The Dancing Man Brewery of Southampton, located at 1 Bugle Street, is open everyday from noon to 11pm or midnight, depending on the day.
I managed to talk its head brewer and founding director, Aiden Lavin. He was patient and kind enough to answer my questions, let me in on some of the intricacies of beer making, and give me some of his masterpieces to try.
If you are into custom made lagers, ales and IPA’s, and are curious to see what a chilly and chocolate stout tastes like this is the place for you. Here is the interview:
R: Awesome. First thing I wanted to ask you, you’re Aiden, and the brewer, main brewer for the dancing man?
A: I’m the head brewer and one of the directors.
R: Cool man. I just wanted to ask you how you got into this line of work.
A: I’ve always been around pubs, a lot of my family were publicans, I’ve got a few family members who are also brewers, I didn’t start life of as a brewer, I didn’t start working as a brewer until I was 30 years old. I used to be a roofer, and a musician, mostly musician. I was always around pubs and playing in pubs in town. It came to my attention that there wasn’t any breweries or microbreweries or indeed any breweries in Hampshire producing any modern beer. Certainly not close to the city of Southampton, so I took upon myself to… start a brewery. Learn to become a brewer first and start a brewery.
R: So you learned how to become a brewer…?
A: Yeah, just kinda learned by trial and error really, read a lot of books, spoke to a lot of people, drank a lot of beer, and figured it out. I could tell almost immediately that I had a lot of passion for it. I love beer and I’ve loved brewing ever since the first day I brewed anything. But yeah, I didn’t train officially, I didn’t do any courses, I just learned it by trail and error and a lot of reading. A hell of a lot of reading
R: Thats how you learn.
A: That’s how I learned yeah, and I think that is the best way of learning anything really.
R: Passion and reading.
A: Passion and reading or just trial and error.
R: When did you make your first beer?
A: That would be December 2011, and I’m still making the same beer now.
R: December 2011.
A: Yeah, it’s evolved and changed a little bit, but the first beer was a pale ale, called ‘Pilgrims Pale Ale’. When we can get the hops we still make it.
He goes on to remark that the IPA he has offered me is ‘Big Casino’, the reason he wanted to become a brewer in the first place.
R: Whats the daily life of a brewer like?
A: Early start. Usually 5 o’clock I get up and maybe some stretches, a little bit of yoga, a healthy breakfast these days, it didn’t always used to be like that, and coming in to work I start at 6. We’ll start brewing, be mashed in by about half-six, there’s two of us working, and then whatever the daily chores are really. If we’re brewing, it will be ten hours worth of brewing and cleaning, in between that there’s other jobs… We might be racking, we might be canning, we might be filling kegs, we might just be cleaning the tanks. So yeah, a lot of physical work , 90% of it is cleaning if I’m honest, it’s all cleaning. Then of course we open at 12 here so customers start coming in from 12, so sometimes I have to talk to customers, and they want to ask questions about stuff, sometimes I sit down and do interviews like this. Then in the afternoon come 3 o’clock we’ve usually finished with the brewing stuff and I’ll sit down and do any office work I gotta do, paperwork and this sort of thing, then hopefully the sun is still out and I’ve still time for a beer about 5 o’clock.
R: You reckon you’ll still be doing this when your 40, 60…?
A: I’ll be 40 in three years… I’d of thought I’d still be doing it when I’m 40. When I’m 60…yeah… Maybe not on this size. I don’t think I’ll ever not brew.
R: Can you really taste the difference with hops?
A: Absolutely you can taste a massive difference, yeah. If you compared two different hops and you made the same beer with this hop in one and that hop in the other, you’d see a vast difference.
R: Do you mix hops? and do you add any other ingredients or final touches to your beers aside from water, barley/grain, hops and yeast?
A: Yes is the answer to both your questions, but not to all of them. At the moment we’ve got a chilly and chocolate stout, so that has got chilly and chocolate in it.
I managed to try it later and it was spicy
A: We’ve also got a mango and pineapple pale ale, and thats got actual mango and pineapple in it. This (points to my beer) hasn’t got mango in it but I did mention some of the hops taste of mango.
R: The hops can taste of mango?
A: Yeah. yeah. That fruity flavour that’s the hops.
R: And the hops can taste of a fruit?
A: Yeah man! Exactly. They’re incredible things hops, very mysterious.
At this point he pointed out that the beer he had given me to taste, ‘Big Casino’, had three different hop varieties that they like to use: 2 American and 1 German. He also noted that from the American hops we were getting very fruity, citrusy notes. I tasted the beer and realised it was true.
R: It takes a brewer to say it for me to realise.
A: Yeah, people don’t really think to much about what they’re drinking. They know if they like it or don’t like it. Beer is like cheese or wine. It can have a big depth of flavour and many notes.
R: What’s the fundamental quality of a brewer would you say?
A: That’s a tough question, there’s a lot of elements to it so… Do you know one thing I will say about brewers? This certainly goes for me but it also goes for every brewer I’ve ever met: They all like to talk and they are all fundamentally good people. I’ve never met a bad one. I’ve never met someone that I didn’t like who was a brewer, I always find I like ‘em. They just like to talk and they’re open people…
R: They’re used to beers with friends, you know .
A: I guess that’s part of it, certainly part of it,
R: Thats awesome man. That’s it.
If you want to check out The Dancing Man Brewery yourself you can do so at Bugle Street in Southampton. If you want to contact them directly for a tour of the brewery or any other enquiries, here is a link to their page: www.dancingmanbrewery.co.uk/.