Charlie McVeigh knows about beer. After starting his career as a financial journalist, he switched to being a bar and pub owner in the late Nineties and has never looked back.
A passion for different and imported beers led him to found The Draft House, a small group of independent minded modern pubs that has been a roaring success in locations across London. Their first pub outside of London opened recently in Milton Keynes.
We caught up with Charlie at The Draft House Old Street, which has quickly become a neighbourhood favourite since its opening in 2016.
Above: Charlie McVeigh
CITY LIFE: Have we entered a new golden age for beer drinking and pubs in the UK?
Charlie McVeigh: I think it’s still very challenging for pubs if they’re not in the right place. But there’s no question, in the Eighties I think at one point there were only 75 breweries left in this country and now there are thousands.
A lot of people have escaped the professions and the City and desktops and have gone into setting up their own business and having a new life. That’s expressed itself in a kind of independent spirit and it’s very, very exciting. The new beers are all much more modern, vibrant, rebellious. And all of that is really chiming with what younger people and more aspirational people are looking to engage with when it comes to drinks.
For anyone who’s new to craft beer, where should they start?
I think craft beer might be a little bit of a misleading term. Because craft beer really, in my view, just means better beer. If you’re looking at someone who’s mostly just drunk lager or cans of beer that you can get at the corner shop, it’s not just the quality of the beer, which is one thing. Better ingredients, longer brewing process for more refined flavours and so on. But it’s also that there’s a whole load of styles of beer that you might not have tried. There’s a whole range of flavours out there that really are incredibly different – as different say as wine is to lager I would say a sour beer is to lager. And that’s one of the things that really surprises people at a tasting with a range of beers of different styles.
Beer packaging seems to get wilder and wilder. How important is branding to the whole beer drinking experience now?
I think people really identify with the new brands that are being created and they just feel better about themselves drinking them. If you look at brands like Camden or Beavertown, it’s a little bit anarchic, a bit crazy and you have the feeling when you’re drinking them that these are brewed by rebellious, independent minded people who are kind of cool. And so you feel kind of cool by association.
How does The Draft House source its beers?
We’re quite unique as a business in that we allow our teams in the pubs to choose their own beer. So they can set up new accounts with new breweries, new suppliers. We have certain beers that we say they must stock on draft. But otherwise they can take their pick. Most of the guys who work for us are real beer geeks. They’re really interested in the new breweries and they’re interested in trying new stuff. So for them working at Draft House is a good opportunity to do that, to be at the forefront.
5 BEERS TO TRY THIS SUMMER
Plunge your taste buds into the world of big, bold modern beer flavours by trying these five distinctive beers. As suggested by Charlie and the team at The Draft House Old Street.
Beavertown Gamma Ray
‘A really big beer with quite dark, very rich tropical flavours that make it really just an exciting thing to drink. Brewed in London N17.’
8 Wired Wild Feijoa Sour Ale
‘A sour beer aged in wine barrels and made with exotic fruits that are only found in New Zealand.’
Põhjala öö Cassis
‘A blackcurrant Baltic porter, one of the Top 50 beers of last year. A great dark beer brewed in Estonia. This will definitely change anyone’s idea about porter.’
Northern Monk Passion Fruit Lassi IPA
‘A brew with passion fruit and lactose that gives it a nice creaminess but is fresh and fruity at the same time. Brewed in Leeds.’
Chorlton Saaz Unfiltered Lager
‘A Saaz hop unfiltered lager that gives it a great balance between sweet and bitter, basically a punch of Saaz hops. Brewed in Manchester.’
The Draft House is located in the Mews Street at the Bower, Old Street, EC1, theboweroldst.com, and at nine other locations around London. Find them online at drafthouse.co.uk.