our microbrewery to occupy, but it also takes a lot of work to turn a power plant and [neighboring] squash court into a bar/ brasserie/brewery, especially when English Heritage are looking over all [our] shoulders concerned to ensure that the historic fabric of the building is maintained.”

While the building itself dates back to the early 19th century, Hook suspects that the Greenwich area has been a hot spot for brewing since the 15th century. “This stretch of Thames riverside was the site of Placentia Palace which dates back to at least 1426 and which became a royal residence during the reign of Edward IV in 1447, when the previous owner was arrested for treason,” Hook explained. “The western end of the site is known to be where the services were located, so it likely that the Palace’s own brew house would have been on, or in the close vicinity of, the 1717 brewery.”

The renovation of The Old Brewery began in Dec. 2008, and in order to bring the 19th century brewery into the 21st century, Hook had 8 thousand liter copper tanks installed in the main hall. The tanks will be used to craft a range of old and experimental beer styles. The house beer will be a southern German Kellerbier, an unfiltered lager served without added CO2, and it will be the first cask conditioned lager to be served in Britain. Also available, according to the project’s blog, will be an Old Strong Porter called the Hospital Porter, that has aged 12 months in the brewery’s cellar that will be “tea-flat but full of leathery, coffee and chocolate like smoothness and complexity.”

The complex will also act as Hook’s personal laboratory, where he will be producing a limited selection of experimental brews for members of The Old Brewery’s College Beer Club. “As a brewmaster the 10 [hectoliter] plant is my dream toy, enabling me not only to design innovative beers but also… to recreate old beer styles” Hook said, “We will be [resurrecting] extinct beers, [and researching] old brewing methods, recipes and ingredients….” According to a press release, Hook will be toying with ancient ingredients like bog myrtle and wormwood, as well as taking turns towards the avant-garde with modern concoctions like a Mojito Pilsner and a Juniper Pale Ale.

The Old Brewery restaurant and bar will be open on March  23, 2010.