When people think of the brewing scene in London, their thoughts often turn to Bermondsey, Hackney, and North and East London, but not really the South West. However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a brewing scene, far from it in fact. By the Horns, who established themselves in 2011 were one of the first in this area. Based opposite Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium they are located in the weird area that inhabits the space between Wimbledon and Tooting, known as Summerstown. Honestly, I’m not sure most people who live there even know it’s called that!

We were pleased to be invited down to the brewery to have a tour, chat about beer and, of course, have an obligatory taster. Based on a small stretch of industrial units, By the Horns have two units either side of a sign makers. However, as we would later be told, that was going to change very soon.

Chris, one half of the By the Horns founding team, met us in their tap room – the first of the two units that they currently own. The tap room will never be mistaken for a high-brow drinking establishment, but neither does it feel like it’s been tagged onto the brewery as an afterthought. Five guest taps and six of their own adorn the wall, as well as 3 cask lines. Seating is old fashioned pub high stalls, whilst prints of their bottle labels adorn the walls, an HD projector hangs overhead and a foosball table stands temptingly in the corner.

A glass screen behind the bar separates us from their malt mill, mash tun and kettle. This is where the initial part of the brewing starts and I can imagine drinking here whilst brewing is going on is a pretty cool form of people watching. From here, the beer is piped over to the second unit where it goes through a hear exchanger to cool it down, before the yeast is pitched.

When I go to visit breweries, one of the most interesting parts is learning how each brewery overcomes any limitations of the space they are in. For the most part, it would be impossible to transpose one breweries equipment into another, and By the Horns are no different. In the first unit, a hole had to be cut in the second floor for the malt to be dropped in the mill. Then, from the kettle, pipework was specially constructed to run between the two units for beer transport.

This is when we then move to the next unit, and it has changed a lot since I was last there, an indication of the big plans that are now beginning to come to fruition. Directly opposite the entrance are two stacks of wooden barrels, a more common sight in breweries nowadays. One contains their saison, whilst the other a Belgian stout that is close to being ready after 9 months of ageing. Look out for it on our shelves soon!

Whilst being shown around, we start to talk about the future plans for By the Horns, and these plans are grand! They have managed to agree leases for the unit between their two current ones, and also the unit to the left, doubling their floor space. Not only that but they have several new fermenters coming in which will take their total capacity up to 12 or 13bbl. Chris was talking about the increasing interest in the beers from abroad – they’ve been invited to the Stockholm Whiskey and Beer Festival for the second year running. As with most breweries, there is also the effect of the increased demand for good beer back in the UK as well. Both these factors have combined to enable By the Horns to take risks in expanding, and be confident that there will be enough demand to take the extra beer they end up producing.
I always like to ask if there’s any beers that brewers regret making, it’s a bit of a weird question, but always elicits interesting responses from the brewers. In this case, Chris talks about the first batch of their Christmas beer, Jolly Fatman, a spiced beer that apparently took the concept of spicing beer a step too far. However, as always, this was a one-time mistake that helped to teach them the amount of spices appropriate for a beer!
We then move back to the tap room and have a chat about some of the beers that they’re currently brewing. Seeing as their Lambeth Walk was my favourite beer of theirs, it seemed like the best place to start. A traditional porter, this beer has great, rich, chocolate and coffee flavours coming from it with hints of dark fruits giving it a slightly bitter finish. This was about the third beer By the Horns brewed, and they haven’t really changed the recipe since because it is just right.

We then talk about one of their other most popular beers, Wolfie Smith, that has been through several reincarnations. This beer had started off as a brown ale, before becoming an amber and then an IPA. Not only that, but there was a label change after Robert Lindsey, the original Wolfie Smith, objected to his likeness being used in he bottle design. Now finally nailed down as a 5.2% amber IPA, this beer has a chewy toffee backbone that is expected of an amber ale. On top of this, the tropical fruit flavours strike a brilliant contrast.

As the visit came to an end, we talked about some of the more immediate plans for By the Horns. They have increased the opening hours of their tap room and will be showing pretty much every Rugby World Cup game on their projector. They also have food trucks parked up outside most days, guaranteeing you a decent bite to eat. If you want somewhere to watch the rugby with great beer at a decent price, you can do a lot worse than heading over to Summerstown.

By the Horns are one of the few breweries in South West London and they’re doing their best to build a community down here. With new beers appearing every couple of weeks, there can occasionally be some misses. For the most part, however, you can always be confident of a decent tipple when picking up a bottle from these guys. We’re always rotating our stock of their beers, and that’s not going to change any time soon. With their expansion plans coming together, expect to see them around in other places. They have certainly taken this opportunity By the Horns.