Fundamentals #133 — The Kernel Bitter Simonds 1880

It’s been 13 years since The Kernel arrived in Bermondsey and changed the face of the London (nay, the UK) beer scene forever.

In that time, there are few styles the brewery has not turned its hand to. Initially making its mark with a trailblazing range of vibrantly hopped pale ales and IPAs, these progenitors to the haze craze, while wearing their American influences on their sleeve, still tasted resolutely, well, Kernel. It’s a character you can taste in every beer it makes, from historic recreations of export stouts to the fruity, acidic joy contained within every bottle of its Biere de Saison.

If there’s one thing that sets this brewery apart from all others, it’s that it has never once wavered from its philosophy or ideals. The size of the brewery, as well as the number of employees who work there, has always remained modest, with the brewery choosing to always operate within its means and never push for grandiose expansion. Its branding has remained almost exactly as it was when it launched; the beer name and style printed on brown paper labels.

The Kernel has also avoided the pivot to cans, despite this being a far more popular packaging format. In fact, the most dramatic change the brewery has made in its recent history is to introduce cask beer to its range – which was, as you might imagine, celebrated by fans (especially those able to visit its wonderful taproom at Spa Terminus, a short walk from Bermondsey underground station.)

Despite covering so many styles, one thing The Kernel had never tried its hand at is a classic English bitter – until now. Before I got to enjoy this from the bottle, I was lucky enough to try it on cask at a recent tap takeover held at Manchester’s Cafe Beermoth. Such was the level of my excitement about trying a genuine Kernel bitter that I ordered a pint without looking at the board. I did not realise this was 6.5%, nor that it was based on an 1880 recipe for a beer produced by the (long defunct) Simonds Brewery of Reading, Berkshire.

But from the first sip, packed with flavours of fruitcake and malt loaf, prunes, dates and sultanas galore, I knew this beer was something both special and undeniably Kernel. By today’s standards, it might perhaps be better called an ESB (Extra Special Bitter) due to its strength and richness of character. This is a complex beer, one that wears its alcohol content on its sleeve as it warmly slips down your throat. I can think of few other beers I’d rather stock up on while everything freezes outside...

Matthew Curtis is a writer, photographer and editor of Pellicle Magazine. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @totalcurtis and @pelliclemag. Sign up to our All Killer No Filler subscription box and you'll find incredible beers like this one every month, plus more great writing from Matthew and our food writer Claire Bullen.