Lockdown Reflections

Lockdown Reflections

Is anyone else struggling to believe that it’s already July? According to this cool interactive article that was trending on Twitter earlier this week, it’s new experiences that create memories, and help our brains to process the passing of time. Since there’s not been much of that going on lately, no wonder it feels like the last few months have flown by- even though many of us have experienced more prolonged boredom than we thought possible in our adult lives…

Our hearts go out to the many families who have suffered losses and we know that this situation is far from over. Nonetheless, the tentative reopening of hospitality last weekend was undoubtedly a milestone. So this feels like a good moment to pause and reflect on everything that’s been going on at the brewery over the last few months.

When lockdown first kicked in many of us were saying things like “see you in April!” and “let’s just wait a few weeks and see how things are”. Of course, it didn’t take long for us to realise that lockdown wasn’t something we could just wait out until things got back to normal. We were going to need to adapt, and make some difficult decisions. We made the call to put members of staff on furlough, and sadly had to destroy a lot of kegged beer which couldn’t be sold while pubs were still closed. We continued brewing, but much less often. We know that we’ve been incredibly lucky to have the full support of our partners at Heineken during this time, helping to keep Jez, Mike, Libby & Xochitl’s stress levels (reasonably) under control.

Like so many London breweries we found purpose by focusing on ways we could help and support our community: we sent beer to NHS workers, donated £1280 of proceeds from our t-shirt and brewer’s yeast sales to Brixton Foodbank and sponsored some amazing virtual live music. We also created a colouring competition to help those isolating kill some time and were absolutely blown away by the response. More than anything we’ve been deeply grateful for the orders coming in through our webshop which have meant we’ve been able to continue getting our beer out there– it’s genuinely meant the world to us.

We are incredibly proud of our entire team who have shown amazing resilience and dedication throughout this time. What felt like bad timing, but actually ended up being good timing, was that our new Brand Marketing Manager (Sophie) and Graphic Designer (Ellie) both joined the business at the very start of lockdown. In a period when people have been more available than ever to engage with us online, this has meant that we’ve been able to focus on creating great content and initiatives to keep conversations going with our drinkers, when doing so IRL has been impossible.

And despite the incredible difficulties faced by the trade we’ve been amazed by how supportive everyone has been of each other and by the many creative ways that our customers adapted their businesses during lockdown- turning bars into delis, takeaway restaurants and bottle shops. It has been a great opportunity for us to build some new relationships and strengthen old ones.

We absolutely loved seeing bars and restaurants starting to reopen last weekend- it feels like Brixton is finally getting its groove back. For now we have made the decision to keep our taproom operating a takeaway only service since we don’t feel that we have the space to implement social distancing effectively inside- but even so it’s been amazing to see so many of you pop in for a takeaway pint (or to grab a mini-keg en route to the park).

We will continue to take things slowly as everyone gets a feel for the best way to enjoy our new freedoms responsibly, but we have plenty of cool plans in the works so stay tuned for some news in the coming weeks!

In the meantime, thanks again to everyone who has been on this journey with us. Stay awesome!

Love Team BB x

Design Your Own Beer competition results!

Design Your Own Beer competition results!

When we launched our Design Your Own Beer competition, we were in the first surreal week of lockdown and we thought people might welcome a little distraction from everything going on around us. We often get asked about our colourful and distinctive labels inspired by the normally colourful and buzzing Brixton (it’ll be back one day soon!) and we were excited to see what people would come up with on their own.  

We invited people to download our beer label template, come up with a creative name and get colouring in! To say we’ve been absolutely blown away by the imagination, the effort and the all-around care that went into the submissions would be an understatement. We’ve loved each and every one – from the most professional to the crayon and stick figures – we salute them all. Some people wrote to tell us the story behind their design, others let the artwork speak for itself. There were lots of tributes to key workers and to Brixton. Some took our existing labels as inspiration, and others went gloriously off in their own direction.  

Our initial plan was to pick a winner and send them a case of beer, but when it came to judging, we realised that choosing just one would be impossible. So we’ve decided to pick four winners and a swathe of runners up – and all will have prizes! Our overall winner will receive 24 beers, each category winner will receive 12 beers and we’ve got keyrings and pins for all of our runners up. So, without further ado…

OVERALL WINNER: Nathan Reed, Clap Your Hands

Beer Design Winner

Runners Up: @Char_br0iled, Stay At Home Brew and @tunsofbeer, Recharge

Runners Up: @julia_peculiar_, The Staying Inn and Stewart Kerr, National Hero Special

PEOPLE’S CHOICE WINNER: Luke Fuller, Two Meter-You

And some more of our favourites.. there were so many good ones!

Thank you everyone who took the time to enter; it’s definitely brightened up our lockdown, and hopefully yours too. Stay safe! Love, Team BB 

We’re raising funds while you raise bread!

We’re raising funds while you raise bread!

In what we hope is exciting news for all you home bakers out there, we have decided to make our own supply of brewer’s yeast available to buy on our webshop!

The coronavirus lockdown has had many unforeseen consequences. Maybe one of the less expected has been a national shortage of yeast, which has prevented many of us from being able to perfect our bread-making skills while we have the time.

When we heard this news (then confirmed the absence of dried yeast in all our local shops!) we knew that we had to do something to help. We checked our stock of brewer’s yeast and realised that we had enough to spare, and decided to make some available to buy on our website. We really hope that by doing this more people will be able to indulge in the joys of home bread-making and that we can raise some additional funds for Norwood & Brixton Foodbank while we’re at it.

You can head to our webshop to buy the yeast in 30g sachets (enough for 6-8 loaves) for £5 including postage. All profits are being donated directly to the foodbank.

We’re also including an easy-to-follow recipe for home-made bread with every order, including some tips and tricks from our two resident baking experts – delivery driver Roberto (the acknowledged Master) and brewer Francesco. Although not exactly the same as the dried yeast sold in supermarkets (both are Saccharomyces cerevisiae), brewing yeast works well in most bread recipes. Yeast is yeast, you might say.

Our first attempt turned out pretty well!

 So get baking! And don’t forget to tag us in your baking pics @Brixtonbrewery

PS: We are still donating £5 from all Brixton Brewery T-shirt sales to Norwood & Brixton Foodbank- just FYI in case baking isn’t your thing!

PPS: For more information about the foodbank, including how to donate directly, and what items are critically needed, head to their website: https://norwoodbrixton.foodbank.org.uk/

Starting a new job during the lockdown

Starting a new job during the lockdown

Monday 23rd March 2020 was a pretty significant day for two reasons. First of all, it was the day that the British government announced a full lockdown in order to flatten the alarmingly un-flat curve of coronavirus spread. And secondly, (though perhaps not so significantly for the rest of you), it was also the first day of my new job, as Brixton’s Brand Marketing Manager. Ah, timing!

As a long-time from-afar Brixton Brewery fan, I am so excited to be joining the family. And it must be said that I am also grateful to be embarking on a job that I can feasibly do from the comfort of my living room, to give me some purpose during this strange time. I know that many others, particularly in the drinks & hospitality industry are not so fortunate. So this is not a sob story by any means, but starting a new job in a lockdown… it’s definitely been weird.

Fortunately we had the foresight to predict that this might happen so the week before I was due to start I went to the brewery to pick up a new laptop, make a few cursory introductions (from a safe distance!) and of course, take home as much beer as I could carry.

But so many of the usual things that you’d do when you start a job simply aren’t possible when you aren’t allowed to leave your house. No welcome lunch with the team, no opportunity to shadow colleagues and learn more about their roles, no chance even to sit quietly in an office, pretending to be reading old powerpoint decks whilst actually eavesdropping on the chatter going on around you, soaking it all in to get a feel for the vibe of the place and the people. This stuff might sound trivial, but as a marketeer I’ve always found that it’s all these tangible and intangible somethings that reveal the magic behind a brand you’re getting to know.

Thank goodness for virtual meetings! I’m so grateful that we live in a time when, despite being confined to our own homes, I can at least still let the faces of my new colleagues into my living room, to pick their brains and start piecing things together. We even had a virtual pint together on Friday! The stuttering pictures and dodgy audio are all worth it: slowly but surely, I’m going to get to know everyone.

And there are some positives: events are cancelled, bars are closed – (which sucks of course!) but it also means that there is more time than usual for thinking, researching and planning ahead. With everyone working from home, social media use is through the roof, so this is the perfect time to build community online. And as for the community of Brixton, I might not be able to pop over and say hi, but so many people are doing so much to look out for their friends, neighbours and those in need. It’s a source pride to be a part of this now, and to be able help the brewery continue to play its part. I’ll also be spending my time telling you more about this amazing place we get to call home and the fantastic beers that are inspired by Brixton. So stay tuned!

There’s no doubt that this is going to be a long road and there is plenty of uncertainty about what lies ahead, but I’d truly rather be here than anywhere else right now. And my goodness am I going to enjoy that first IRL pint with the team when the time finally comes!

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