The Old Ram Brewery stands, like a fortress, a unidirectional, four lane highway as it’s moat, in the middle of the Wandsworth one way system. Glittering spires are even now being erected by giant cranes, standing like great war machines to defend a very different vision of the future.
This is Britain’s Oldest Brewery, for 500 years the very heart of Wandsworth – and from the ashes of this great legacy, this space will soon be the borough’s heart again. A new heart, and a different heart; the commercial hub and new age accommodation for a new and different generation of residents.
But what of that legacy of brewing? Behind those orange hoardings, a tiny fire has been kept alight through the passion of one man. Little more than a labour of love, John Hatch cannot sell what he brews, and yet somehow he has managed to finance this piece of our heritage out of donations and his own willpower.
Yet this has been a blessing in disguise. John has been perfecting his amber nectar now for ten years, and with no commercial pressure on him, he has experimented, he has failed, and he has ultimately succeeded in producing some of the finest ales that might ever pass you lips! I had my 40th birthday party there, and I tried, I really tried, but no hangover was achieved – in fact his ale was more of a tonic, I felt cleansed and healtier and more spritely than I had in weeks. And certainly more than I deserved.
And yet, hidden behind these hoardings, this nano brewery – because that is what it is, John only has capacity for 140 pints a week – is a secret gem. The beer never leaves the site; in fact, it is made in the next door room to where he has his small bar.
I first heard about this place after being invited to a brewery tour several years ago, back before the site was torn down in preparation for all that is coming. A joyful man in his ubiquitous white lab coat led us around regaling us with improbable stories from another age, about ram smuggling, autonomous vehicles (horse drawn drays that occasionally returned to the stable sans driver who’d toppled off after indulging in too much of his own product) and a definitively pugnacious Chairman. Improbable, but true, as the site was a centre of eccentricity even to the day it shut in 2006.
And even now, John is still brewing. And even now, it is still one of the most fabulous secrets in Wandsworth, because, with no advertising, no one knows how to sample his most splendid of brews unless they have an “in”, someone to introduce them to the mailing list for invitations to John’s legendary parties. Because, there in this strangest of places, John hosts one of the finest, friendliest, and exclusive comedy clubs in the country.
The bar room, where the comedy happens, is tiny. It only takes about 40 people, and yet some of the top acts in the country come down to play it. And the audience is always wonderful. Such a small venue makes for a very cosy comedy night where everyone colludes in having a great time, all lubricated by beer that we know won’t hurt us. And even though entrance to the comedy is by invitation through the mailing list only, the nights are sold out, often more than a month in advance.
And the good news is this. If you want an invitation to this most excellent of comedy nights, the mailing list is currently open! Just send an email to BeerComedy@gmail.com
After all, if this description of the night is appealing to you, it is self selective and you are the type of lovely audience that would enjoy and enhance the evening. Because excellent ale, cracking comedy and an involved audience is the optimum equation for an ideal evening.
And with only 12 months left before it is all change again (the site is being developed and the brewery likely to be moved), we are into the countdown period to the end of one unique venue for both beer, comedy and conraderie…