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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

Our new brewery OPEN PARTY! All the info you need

Our new brewery OPEN PARTY! All the info you need

We are very excited to be hosting our New Brewery Open Day Party on Saturday, 22 September from 12 til 9pm! We’ve planned a day of beer, music, food and fun for kids of all ages. It’s a SOLD OUT event so we’re expecting it to be a fantastic, busy good time. If you didn’t get tickets, you can still turn up on the day but ticket holders will have priority. Here are a few other important things to know:

  • The first 100 guests get a free beer!
  • We have a pretty big space but once we are at capacity, it will be one-in, one-out, with priority for ticket holders.
  • There is no parking on our site on the day, but there is free parking on surrounding streets nearby.
  • Our Station Road Tap Room and Brewery on Brixton Station Road will be CLOSED this Friday/Saturday as our staff will be busy with this party.
  • Kids are welcome and do NOT need a ticket. There will be an activity area for kids.
  • If you look like you might be under 25, PLEASE BRING PHOTO ID to get served!
  • There will be a range of food & drink on offer, including beer (obviously!), wine and non-alcoholic drinks at a range of prices for kids, grownups, meat-lovers and veggies alike. We’ve brewed up a couple of one-off specials, including Brixette, a lemongrass infused grisette style beer, and Ribbon Cutter, a hazy, double-dry hopped pale ale, but you will also be able to get your regular favourites.
  • We are happy to accept cash or card.
  • We have an accessible toilet, and the brewery has ramps and level access to public areas.
  • There is a dedicated baby-changing/feeding room.

Our brewery is an indoor/outdoor space so it will be a good time, rain or shine!

See you there! Team BB

Brixton Fund uses community currency for local good

Brixton Fund uses community currency for local good

Brixton has an extraordinary range of ambitious social organisations trying to make life better in our area. As a community business, we try to support as many of them as we can to give back to the area that inspired and welcomed us, including the ‘hyperlocal’ Brixton Pound/Brixton Fund. 

The Brixton Pound is among the most innovative, visionary and high-profile groups working locally. It’s a currency aimed at keeping money circulating in Brixton, and encouraging a diverse range of businesses and services to stay in the area. The money, with its colourful and distinctive paper notes featuring local heroes like David Bowie and renowned social activist Olive Morris, has been operating since 2009. You can spend your notes, or sign up for the electronic version, at numerous businesses around Brixton, including in our off-sales and Saturday tap room.

Not content with merely inventing a new money, the Brixton Pound organisation went on to launch the Brixton Fund, a local grants scheme that directly funds projects that benefit the area. They also opened the Brixton Pound Café, a ‘pay what you feel’ café on Atlantic Road serving up delicious food, often made from donated surplus produce. Money raised from both the pound and the café go towards the Fund. When the staff of the Ritzy Cinema approached us about collaborating on a new, limited run beer, we all felt strongly that proceeds should also go to the Brixton Fund. The result was Britzy XPA, an extra pale ale brewed with all British ingredients that has raised more than £1000 directly for the Fund.

That means more money to support what Lucy Cava of the Brixton Fund calls ‘hyperlocal’ projects. She says, “What’s really nice about the Fund is that it ties the project to the local area and people can see what they are funding.” Lucy highlights the example of a recent initiative by WeRise, a social business that helps young people build professional networks and get project-based work experience. WeRise successfully secured funding for its PressGang, a week-long project that had 10 young people working with the Brixton Bugle to produce media content for the Brixton Design Trail 2017. It was an exciting opportunity for talented but unconnected young Brixtonites to get a taste of producing high quality multimedia material, guided by a team of professionals, and will likely have a lasting impact on its participants.

Lucy points out that the Brixton Pound organisation provides more than just funding. “Our ambition is to make the Brixton Pound Café into a community hub and platform for local groups. We provide support through the Fund, but there are other things that groups need, including affordable space to carry out their activities. That’s where our café comes in.” On the day we spoke to Lucy the café was a busy with members of Lambeth Better Together, the group formed in the wake of the death of MP Jo Cox, which has received money from the Fund to bring together people on opposite sides of the Brexit divide to encourage greater understanding and exchange of experiences between Remain-voting Lambeth and Boston, a Leave-supporting constituency in Lincolnshire.

In the last round of funding in 2017, the Brixton Fund had more than 40 applications for its grants. Check here for more information about the 2018 funding round, or find out how to support the Fund. Follow @brixtonpound on social media.

The Brixton Pound Café is at 77 Atlantic Road, SW9 8PU. Follow @brixtonpoundcaf on social media.

We’ve got the last keg of Britzy XPA on in our Tap Room so you can get a taste Saturdays from 12 til 6.

Brewing success means big expansion news

Brewing success means big expansion news

As we announce an exciting partnership to build a new brewery in Brixton, we look back on how we got to where we are, and forward to the next step on our journey…

Like so many of the good things in life, it all started over a pint. We met in 2010 in Brixton’s former Hive Bar, brought together by that common delusion of early parenthood that your life won’t change much. Of course you can have a baby and still hang out in the pub and chat to the couple next to you who also have a baby and are hanging out in the pub. And the next thing you know, you’ve started a brewery together. We all shared a love of Brixton and beer. We were exhilarated by the surging craft brewing scene in the UK and we knew we wanted to be part of it. Our mission was clear: to put Brixton on the map for great beer.

At first, we had few of the skills, none of the space or equipment, and little of the knowledge that we needed. But we had all of the confidence that it was possible, and a strong vision of the kind of business we would be – rooted in our local community; and the kind of beers we would brew –flavoursome, distinctive, but always balanced and accessible. We secured space in a railway arch in central Brixton and in 2013 Brixton Brewery was born.

Four years on from launching, we are a thriving community business brewing at our maximum capacity in the railway arch. We have around 15 employees and our beers have given people as far away as Italy and Hong Kong a little taste of Brixton in a bottle. Yet demand keeps rising, and we can’t keep up. It’s a nice problem for a small business to have, but it’s a problem!

We know we want to grow, and to be at the forefront of the brewing industry, and of our family business. We want to be in the brewery every day, working alongside our extraordinary, hilarious, creative and talented team. We also know we want to remain in Brixton, this fantastically eclectic place that has inspired and nurtured us, and given us the names and characters of many of our popular beers.

These days industrial space in central London is the rarest of commodities. To expand, most businesses are forced to move production to the outskirts. For us this was unthinkable and having missed out on a unit up Brixton Hill earlier in the year, we couldn’t believe our luck when we found the perfect, albeit much larger space just 600 metres from our current brewery.

It could take our brewing capacity from 12,000 pints a week to 60,000 and enable greater control over the process. It could help us keep brewing our consistently top quality core beers, while we experiment and innovate through our Ltd Edn range in our original brewery and Tap Room. It could mean more jobs and opportunities. And it was available.

To realise this unique and ambitious chance to grow in our home we needed serious investment. It was with pretty much perfect timing that we were contacted by Heineken UK. They had noticed us, liked what we were doing and wanted to see if we could work together somehow.

We invited some of the Heineken team for a brew day and were impressed by their knowledge, passion and insight. We got to know them slowly, felt that we had common ground, and built a relationship of mutual trust and respect. We were delighted that they believed in our vision too. They wanted to support us through investment in the new brewery, and eventually, through helping us get our beers out there to be enjoyed by more people. We are hugely proud of our success story, and see this partnership as the ideal way to keep the important things – the beer character, Brixton and our team – the same, while growing and evolving.

We will continue to be a great place to work, a proud London Living Wage employer and an approachable and accessible part of Brixton, supporting other businesses and community groups like the Brixton Windmill, the Design Trail and the Brixton Pound Fund. We look forward to rewarding our extremely hard-working team, and creating around 30 more jobs locally, while making our beers more available. We will be adding cans to our range for the first time, and transforming our Tap Room into a community-focused space for enjoying our beers and hosting events.

We hope it’s clear how much we value the enthusiasm and support we’ve had so far. It’s helped us transform from a small, family-run business, into a well-recognised local and national brewery. There’s an enormous amount of hard work ahead of us getting our new brewery up and running. We want to thank everyone for supporting us so far. We can’t wait to share the next step on our journey to do what we set out to do in the very beginning: put Brixton on the map for great beer.

Cheers!

Jez & Libby & Mike & Xochitl

 

Find our more about the new brewery, or just come down for a look at who we are and what we do. Join us for our annual Christmas Open Day party in our Tap Room. There will be brewers, music, gifts and beer. 16 December 2017 – Arch 547 Brixton Station Road SW9 8PF – 12 til 8pm.

Some key facts:

  • Brixton Brewery’s founders will be the majority shareholders of the business, in partnership with Heineken UK.
  • The founders will continue to manage the business and guide its future.
  • Our brewery and Tap Room at 547 Brixton Station Road will remain open and functioning. Our regular Tap Room hours are 12 til 6pm every Saturday.
  • A new 30BBL Gravity Systems brewhouse will be installed in Spring 2018 in a 15,000 sq. ft. industrial unit on Milkwood Road.
  • Please follow us on social media @brixtonbrewery for updates and job opportunities.

Our new beer collaboration celebrates an ageing Brixton landmark

Our new beer collaboration celebrates an ageing Brixton landmark

It’s one of Brixton’s many hidden corners with a story to tell, yet people stream past it everyday without even noticing. But look up through the trees near the railway bridge at Coldharbour Lane, with the Barrier Block estate looming behind you, on the side of Carlton Mansions, and you’ll discover a fading piece of Brixton’s incarnation as a hotspot of murals and political street art.

Photo: London Mural Preservation Society

Nuclear Dawn, the mural, and the namesake of our newest beer, a botanical sour, was finished in 1981 by the artist Brian Barnes. The evocative image of a giant skeleton draped in US and USSR flags gleefully dropping bombs over London is damaged by time and obscured by graffiti. The London Mural Preservation Society says, “It represents our history of a shared experience and a reminder that war is not something we want. Sometimes when we don’t have a voice and we can’t shout loud enough, the murals speak for us.” The message Nuclear Dawn conveys feels uncomfortably current these turbulent days.

We’ve always been fascinated by this skeletal spectre of death and destruction, as a piece of art, and as a reminder of Brixton’s long and strong activist streak. When we were thinking of Brixton based inspiration for our latest brew, it came to mind. We got in touch with Brian Barnes, and it’s a huge honour that he was happy for us to use the graphics in our label design. He painted it, with help from the residents of Carlton Mansions, including Dale McCrea, who came up with the idea as part of efforts to re-build following the Brixton riots.

 

Cam & Bates beer geekin

Sometimes things come together on so many levels that they seem almost pre-ordained. This feels like one of those times. We’ve long wanted to do a collaboration with Bates and Miranda, the family behind Duration Brewing. We actually first met Bates about a year before the brewery was born at a beer event, realised we both lived in Brixton, and kept in touch. Then when we were picking up our operations in the early days, we asked Bates to help us out. His extensive brewing knowledge and passion for beer was just what we needed to scale up and keep putting out consistently great beers. That wasn’t forgotten and we knew we wanted to work together again.

Bates ended up in Brixton via South Carolina, but Miranda moved here as a child, and is a true local girl. Her uncle was active in the street art scene of the 70s and 80s, and has an extensive slide archive of Brixton’s murals, which Brian Barnes’ assistant was trying to locate for a research project on Brixton murals of the 70s and 80s. Miranda put them in touch. Connections within connections…

Peeling mangoes…

Nuclear Dawn Botanical Sour is packed full of tropical fruits and botanicals from Brixton Market and is much anticipated as our first ever kettle sour, a beer style that uses lactobacillus bacteria to produce a characteristic tangy flavour.

For Bates and Miranda, Nuclear Dawn’s flavours are tinged with bitter and sweet; this brew marks their farewell to Brixton as they get ready to leave for Norfolk, and their new farmhouse brewery. They’re giving up the life of urban gypsy brewers to set up in an ancient priory site on Abbey Farm, West Norfolk. Follow their founding story and read about their range of pre-release beers, including Nuclear Dawn at www.durationbeer.com and across social media @durationbeer.

Brixton Brewery x Duration Brewing Nuclear Dawn launches Saturday 28 October from 12pm til 8pm at Brixton Brewery, Arch 547, Brixton Station Road, London SW9-8PF. There will be art, artists, music and brewers. Join us!