Unity Brewing Co, Congregrate Belgian Pale
Jimmy quickly realised he wanted to brew beers with a sense of place, and to build a brewery for Southampton.
Jimmy Hatherley started out in wine but soon had his head turned towards beer when his father introduced him to Belgian classics and American craft beers. He began buying local craft beers for the off-licences he managed, just as the London craft beer scene was taking off, but what he really wanted was to work in a brewery. "For anyone getting into the industry, the romance is brewing. Everyone loves the idea of making something."
After a stint as a sales manager for London Fields, where he also learnt to brew, Jimmy landed a job brewing for the Earl of Essex brewpub in north London. A few years later, with jobs at half a dozen breweries under his belt, Jimmy returned to his hometown of Southampton finally ready to pursue a long-held dream of opening his own business.
His original idea for Unity was to cuckoo brew, but Jimmy quickly realised he wanted to brew beers with a sense of place, and to build a brewery for Southampton. Unity definitely has strong roots in Southampton. Ingredients for their seasonal beers are often found within walking distance of the brewery, and the tap room sells food and drinks from local small businesses similarly close by.
Unity brew three Belgian style beers in their core range, alongside an IPA and an APA. Their limited edition and seasonal beers are all Belgian styles. So why Belgian beers? "Even when I worked in commercial breweries I always home-brewed Belgian style beer. It always had the romance and that nostalgia where you get a Belgian beer and you're taken back to Belgium. That feeling is better than anything else."
Congregate, this week's beer, is a hoppy little session blond ale. It started life as a table beer - cheap, low in ABV, easy drinking and good with food - but to many drinkers that term means session IPAs such as the Kernel's. "I want people to drink my beer and understand what they're drinking," says Jimmy, and so the label Belgian pale came about. "The base recipe holds more in common with a pilsner than it does with any other style, but it's fermented warm by our house Belgian yeast." There is some flavour from this Trappist yeast, giving a hint of white pepper, but it's more restrained than you'll find in many other Belgian beers.
You may notice a little haze in the glass. Jimmy explains that all of Unity's beers are unfiltered and no finings are used. "We're proud of the fact that our beer is completely natural. They taste like they're alive and they've got complexity because of it."
Along with Jimmy, Unity has just three other employees. They have plans for a modest expansion - buying one further fermentation vessel and employing an assistant brewer - but the goal here is for a business on a human scale that puts its employees' wellbeing first. "I've worked for a couple of really stressful breweries and that's not the sort of company I want to run," he says. For Jimmy it's about something else: "I'm pretty happy just making sure the beer tastes really good and having some good fun."
This week's write-up is by Anthony Gladman. Anthony is a member of the British Guild of Beer Writers and is training with the Institute of Brewers and Distillers to become and accredited Beer Sommelier. He lives in South East London where he works as a freelance beer writer and consultant. You can find him online as @agladman (Twitter, Instagram) and at anthonygladman.com. Sign up to his newsletter to hear about his off-flavour training sessions and tutored beer tastings.