This week sees the launch of Hofmeister Presents… A series of events bringing together the best music with the best lager in the world. The first gig brings the incredible Dregas to Kafe 1788 in Poplar – here we find out more about who’s involved and what Pure Enjoyment means to them.
SPENCER AND HOF
Spencer Chambers is the co-founder of Hofmeister Brewing Company, which has brought the Hofmeister name (and a bear on the label) back to British bars, restaurants and pubs and with a slogan that shows how he wants you to think about the lager: Pure Enjoyment.
The new Hofmeister is way different from the fizzy, weak lager popular in the eighties. “There are famous beer brands across Europe but though 6 million people visit Bavaria each year for the Oktoberfest if you ask someone to name a Bavarian beer brand, they’d struggle.
“Although the previous lager was brewed in Reading, the Hofmeister bear came out of a Bavarian forest. My business partner, Richard Longhurst, and I decided to bring the brand back as a true craft ‘Helles’ lager made in the heart of Bavaria. The response has been phenomenal.”
Spencer’s career has been drinks-related all along, from turning Lanson champagne into champagne truffles to putting different beers together in collections of four for supermarkets. “Three would be everyday beers, but we’d sneak in a more unusual one as well.”
So, they drove round Bavaria in a Skoda to find someone to make it. “We found a brewery with the best of the raw ingredients. The Bavarian beer purity law means you can only use three ingredients to brew your lager: hops, barley and water. We use mineral water – the brewery’s water source is an underground lake which is natural mineral water, straight out of the ground. Our water is as good as it can get. Our barley comes from the farms that surround the brewery and hops from the famous Hallertau region just down the road.”
It’s made by hand, cold-brewed for longer than most lagers. “Most places ferment the lager at cold temperatures for four weeks, ours spends seven weeks at 0 degrees. Apart from that it’s just time, love and skill so the product really is so pure you can taste it.”
Maybe that’s part of the reason it’s just won the biggest award around: “People recognise the name and when we say we’ve just won the award for best lager of 2018 at the International Wine and Spirits Competition, people are prepared to try it.”
Not everyone remembers Hofmeister from its first incarnation. “If you’re 38 years old and above you definitely remember the brand. Those 37 and below have never heard of it. From those that do you tend to get one of two reactions: one, big smiles and choruses of “Follow the bear!”, or, two, an incredulous “Hofmeister?”. The incredulity gets even bigger when the bar staff tell them that not only is Hofmeister back but that nowadays it’s independently owned, is a hand crafted Helles lager brewed in the heart of Bavaria and won the IWSC’s best lager in the world for 2018. At that point everybody arrives at the same outcome, they order a pint. That’s been the great benefit to us of the brand, it drives conversation and trial, then the liquid and the story is so good it becomes a favourite.”
Spencer’s been working on Hofmeister for two years. What’s been the highlight?
Spencer doesn’t miss a beat: “Without a doubt, winning the IWSC world’s best lager award and being the first lager they have ever given five stars to. I still haven’t stopped smiling!”
And what about this Kafe 1788 gig? “Pure Enjoyment means the lens that we look at the world through. So for Hofmeister, getting involved in a night with people like Dregas and Richard at Kafe 1788 is brilliant. They are both people who love what they do and their passion and enjoyment is infectious. It’s probably that passion rather than seeking money or fame that has started them out in what they do and that’s what Hofmeister wants to celebrate. As for Dregas, a lot of her tracks are just plain joyous, there is a mix of ska and funk that gives her music amazing drive. Not to forget Dregas herself, I think the word ebullient was invented for her.”
It sounds like a great combination. “We all have a similar vision and outlook on life, we all want to bring passion and enjoyment to our product without compromising authenticity and integrity. So, if we can work with them to bring their passion to the fore, then that’s great.”
Indie-pop artist Dregas has been making music for a while now.
“It all started when I was four years old and my parents noticed I was able to plunk out popular melodies on the piano all on my own. The family piano was mainly just a decoration piece but before long they were having to listen to me bang out Beethoven. Then in high school I got super into punk and ska. I realized I couldn’t play piano in a punk band so taught myself bass guitar, mostly so I could rock out with all the punk boys I had crushes on. At university I majored in English: Creative Writing but played in rock bands every chance I got, which led to me getting hired as a bass player or keyboard player for a few LA-based acts including The Red Elvises. They had quite a cult following around the US and in Russia so that gig had me touring constantly for three years. They liked my music and allowed me to play my originals alongside theirs which was fantastic!'”
But despite starting at four, she regards herself as a late bloomer. “I purposefully avoided singing because any time I told people I was a musician, since I am a girl, they assumed I was a singer and that really pissed me off so I was defiantly NOT a singer for as long as I could help it. But, once I started singing seriously and growing as a songwriter, I fell in love with it and now my biggest regret is not starting sooner.”
She picked the name Dregas because her real name, Andrea Smith was too common, she felt. “I used to love to party in Las Vegas and so in order to not get lumped in with the hundreds of ‘Dre Smith’s out there on the internet I opted for the name Dregas.”
She moved to London a couple of years ago. Why? “When I played my first Dregas shows here I was absolutely blown away by the crowd response. Even the sound engineer was cheering and taking videos! I figured if I could live in a wonderful city like London that has people who are still excited about live music – namely this weird California girl’s live music – then I had to take that chance!”
And what kind of music is that, exactly? “Ah, this is always a tough one for me, especially since it’s always evolving. I guess I would say it’s dancey pop but with a quirky edge to it. These days a bit more on the quirky edge side.”
This new gig will be a first for Dregas. “This will actually be my first two-set gig as Dregas. I will open with my solo loop station set where I layer keyboards, drums, and vocals on a loop and perform the songs completely by myself.”
Side note: this is completely awesome, watching Dregas at work and hearing the song building from individual loops to the full song. It’s like seeing a song go from first rehearsal to full performance in nothing flat, and it’s slightly magical. But that’s not all…
“Then, I will do my normal full band set with my brilliant backing band made up of Max Maxwell on drums and Peter Vaughan on guitar.”
It sounds like it will be Pure Enjoyment, then, Hofmeister’s slogan. “It’s actually a perfect match for my current headspace with music. For a long time I was writing my music in order to please other people. And after doing that for a while, it turned out that the main feedback was that my music was in this no man’s land between something truly unique and interesting and something truly pop and radio-friendly. So, I started just going back to writing what came naturally to me. I was having fun, playing with the melodies that would pop up in my head and not caring how marketable it was or what people would think of it. It’s really serendipitous that Hofmeister came up with the Pure Enjoyment slogan exactly when I was finally feeling that way about my music.”
And what about the venue? “Kafe 1788 is definitely a favourite haunt of mine and has become a meeting place for our neighbourhood in Poplar. Richard has done a great job of making it THE neighbourhood hangout where you can catch up with the regulars and also see some great under-the-radar music and come together for neighbourhood events and – my personal favourite – his Haitian food pop-ups!”
When is a café not a café?
When it’s a gallery or event space, when it hosts yoga classes or music gigs, and when there’s an open-mic or a Haitian pop-up food night. That’s Kafe 1788.
It’s the only coffee shop in the UK which promotes Haitian coffee, food and art. Founded on 16 June 2016 by Richard Macien-Clarke, the Coffee Dude, as almost everyone seems to call him, Kafe 1788 is a popular coffee hub that has quickly become the essential go-to place in the area.
It’s in Chrisp Street in Poplar and Richard, who’s originally from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, says the idea came to him back almost four years ago in 2014.
Reaching the upcoming two-year anniversary since the shop started trading hasn’t always been easy. Asked what that most challenging thing about opening the café in the first place was, Richard says, “The list is long. But the toughest part of all has been running the business on my own, while trying to build it up and grow it one step at a time. On the other hand, after the initial struggles like finding the funding, discovering just the right site, settling on the best contractors and so on, the single best moment was opening the shop after so many challenges. I started the project more than a year before the day it opened.”
The Dregas gig in conjunction with Hofmeister is just the latest of a series of highly successful events. Dregas has performed at the venue before, at an open mic night, but this will be a full performance – two performances, in fact, in the course of the evening, one from Dregas on her own and one with her regular band.
Hofmeister’s slogan is Pure Enjoyment, which Richard feels ties in well to the thinking behind his project. “Kafe 1788 has been bringing people together through different events from open mic evenings to food pop-ups. We have been entertaining Chrisp Street with our events, so that local residents can enjoy their area and bring friends to where they live.”
There’s also a Nigerian food pop-up scheduled in the coming days and two photography exhibitions are about to open.
When the café opened, Richard says, it provided the area with its first place to get really good coffee, sit down and eat, watch an event. “People didn’t need to go to Shoreditch for these things any more when the shop opened here,” he says.
The name comes from the Creole word for coffee and the number is inspired by the year “when Haiti was thought of as the pearl of the West Indies, when the colony was more profitable and productive than any other.”
The following year, 1789, saw the French Revolution, which led to Haiti’s independence.
Although coffee is only just part of its purpose, it’s still essential. The coffee is bought as green beans from independent producers in Haiti, then roasted in the UK for a week. Only then is it served to the café’s customers, who are passionate about it.
The place is always lively, whether it’s running boxing classes or pilates, or playing host to local musicians – like Dregas.
Richard says this may not always be the only Kafe 1788. “One day, I’d like to extend the business and open more shops.”
And what’s the most important aspect of running the place? “The most fulfilling thing happens when people who are strangers start talking to each other. That’s when I can see the real meaning of community, which is communication.”