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Embrace the opportunity

Embrace the opportunity

Jez and Xochitl took some time-out to talk to Tim from The Brewers Journal about building a new brewery in Brixton. Read on…

Brixton Brewery has done a great job of placing South London on the brewing map since starting out in 2013. But a life-changing approach from Heineken has allowed the team to accelerate their growth plans, employ more staff and increase the brewery’s visibility. And they’re just getting started, reports Tim Sheahan.

A year can be a long time, and it can also fly by. At times, it can feel like both.

I first met Jez Galaun, co-founder of Brixton Brewery, back in 2016. Dressed head to toe in brewing overalls, he was under the cosh, balancing half a dozen different tasks while also overseeing a brew at the company’s railway arch brewery. 

The South London site – just a stone’s throw from the frenetic, melting-pot high road that connects Brixton Road and Brixton Hill – was full to the brim. This was the sign of a business enjoying steady growth, but one that was balancing the endless commitments that comes with such territory. 

It was a moment that is both a distant memory, yet one this writer recalls vividly.

Fast-forward more than 18 months and Galaun is in attendance at the inaugural Brewers Congress 2017, an educational event organised by this very publication. Talks were delivered on areas such as branding, the barriers to growth, as well as the exciting opportunities that are out there for breweries.

The following day, Brixton Brewery announced the biggest news in its short history. That it had partnered with Heineken UK in a deal that would enable the business to open a second site in Brixton, boost capacity nearly tenfold from its 3,000hl site to up to 30,000hl, and significantly grow its team as a result.

One year on, Galaun and Brixton Brewery, co-founded by Libby Galaun, Mike Ross and Xochitl Benjamin, are looking very much at ease in their new home. But they know this is just the beginning. 

“It was surreal and somewhat strange being in a room with all of our peers without anyone knowing,” explains Galaun. “The year that has followed was crazy, if I’m honest. Building a new brewery feels like starting again.”

He adds: “We’ve had much to learn and we want to go as fast as we can, but we’re particularly conscious of the pressure that would put on us as a team. So we’re simply trying to build things up step by step.”

And that’s exactly the approach they’ve taken. The new brewhouse, manufactured by Gravity Systems, has produced in excess of 50 batches since it was commissioned earlier this year. The brewery also has a sales team for the first time in its five-year history. 

The imminent appointment of new sales person complements a sales manager and brewery ambassador, tasked with winning new business outside of the brewery’s South London home where much of its beer has traditionally been sold.

“London is a big market and to make a mark, you are going to wear out a lot of shoe leather,” says Galaun. “Until we moved into this brewery, we focused a lot on small pack as it helped us get our beer out there. When you’ve only got a little bit of beer to sell, you focus on the smaller containers. We can change that now.”

Fifty percent of their beer produced at the brewery’s old – and still operational – site at Arch 547 on Brixton Station Road went into bottle, while the remainder was split between cask and keg. Since the move, close to 70 percent of the beer Brixton Brewery produces goes into keg while the rest is canned and bottled.

“We really want to make our canning line sweat in 2019,” he says.

The scale and scope of Brixton Brewery’s new facility is impressive, but there is still much room to grow into, as well. New FV tanks will arrive in the new year while the bottling line, currently operational at its older site, will be moved into the new brewery so to bring all packaging under one roof.

This methodical approach follows months of getting to grips with the company’s new brewhouse. Such a jump has been exciting for the team, but it’s not without its challenges, too. 

“We’ve wanted, and needed, to take time to understand the different efficiencies this new kit offers. Whether that’s how we extract sugars from the malt, or the flavour and bitterness from the hops,” says Galaun. “We also need to make sure that we are getting the right yield from the equipment, because that doesn’t simply happen straightway. 

“When we started brewing at the new brewhouse, we were getting the flavour we wanted but not the right amount of beer. So we had to adjust things by increasing the amount of wort we were casting from the brewhouse to the fermenters.

“With that, the flavour changes so you’ve got to dial things back in with the amount of dry hop. It has taken quite a few brews of each recipe to say ‘ok we’re happy’ with this flavour profile and the amount of beer we’ve produced. That has been an interesting experience and not something we have had to do before,” he says.

While Heineken has offered its expertise at many levels, it hasn’t engaged in much hand-holding as Galaun and the team grow into their new brewery.

“They don’t brew on this scale or produce the style of beers we brew. But they’ve helped in terms of project management and getting the brewery up-and-running,” he says. “What’s also been valuable is the way they’ve helped in getting the kit in the right place, not just for our needs today, but in five-years time.”

For Galaun, the new site has a logical flow with raw materials coming in one end, going into the brewhouse, then fermentation, before packaging and warehousing. This setup has allowed the team to reach their production goals for 2018, which is producing close to double the 3,000hl capacity its arch site is capable of.

At its maximum, the new setup could produce 30,000hl per annum, but Gallaun sees such output as a way off yet.

“This facility is big enough to hold tanks to produce such volumes, but that’s a lot of brews each week on a brewhouse that isn’t automated. We wanted it that way. We wanted that manual level of control and intervention we had on our old system,” he says. “Other brewhouses were more automated, more suited to brewing multiple times a day.”

What Brixton Brewery did specify though was a whirlpool, with Heineken recommending a three degree slope on such a system.

“Like anything else, they didn’t recommend kit we should buy, they just sanity checked things and ensured each supplier was providing us quality equipment,” he adds.

The addition of a canning line was a big move for Brixton Brewery, kit that has perhaps unsurprisingly been specified with the ability to fill 440ml cans when required. This is something that will see the light of day in 2019, with Galaun identifying lager and “hazy, hoppy beers” likely to be distributed in such vessels. 

While Brixton Brewery always planned to grow, expand and invest in new kit, the Heineken partnership enabled the team to accelerate such plans. 

They’ve never looked back.

“It was serendipity, I suppose,” says Galaun. “We had long reached maximum capacity in the Brixton arch. There was no way we could add any more fermenters!” 

With that, the company identified an 8,000sqft site located on Brixton Hill, half the size of the site they now have. However that site came off the market and at the same time, late 2016, they received an approach from Heineken.

“They emailed out of the blue to tell us that they liked what we were doing, their desire to talk and to discuss how we could work together. It was to the point,” he explains.

Galaun says he and the team were “humbled” that such as business had noticed what they were doing on a relatively local, modest level.

“You don’t get that type of email every day, and we’re an open-minded bunch so it made obvious sense to agree to talk,” he says. 

“And we made them come and brew with us!” laughs co-founder Xochitl Benjamin. “We outlined our vision for the business and that was something they wanted to get behind. We don’t think this current setup would have been achievable for us if we had used crowdfunding or similar.”

These discussions continued for 12 months until Brixton Brewery announced the deal in November 2017. And the team remain heartened by the response to news.

“We had a lot of people congratulate us, acknowledge the hard work we had put in and tell us it was a great opportunity for us and our beers,” recalls Galaun. “That meant a lot.”

He adds: “A lot of breweries in our position know how hard it is to grow in London when it comes to identifying suitable space. We were fortunate to find a path to allow us to carry on with our journey; there’s a lot of breweries looking for that same next step. They could relate to us and the opportunity we were given.

“For us, much of this partnership is about us making the best beer we can. We want to place Brixton on the map for great beer. That’s not something we felt we could do as well in the old site when it comes to the level of quality control and analysis. But we can, now.”

Galaun is enthused with the beer the brewery is producing, noting a stable wort heated by its steam system. Packaging quality has experienced an uplift too, with lower dissolved oxygen levels being achieved in the three canned beers it produces: Reliance Pale Ale, Atlantic A.P.A and Low Voltage Session IPA. 

The brewery’s co-founder is also positive about the impact the tie-up will have on the team as a whole. 

“We want to give our staff the opportunity to grow as professionals but also improve their quality of life, too. Brewing and living in London can be tough, and you have to be very passionate about what you do. We want to ensure our staff can grow with us, in work and outside of it,” she says.  

A positive working environment will also pay dividends for Brixton Brewery as it further grows into its new home, and its relationship with Heineken evolves, too.

The brewery’s beer has already made it to around 15 of the multinational’s Star Pubs and Bar estate, a number that will only grow in time. But for now, the focus is still firmly rooted on developing direct relationships across London, fulfilled by the brewery’s sole trusty delivery van.

You get the impression that such an approach suits Galaun and the team, while they continue to get to grips with Brixton Brewery 2.0.

“The task of setting up a new brewery is almost like starting a business all over again and it is very, very intense. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had help and project management advice, so I have massive respect for those that make that journey alone,” he says.

Galaun adds: “I think that we’ve taken a quantum leap going from a small 10 hectolitre railway arch setup to a 50 hectolitre 15,000sqft facility. 

“Then away from production, we’ve had to really think a lot more about our brand, what it means to us and what message we want it to convey. You spend a lot of time thinking about that when you’re supplying locally, but that ramps up incredibly when your beer is reaching a wider audience.”

And reaching a wider audience will become more commonplace for Galaun, Benjamin and the Brixton Brewery team in 2019 and beyond. 

Concentrating on producing a quality core range of beers remains the priority, while the older site will enable production of more seasonal and experimental beers and offer up a stronger taproom experience in due course.

“We want our beer in more places than ever before. But not at the compromise of quality, either,” says Galaun. “We want more people discovering what we do, enjoying it, and associating Brixton with great beer.”BeerBrewingBrixtonUK

Pour yourself a pint of ambition!

Pour yourself a pint of ambition!

Brixton Brewery x Big Chill collaboration launches lower ABV ‘9 to 5’ Desk Beer for Big Chill’s redesigned workspace

Lower alcohol beers are having a bit of a moment. Our newest brew, 9 to 5 Desk Beer is a 2.8% ABV pale ale collaboration with Big Chill King’s Cross. Big Chill wanted to celebrate the relaunch of their flexible work/social space with the ultimate beer to take you smoothly from your workday ventures to your evening adventures. The result is a lower ABV beer you can enjoy just as easily during working hours, or from 9pm to 5am if that’s more your thing. It’s the anytime brew that you can really work with.

9 to 5 is a hop forward, lightly hazy pale ale, brewed with Australian hops Galaxy and Vic Secret. It fizzes with bright peach flavour and stone fruit aromas. We’ve packed in all the full free-time flavour of a stronger beer, without the productivity-crushing punch of a higher ABV. 9 to 5 is part of our Ltd Edn range of small-batch, limited edition brews.

Say no to endless cups of the same old coffee and savour the full flavour of a workday beer! Never let making a livin’ be all takin’ and no givin’!

Brixton Brewery x Big Chill 9 to 5 Desk Beer is available at Big Chill Kings Cross and Big Chill Brick Lane from 28 February 2018, and other fine beer suppliers, including online at brixtonbrewery.com and eebria.com, while supplies last.

9 to 5 Desk Beer 2.8% – Pale Ale – apricot, peach and citrus flavours. Light and flavourful.
Brewed with Galaxy and Vic Secret hops.
Available in: 330ml bottles

 

Jez talks to Deskbeers about starting a brewery in Brixton

Jez talks to Deskbeers about starting a brewery in Brixton

Meet the Brewer: Brixton Brewery

Jez, Libby, Xochitl and Mike started Brixton Brewery back in 2013 and quickly established themselves as a mainstay of the UK craft brewing scene. Taking inspiration from the explosion of UK brewing at the time, and influenced by both US and European styles of beer, we love that the vibrancy of SW9 shines through in everything Brixton brews.

We asked Jez to answer a few questions for us about getting started, brewing life and what it means to run a world class craft brewery in your own neighbourhood.


DeskBeers: What (and where) was the first beer you ever brewed?

Jez Galaun: Our first brew was as complete novice home brewers back in March 2011. Mike, my former neighbour and co-conspirator (aka brewery co-founder) bought a Mr. Beer kit online and it came with everything we needed. You get a tin of malt extract, yeast, hops, plastic fermenter, bottles etc and we “brewed” it up on the stove in his flat and fermented it in his airing cupboard!

Just the other week we found photos of us brewing and later tasting that beer wearing fictional “Brixton Brewers” t-shirts our wives Libby and Xochitl, the other brewery Co-Founders had made for us as a surprise. I got quite emotional looking at them.

DB: How did you come to start your own brewery?

JG: We met in the Hive Bar, which is now Craft Beer Co. Brixton in 2010. We both had new babies and were having some Sunday brunch. We got to talking, and it turned out that we actually lived on the same street — right across from one another.

The same year I’d visited The Kernel with a friend one Saturday morning in their original home on Maltby St and that was my eureka moment. Soon after we were all having a burger and a pint of Amstel, again in Hive Bar and I made a flippant remark about how we should open a local microbrewery.

Things were kind of taking off in the London beer scene, and Brixton was becoming known as a bit of a foodie destination, so it just seemed like the right thing to do.

Mike seemed to like the idea and sent me an email later that week to tell me he’d ordered the Mr. Beer kit. Not wanting to be outdone I immediately bought BrixtonBrewery.com. Every journey starts with a single step and that was ours.

DB: Describe your brewing ethos in a few words.

JG: We’re always seeking balance. We never set out to make the strongest, the hoppiest, the wackiest, the most bitter beer. We want our beers to be incredibly tasty but not slap you in the face.

DB: What’s the best thing about running your own brewery?

Community. We’re part of the local Brixton community and the wider craft beer one. This has allowed us to make lots of great friends and connections with like-minded people and businesses and also build a great community around us through the tap-room. It’s those experiences that make all the hard work worthwhile.

DB: What’s the worst mistake made while brewing?

The first brew we did to commission our commercial brewery was our flagship Electric IPA. We scaled up our home-brew recipe and overshot massively on the grain bill! The mash-tun overflowed and the beer came out at almost 8%. We were aiming for 6.5!

That batch went down the drain and delayed our official launch slightly but we learn fast and thankfully nailed it on the second attempt. In hindsight choosing your strongest beer as a first brew isn’t advice I’d give to someone else starting out!

DB: What’s the most important attribute you need to be a good brewer?

Quick thinking! What we do is a genuine craft, we’re not just pushing buttons. To make consistent beers the brewer has to react to variations in raw materials, temperatures, water chemistry etc. You also need to be something of a jack-of-all-trades. Since starting the brewery I’ve had to do everything from setting up the Wi-Fi to getting my forklift licence, to using a microscope to count yeast cells.

DB: What advice would give to someone starting out?

JG: The industry is changing so quickly. You really need to hit the ground running, I don’t think you can learn on the job anymore, like we did. There’s no substitute for experience but luckily it’s an open industry and people are happy to help with advice.

We certainly got our fair share in the early days and try and reciprocate that favour now. We’ve actually recently become mates with three guys opening Nigeria’s first craft brewery, Bature Brewery and I’d like to think we’ve helped them and others on their journey, much like we’ve had help on ours.

DB: Which brewery would you most like to collaborate with?

JG: Good question. We’ve only done 3 collabs so far, one with Brasserie De La Senne from Brussels, another with Volcano Coffee Works and most recently with chef Tim Anderson. All of their philosophies and approaches really resonated with us. For us collaboration needs that mutual respect and learning.

We’ve recently launched a range called Ltd Edn to do more experimental beers, and that’s a great way to open up to more collaborations, so it’s something we’ll be pursuing for sure.

When we started, we had a brewer called Emanuel who worked for us for a while and then moved back to France to open his own brewery, which I haven’t visited yet. It would be really cool and interesting to go over and check out his set up and do something with him. His brewery is called Les Trois Croquants. France has been a bit slow to get into craft beer so we’re all for supporting Emanuel in his quest to make it happen.

DB: As a brewer, where would you like to be in 5 years time?

JG: If you read the side of our bottles you’ll see “Brewed Fresh in the heart of Brixton” and whilst we’re bursting at the seams currently that’s our pole star. It’s not just marketing. We started in Brixton, it’s a place that constantly inspires and nourishes us and we will do everything we can to stay here as we hopefully continue to grow.

DB: If you had had to listen to the same song forever whilst brewing, what would it be?

JG: Mr. November by The National. I’ve seen it performed live a fair few times (check it out on youtube) and Matt the bands frontman goes absolutely crazy and climbs into the crowd. Every time I hear it those memories come back. The process of brewing and drinking beer does that for me too — it creates and evokes memories.

DB: You are stuck on a desert island. You discover a cool box with one can of Stella and one can of Carling. What do you do?

JG: Drink the Stella, use the Carling to break open coconuts.

DB: You can drink one style of beer for the rest of your life. What do you pick?

JG: That is a painful choice to have to make, but probably IPA. Our first brew, as I said, was our Electric IPA, and it’s the style that kind of got me in to craft beer in the first place.

You can do a lot with it — we’ve got the Megawatt Double IPA, which is a pretty strong 8%, but then we also do our Low Voltage Session IPA, which is 4.3%. It’s a really versatile style, and you can do a lot with all the different hops that are out there, adding such a great range of flavours. It works well with food, and it’s an all-around solid beer style. As long as I could try lots of different IPAs, I should be able to survive with this tragic limitation.

DB: What was the last beer you had that wasn’t one you brewed?

JG: A Dugges Pale Ale. A friend from Sweden came to visit last weekend and brought me a bottle. He was completely floored that I recognised a small brewery from a small city in his home country. It just shows how global and interconnected our “movement” is!


Thanks again to Jez for taking the time to answer our questions, and to the whole Brixton team for turning out great beer day in, day out.

We love craft beer and finding out about the people behind them. If you do to, why not subscribe to our low-frequency newsletter to be notified when we publish the next interview?

A bright SPARK! & other adventures in experimental brewing

A bright SPARK! & other adventures in experimental brewing

Our new Ltd Edn range is what happens when we let our brewing imaginations run wild and see where it takes us…

We’ve always said that our beers are all about balance – the right combination of bitter, sweet and crisp. We’ve never tried to be the hoppiest, the booziest, or the most out-there with the flavour combinations. Mostly, we’ve aimed to make beers that people actually want to drink, not beers that a few people might try, but others mostly just talk about (possibly in tones of slight horror). On the other hand, we definitely want to create exciting, innovative beers. We’ve noticed that more people have developed more experimental tastes. So now we’ve got more capacity in the brewery we’ve started experimenting too.

We’d like to introduce you to our Ltd Edn range (yeah, it’s just pronounced Limited Edition). Ltd Edn tests out new styles, techniques and flavour combinations, but always stays on the right side of balanced and drinkable. It’s the beer you might take a bit of a risk on. We’re working hard to make sure that the risk pays off, and leads you to something to savour and enjoy.

We start out by making a small batch, like the home brewers we originally were. If it works, we scale it up. By the time it reaches you, it’s been tested, tweaked, tested again, and is all ready to enjoy. Each batch will be available for a short time only (ltd, even), and when it’s done, we’ll be on to something else. So be quick or it will be gone like the vowels on the labels.

Our Ltd Edn range features a pared down label design, combining two bright colours on a white matt background. It’s a bit of a departure from our trademark multi-coloured labels, but the pared-down design reflects the more experimental and temporary nature of the beers.

First up, for summer 2017, is SPARK! Table Beer. We were up for the challenge of packing massive flavour into a low-ABV brew. SPARK! is a hop-forward hazy pale ale, brewed with Vienna and oat malt. It fizzes with bright melon and stone fruit flavours. You get all the electric pleasures of a great beer, without the jolt of a high ABV.

The next experimental pilot brew is already fermenting away – it involves live cultures, ginger and rum and promises to be tart and exciting. We want to make sure that we’re always trying something new, and so are you.

Join us in our Tap Room to try SPARK! and our full range of beers. Our summer hours are Fridays from 6pm til 10pm & Saturdays from 12 til 6.