Introducing…. Brixton Brewery
“Brixton deserves it’s own brewery” believes Jez, one of the Brixton Brewery co-founders. So he set one up with his friend and we’re now enjoying the fruits of their labour. We headed down for a chat.
Whatever way you look at it, there seemed to be various signs along the way that made Jez and Mike confident that starting a brewery in Brixton was the right thing to do.
The sign I see leading me to the Brixton Brewery is the hanging ‘B’ outside the brewery. I spot it a good distance away as it is certainly distinctive. When I mention this to Jez, co-founder of Brixton Brewery, he smiles and tells me it’s actually the second sign they’ve erected, the first one being stolen fairly early on. Seems like an odd thing to steal but then again people take all sorts of stuff. I have stopped by for a chat with one of the brewery’s co-founders to find out what makes them tick and within five minutes he has cracked open a bottle of Reliance, a bitter pale ale hopped with Chinook that tastes good, perfect for the end of the day. It’s a beer you could certainly have more than one of which is good news because Jez keeps the beer flowing throughout our chat.
Brixton Brewery have been making beer since August 2013, and, in many ways one of the most striking things about the Brixton Brewery is that no-one had thought to open a brewery in Brixton before 2013! As an area it is buzzing and the hipsters have taken note. Craft beer pubs are opening here there and everywhere and every food brand worth its salt seems to be clammering for sites to get in on the action in what could be called ‘Shoreditch of the South’. And yet, whilst hipster Hackney has one brewery for every two hipsters, Brixton has until recently had no local beer to be sold in it’s revamped market.
For Jez, and business partner and friend Mike, the idea to start the brewery came about a couple of years before the launch and he tells me they were sure someone would come in and steal the idea, beating them to it. Not that you couldn’t have two breweries in the same postcode of course – just look at Bermondsey. But to bag the Brixton name (and all it entails) for their brewery came as a bit of a shock and a relief. “It’s such an iconic name, it felt surprising that someone didn’t already have it taken”. Fortunately for them no one had and so Jez and Mike became the proud owners of Brixton Brewery (in name at least).
As iconic as the place is though, the guys didn’t choose Brixton for that reason. This is the place where they have both lived for the past 6 or 7 years, and it’s where they met and became friends. They lived across the road from each other for a while and Jez even viewed Mike’s flat with a view to buying it, all before they knew each other. “One of the first things I said to Mike when we met is ‘I’ve been inside your bedroom”, Jez tells me laughing. It’s creepy for sure but as openers go it has some impact! So Brixton has played an important part in these guys’ lives and, although not born and bred there, it’s good to see that they can definitely be said to be part of the community. This is especially refreshing to learn as there was a part of me that worried that Brixton Brewery could have been started by any old person keen to cash in on what Brixton represents. I was relieved to find this wasn’t the case.
Once they had made the decision to start the brewery, secured the name and got the finances in place, Jez and Mike decided that, although keen homebrewers, they wanted to hire a head brewer who had commercial experience. With so many new breweries starting up in London quality is becoming ever more important and the value of a qualified, experienced brewer should not be overlooked. They hired Dominic who had worked at a couple of other breweries previously and he helped them in all aspects from brew kit selection to recipe formulation to finding the right space. I suppose you could say he helped them take things from an idea to a reality. It also allowed Jez and Mike to keep up their full time jobs,at least for the time being, something that was essential in making this fledgling business viable.
Jez currently still works in IT and moonlights at the brewery, usually arriving there at around 6pm on weekdays to help out with whatever needs doing, be that finishing up a brew, cleaning down, bottling up or packing boxes. Running a brewery is a tough job at the best of times, but it must be even tougher when you’ve just done a 9 to 5 in a normal office! “It is tough, but it’s worth it when the end result is making great beers.” Jez tells me he is hoping to soon be able to quit the day job, a sure sign that things must be going well with the brewery. His wife has been helping out with the sales around Brixton and so far the response has been very positive. There has always been a community feel to Brixton and the local businesses are fully in support of their local brewery, meaning their beers can be found in a fair few of the local pubs and restaurants, including of course The Craft Beer Co. from where they launched.
As we chat away, I look around the arch and am struck by a couple of nice features that hang from the roof. One of these are the lights that have lampshades made from African woven baskets that they picked up from the local market. The other is some bunting, colourful and inspired by the local area, it was created by a local trader especially for the brewery. I ask Jez about these and he tells me it’s important to them that the brewery is representative of the area in which it operates. Brixton is of course undergoing massive change at the moment but at it’s heart is a vibrant multicultural community that goes back several generations. To completely bypass this aspect of Brixton would be a mistake and it’s good to see it reflected not only in some internal decoration but also in the labels and beer names. Reliance Pale Ale (4.2%) references the 1920s arcade in Brixton where local cobblers and tailors still practise their craft, whilst the Electric IPA (6.5%) is a nod to the famous Electric Avenue, the first market in Britain to be lit by electricity and of course the title of Eddy Grant’s 1983 hit. Electric IPA is also just a great name for a beer that has a lot of kick to it – hoppy, bitter, tropical fruit aroma – it’s everything you’d hope from a beer with that name. Effra Ale (4.5%), named after the river that flows through Brixton, is a session amber ale, quaffable and refreshing. Whilst there I am lucky enough to try some of the recently released Atlantic APA (5.4%) direct from the FV. Although still a touch green and very cloudy from the dry hops, I can already taste the beginnings of a very drinkable pale ale. Atlantic APA is a neat name as it references Atlantic Road (just round the corner from the brewery) but equally could relate to the ocean that divides us from our American cousins that have inspired this beer (and countless others). I’m finally given a bottle of Windrush Stout (5.0%) to take away with me and told to give it a few days to finish bottle conditioning. Again the name references Brixton history – the MV Empire Windrush was the ship that brought the first wave of West Indian immigrants to South London in 1948 and there is a square in Brixton named after it.
It’s fair to say that Brixton Brewery’s first few months in operation have been solid. Nailing down recipes, getting some sales in and building the brand and community around it seem to have been the cornerstones. I sense from Jez that they are not necessarily that interested in going crazy in terms of the styles of beers they brew but I’m also conscious that if anyone could, it feels like they are well placed to do so. After all, as it says on their own website, “…take a sip and say cheers to the vibrant Caribbean culture that makes Brixton come alive.” I’ll drink to that.
We’re currently stocking all five Brixton Brewery beers in our Balham shop, so pop in and try some out.