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Des de Moor
Best beer and travel writing award 2015, 2011 -- British Guild of Beer Writers Awards
Accredited Beer Sommelier
Writer of "Probably the best book about beer in London" - Londonist
"A necessity if you're a beer geek travelling to London town" - Beer Advocate
"A joy to read" - Roger Protz
"Very authoritative" - Tim Webb.
"One of the top beer writers in the UK" - Mark Dredge.
"A beer guru" - Popbitch.
Des de Moor

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From the cellar: Freedom Soho Red

Freedom Brewery, ex-London, now Staffordshire.

Brewery, ex-London, now Staffordshire.

ABV: 4.4%
Origin: London WC2, England
Website: freedombrewery.com
First published: 8 January 2001

Another review from the  written for the pioneering Oxford Bottled Beer Database (OBBD). I’ve left it uncorrected — so please read it in that historical spirit.

It’s interesting to look back at this one as the Freedom brewery, founded in 1995, played quite a pivotal role in the development of craft brewing in London and the UK. It was the second brewery, and the first in London, set up with the expertise of Alastair Hook, a rare British champion of proper lager brewing in the post-CAMRA age who went on to found Meantime.

As stated in the article, the production brewery was in Fulham, in fact just off Parsons Green and a stone’s throw from the famous White Horse pub. The Soho Brewing brewpub opened in 1998 at 41 Earlham Street, Covent Garden, originally  under separate ownership. Setting aside the sour view of the place I take below, it was also something of a pioneer, as one of the first US-inspired brewpubs in the capital. It was taken over the next year by Freedom and rebranded Freedom Earlham Street but kept the Soho name for some of its brands.

Freedom then went through various ownership changes and soon after this was written, in 2001, it moved out of London. For a while, the beers were brewed at Meantime but later in-house brewing was resumed, and Freedom is still producing ‘craft’ lagers today at Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire. The closest thing to Soho Red among its current repertoire is a US-hopped amber rye lager. Meantime still brews a very decent amber lager from time to time.

The Earlham Street operation continued as a brewpub, rebranded Zebrano in 2002 and Bünker in 2003, though the new owners’ interest in brewing dwindled and I believe no more beer was produced later than 2005, although the kit remained in place for a while longer. The site is currently a Japanese-themed restaurant by the unfortunate name of Flesh and Buns.

Freedom are best known for their Pilsener, a rare attempt to brew an authentic lager in Britain in the German style and to German standards. This beer, brewed at their Fulham site, is now fairly widely available in the UK with outlets through selected supermarkets and pubs.

The company also owns a rather trendy brewpub in a basement in Covent Garden, also called Freedom Brewery (though also known as the Soho Brewery, rather puzzlingly since it’s not in Soho at all), where a small plant brews a selection of other beers for consumption on the premises, all inspired by continental European and US models. These are all served under gas pressure but are otherwise made to high standards.

Soho Red is described as based on a pre-prohibition US dark beer – a style which, in its turn, owed much to the old Vienna style of dark lager that was brought to North America by European migrants. The relatively modest gravity is more in line with the expectations of contemporary British drinkers but this is still an attractive and flavourful beer, a deep ruby brown in colour with some head.

The nose is fairly restrained, slightly sweet and faintly hoppy, and the beer itself has a pleasant palate, malty but very much in the Germanic style with phenolic notes and some chocolate and fruit. Eventually a herbal bitterness develops and this slightly sweet beer becomes refreshingly grapefruity in the finish.

As beers of this kind are so rare in Britain, this is a welcome addition to the local repertoire — though the pub which is its principal outlet sadly seemed to me too brash, noisy and uncomfortable to enjoy it at its best.

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