When one thinks of the word “beer,” one generally imagines a clear, cold, fizzy lager, often with nationalist overtones. Budweiser is American, Corona is Mexican, Asahi is Japanese, and so on. England’s beer identity, however, is rooted in so-called real ale—cloudy, tepid, vaguely effervescent, and stubbornly regional.
Traditionally this ale was unfiltered, unpasteurized, and dispensed from still-fermenting casks, without any added carbon dioxide. In the 1960s, however, modernized force-carbonated kegs started to gain popularity in the U.K., and ales became something of a niche product. These days, they are often ordered only by a pub’s corner-dwelling septuagenarian regulars.
But the love for ale has not entirely disappeared among the younger crowd. “I make beer for people to enjoy a pint of and hopefully want another one,” says Charlie Macintosh, 33, the brewer and owner of London’s Macintosh Ales. This truly tiny brewery holds on to the heritage of traditional cask- and bottle-conditioned English ales. “One day when [the business] is more established, I hope people count down the minutes at work on a Tuesday so as they can have a pint of Macintosh Ales in the pub.”
Macintosh was a longtime homebrewer before founding his one-man company, in 2018. He initially brewed the ale in his dad’s garage, in Hammersmith, with a modest kit purchased on eBay. But thanks to his previous job working front of house at Lyle’s in Shoreditch, one of East London’s top dining spots, he was quickly able to generate interest in his approachable brews.
Where contemporary craft brewing often connotes garish graphics and gimmicky flavor-chasing, Macintosh Ales features a refreshingly spartan look and taste. “I don’t care about fashion in beers,” says Macintosh, whose ales can, nevertheless, be found at some of London’s most fashionable restaurants and boutiques, such as Juliets Quality Foods, in Tooting; Noble Fine Liquor, in Hackney; and General Store, in Peckham.
Indeed, there is something wonderfully anachronistic about Macintosh’s whole operation. His Web site is open only on the first Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of each month, and Macintosh hand-delivers the ales himself. His vision of his business’s future is similarly restrained. “It will grow as big as the demand is,” he says. “I don’t want to have to try and sell beer. I’d be a rubbish salesman.”
When spotted on a shelf, a Macintosh Best Bitter or Pale Ale bottle—the only two beers he makes—calmly conveys a no-frills, timeless aesthetic. It seems as though the beer has been sold for five generations as opposed to just five years. Macintosh tapped his brother, a tattoo artist, to illustrate the swan at the center of the logo, while his oldest childhood friend lent him some graphic-design assistance.
“I don’t want to have to try and sell beer. I’d be a rubbish salesman.”
“Up until very recently I had to hand-label every single bottle front and back as I couldn’t find any equipment to help,” he says of the oval-shaped labels he chose. “But when I see the bottles on a shelf, they do look good, so I guess it’s worth it.”
Hops are procured from Kent, and just one variety of barley is utilized from a family farm in Norfolk. “I still get very excited when hops are being harvested and I get to try this year’s crop,” says Macintosh. “I don’t think food or drink should taste exactly the same every year. [There’s] something a bit worrying about that.”
Macintosh rents tanks at a brewery in South London for his beers’ primary fermentation. Then bottles and casks are filled and priming sugar is added for the yeast to consume during a secondary fermentation. A few weeks later the still-living, unfiltered ale is fit to be enjoyed by those lucky enough to snag a bottle, or sink a pub-cask pint.
The preservation of traditional British beer-making and pub-going clearly drives Macintosh in his labor. “My dad goes to the pub every day for a couple of pints after work and always has done for 50 years,” says Macintosh. “It’s just the place I’ve always socialized in and felt comfortable … I’ve wanted my own pub in London for as long as I can remember. One day, hopefully.”
For the moment he’ll just have to settle for supplying like-minded souls with his lovingly crafted ales.
Spike Carter is a writer and filmmaker. His next project is a documentary about Eric Roberts