Posted on November 27 2020
“Partizan is one of the most promising players within the Capital’s flourishing craft brewing scene” The Telegraph
Partizan is the creation of Andy Smith. Brought up in Leeds, he made his first beer in 2006 – a homebrew. “I couldn’t get the fresh American beer that I enjoyed in Leeds, so I thought I’d make it myself.” He was impressed with his first attempt and that was it … he was hooked.
From catering to brewing
His first career, however, was as a chef … eight years working in kitchens with teams of three up to 50 – mostly high-end catering, Michelin-starred and the like – country pubs to city restaurants. When he had worked at all the eating establishments on his wish list for the north, he moved to London.
His first job was at a smart Chelsea restaurant, which subsequently went to the wall. He still needed to pay his rent, so he found work at a pub. Not any pub, in fact, the White Horse in Parsons Green. A serious destination for beer lovers. He lived just 400m down the road, so it was mighty convenient too. The team there comprised a wealth of would-be brewers – Steve that went on to Affinity Brewing Co, Mario who went to Orbit Beers, Brendon to Founders Brewing Co, and Dan who founded the London Brewing Company. Quite a team and quite a pub! Andy says, “I remember the first The Kernel beers in bottle landing in the cellar when I was there – great times.”
Getting started as a brewer
Most memorably, he met Andy Moffatt, who was then the one-man band of Redemption Brewery. He took on Andy Smith for the next three years, putting him through his official Institute of Brewing and Distilling exams, as well as giving him the proper hands-on experience. The position also gave him the opportunity to create a very useful network of contacts and good friends in craft brewing.
The Kernel kit and landing in the Bermondsey Mile
Most notable was Evin O’Riordan, founder of The Kernel. When, after three years, Andy S felt he needed to move on, it was Evin’s gift of The Kernel’s old 6.5 hl kit (they were expanding) that swung it and persuaded Andy to found Partizan. In fact, they became neighbours, Partizan moving into Arch 7, Almond Road, their first home, next door to The Kernel. Partizan was just the second brewer to set up in Bermondsey. That was 2012. He also sourced a 25hl mash tun and a copper, he’d found rusting in a field in Yorkshire – an old water tank from a former power station!
Expansion to just around the corner
Five years down the line, they needed to expand … just around the corner to much larger premises, with a big yard for outside drinking in finer weather and extensive indoors for increased brewing capacity, more experimental vats, with a characterful bar and taproom. In better times, the taproom is open Friday and Saturday, during semi-restrictions it was Saturday only. During lockdown, beers are only available mail order. It’s a great destination place – the Bermondsey Mile is a buzzy place in itself, and Partizan is one of the buzziest. Usually! The taproom offers a great atmosphere and terrific beers to sample – usually about eight from keg and many more in bottle. The bar is a colourful eyecatcher too – each tap is crowned with a unique wood sculpture, designed by a friend, Reuben, who worked with label designer Alec Doherty. Colourful, almost Playschool-like in their colours and simplicity and definitely on brand.
Why the name?
Talking of which – why the name Partizan? Well, ‘Andy Smith’ is a bit of an everyman name that wasn’t going to make the brewery stand out! So, Andy thought … he loved watching the films of French director Michel Gondry (who, by the way, can solve rubik’s cubes with his feet!), whose company is also known as ‘Partizan’. Andy thought ‘Partizan Smith’ – now that’s a good name. It took off on social media too and so a name was born.
The labels – we love them
From the beginning, the labels have been the creation of another good friend, Alec Doherty. By chance, Alec was taking a sabbatical from his job as art director of a packaging company that designed the wraps for household goods like rice and loo paper! Andy briefed Alec on what he thought he wanted – something classic, with a nice font, simple lettering to let the beer do the talking. Luckily neither of them liked those concepts, so Alec tried an illustration … and it was a done deal. The illustrations have developed alongside the beers and are distinctive and fun. And on the new format of cans, they work even better.
For the first few years, Andy was insistent bottled beer was the only way – indeed, in the new premises they installed a small bottling line too. However, since the back end of 2019, they have dabbled in can production and the illustrations look just great. Cans are reserved for the more sessionable beers in the core range, either for their online sales or for small retail outlets – they certainly are eye-catching. Currently accounting for just 1-2% of production, cans have proved popular, so they will look to gradually increase the volumes.
Now these get the team excited – they have recently worked with concert pianist Olga Stezhko. Andy is also big into skateboarding, so they collaborated with Pilgrim and Vague magazine. They even worked with Guinness, making a trio of ‘aperitif style’ beers – L’Amara – a 5.9% Saison inspired by an Amaro Highball cocktail, La Brilliante – a 5.6% sherry-cask-aged Pilsner, inspired by a Champagne cocktail, and L’Intensa – a vermouth-inclined 8.2% barley wine. L’Intensa required a trip to Italy, centre of vermouth production, to nail, while the other two were the inspiration of a few hours of cocktail training from a pro. Andy’s comment on them: these are “very much beers … we’re not trying to replicate cocktails, but we are inspired by the flavours in them.”
These collabs fit in sweetly with Andy’s philosophy on brewing – learning from the past and looking to the future. He has a great respect for the traditions of brewing in Bermondsey and the east end of London. Here was the home of stout, porters, mild ales for the dockyard workers. And here was where the more robust, hoppier India Pale Ales were shipped out to the colonies. With these traditions in mind, Partizan’s first brew in 2012 was an 8.6% stout and the same beer is still made today, albeit with a few tweaks to the recipe … as they do for every beer. No single brew is identical to the next one.
Andy not only believes in looking forwards and backwards, but also from a different angle. Hence the importance of working with people in different fields of life, especially creative ones, and the hook up with musicians, artists, other beverage producers, as well as other breweries. It means their brewing never stands still, it’s always evolving.
Their core range
Today they have a core range of nine beers, from their warming 7.4% Stout to their Table Juice at just 3% – the recipe of those broadly stay similar, but never exactly the same. So, if you buy a Partizan Lemongrass Saison from two different brews they will never be identical. Within their range they reference London’s rich history of brewing, keep in touch with the colourful cultural differences of London today, as well as embracing a new generation of beer lovers. Some of these have New World hoppiness, others from Partizan embrace the European beer styles. That includes, every year, producing one barley wine and also one barley wine that goes into barrel.
Chef versus brewing – are there cross overs?
We asked Andy how his former life as a chef has helped in brewing? For both, Andy says, you take simple core ingredients and make something exceptional from them … for beer, that’s just four key ones, yeast being the most important – “it has the biggest impact on the fermentation and flavour” – plus malted barley, water and hops. As a chef, you’re taught to think of colour, texture and flavour. In brewing, it’s similar but you’re concerned with texture, flavour, colour and balance. In both, he says, it requires an understanding and balancing of flavours. It’s just that “people in brewing are way nicer”!
There’s certainly a community feel to the craft-brewing scene – certainly true down the Bermondsey Mile. In normal circumstances, the teams of various breweries often find an excuse to meet up. They are a friendly bunch, collaborative, happy to lend kit, bounce ideas, rather than regarding each other as dangerous opposition. The Bermondsey Mile is a destination place – for beer lovers and brewers.
Team of five
Today Partizan is a team of five, three of them brewers, plus Adina the cat, who adopted them three years ago. Head brewer today is Tom Mahoney. He started as assistant brewer at Partizan in August 2019 and stepped up to head brewer this year, when Dennis Ratliff retired to enjoy his love of carpentry. Tom got the craft beer bug while studying at the University of Texas – he experienced Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and was smitten. He had ideas of becoming a chef, but instead joined a pensions company when he returned to the UK. Luckily, an advert recruiting for Dorking Brewery diverted him to a career in brewing.
Andy is obviously one of the three brewers, but also wears a lot of other hats. However, he makes sure he stays key in developing new recipe ideas. Indeed, input from all parts of Partizan is important in the brewing – the taproom, your sales staff, your brewers – team work.
Andy has no desire to grow big … sure, they will expand bit by bit, in manageable chunks, but the creation of Partizan was to get away from the anonymous big brands. Progress and growth are through experimentation with different styles and collabs to learn from, but they will remain on the diminutive side of perfect.