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Lovibonds, 69 IPA

We caught up with Jeff, founder of Lovibonds and asked him how exactly did a guy from Milwaukee end up brewing some of the best beers we've ever tasted from a cobbled together set-up in Henley on Thames...
Matt: How did you get in to brewing and why did you start Lovibonds Jeff?

Jeff: The short answer; because this is what I believe I am meant to do. The more verbose answer; I had several beer epiphanies in the early 1990's in Milwaukee Wisconsin, not far from where I grew of these was tasting a friends home brew.  I, like most people at the time, didn't know it was even possible.  I was hooked from the first extract boil over on my rented apartment stove.  In 1996 I moved to England with my previous life as a software guy...I wasn't going to carry on brewing as I was only meant to be here for two years...until the little village I ended up at in the Midlands had a home brew shop.  The home breweries kept evolving as did my level of corporate burn out.  At some point I decided to chuck in the easy money and do something that I really gave a shit about.
Matt: What's with the name?

Jeff: John Lovibond and Sons was a highly respected brewer and purveyor of other fine beverages from the early 1800's til the late 1960's.  It was a family business and one of the brothers is now famous for his infatuation with colour.  He devised some methods and devices for measuring the colour of liquids...these are still in use today and every brewery knows the Lovibond colour scale as this is how we measure the colour of our beer and malt.  John Lovibonds and Sons grew the business by having 'off licenses' in many towns in the South East.  Henley was one of them....when I was looking at properties in Henley I found their old site and had not yet chosen a name for the business.  I loved the name, the historical connection to brewing and the entire story that we uncovered when finding this site.  I've had the great fortune of meeting several of the family members and they are thrilled to see their name used again.

Matt: When and how did you launch?

Jeff: I wasn't sure what I was getting into, so in 2005 I bought a nice 100l pilot brewery and conned HMRC into giving me a beer duty certificate for brewing in what was effectively the side passage of my semi detached house in Henley.  At first I bought a couple firkins as I thought I must do beer this way, since I was in Britain...only to have a couple of my own pints served to me in the most rancid state.  I couldn't believe this system that allow my blood, sweat and tears to be destroyed at the last, most critical step.  I had been using corny kegs nearly from the beginning of my home brew career so said, why the hell can't I sell the beer this way?  At the time, this was revolutionary and everyone told me that there was no way you could sell keg beer.  I'm not a very good listener I guess...fuck these people (you know who you are) anyway...time has shown that it was and is the way to go.

Matt: I hadn't realise you'd been going for that long. You've grown significantly from a 100 litre brewing set-up. What have been the main steps.

Jeff: Very early on, I found out that even if I had mastered 3 back to back brews on the 100l pilot system in 13 hours, I still couldn't service that many accounts with the setup.  I happened to meet a brewer from Luxters brewery just up the road and when he was showing me around I noticed that most of the tanks were empty as they only sold beer in their shop. We struck a deal and started brewing our beers.  This was never a contract arrangement, as I trust almost no one, so Frank the brewer and I doughed in at 6:00 and then, as gentlemen do, retired to his bungalow where he made me coffee and porridge while we overlooked the amazing Chiltern countryside.  One day Frank broke the news that he was retiring and the owners of the place said if I wanted my beer, I'd have to brew it myself. We have since run the production side of their brewery, with myself or my brewer brewing the Luxters beers as well as ours.  That has been steady state for many years now, with quite a bit of progress being made on our packaging side.   

Matt: How many of you make up team Lovibonds?

Jeff: I've been really lucky to have some great people help me over the years. I would be dead without them.  About two years ago I stepped back from the actual brewing side (I still help mash in every batch) and focus more on the cellar grunt work, fixing shit, figuring out new gear, playing with bugs and barrels and all the other business stuff that sadly needs to be done.  During this time I have been blessed with the best brewer that anyone could hope for. Rudilynn hails from South Africa and like me, she has been through several beer epiphanies and corporate burnouts.  I think it is the only 'job interview' that I ever ended with a hug. She's a legend. I also have a great group of people that run our funky tasting room in Henley, handle sales, telesales and deliveries...Rico, Sarah, Chris, John, Viv and Warren...I'd be screwed without them.

Matt: Any plans you can share for the near future?

Jeff: I'm happy to say that we have just agreed to take our own space just up the road and have put a deposit on a brand new, very shiny brew house which should be going by the end of the year.  Nothing crazy, but should quadruple our production, give us some expansion space and remove an amazing amount of inefficiency and risk from every brew.

Matt: Talk us through this week's beer, the 69 IPA.
Jeff: I was originally going to go with 66 with the US road sign, but walking down the aisles of Tesco I saw Budweiser '66'. The first batch happened to be 6.9% and you know a little sexual innuendo never hurts.  A couple batches in we got a cease and desist from Diageo as they own the VAT 69 whiskey the end we beat them at their own game.  This was my take on a West Coast IPA and is loaded with Cascade and Centennial hops.  There are hops in the mash, first wort hops, bittering and a massive late charge, plus dry hopping.  The labels still mentions a 'Hopinator' device.  This was a Heath Robinson affair that we had to figure out to do dry hopping way back then.  Sadly this method ruined a few batches of beer and we moved to a more conventional method of dry hopping.  We will revisit this when we have the right gear.  Hope you guys and gals enjoy it!
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