Blog : Brewery life

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. 

 

 

Four seasons under the arches

Four seasons under the arches

In some ways, running a brewery has a soothingly timeless rhythm to it – the daily same-ness of making beer, testing beer, packaging beer and selling beer. In other ways, the quality of the beer and character of the brewery itself are shaped by the rhythms of seasons. We brew our beer in an arch under a railway line, very much open to the elements, and to the life of Brixton Station Road. It’s easy for people to stop by, stick their heads in and see what we’re up to – and many do. Usually they walk away with a few bottles to try. Conversations often start “I was just walking past and…” The openness makes it easy for us to keep in touch, to get to know regular customers, and to make new connections. We love the space, even as it has its layout challenges and size limitations.

We’ve been around for over three years now, and every year we’ve grown, our beer has travelled further and further from Brixton, and our team has grown and changed as we have. This past year has been no different. We’ll start with autumn, because that’s the season in which we first started.

Autumn

Autumn 2016 marked our third birthday, and was probably the year in which everything really came together for us as a well-oiled brewing business. Things felt more steady and planned, and a bit less improvised as we moved out of the start-up years. We celebrated with the launch of Hurricane (link), our double strength Atlantic APA, a storming whirl of crisp hoppy energy that gained many fans. We had a special label designed for occasion, in which the B for Brixton became a 3. A surprising number of people wrote to ask for it as a souvenir for three-year-olds they know named Brixton. Happy third birthday to Brixtons everywhere. Hurricane will be making a repeat appearance at this time in 2017.

hurricane-birthday-web

A label detail from our celebratory third birthday Hurricane IIPA

Winter
Christmas is the season of our annual Megawatt Double IPA, crafted specially to take the edge off the winter chill and bring a little cheer to the early nights. We welcomed some much-needed new members to the brewing, office and events staff just in time for the manic Christmas season. Every hectic December working day, we took a moment to give thanks to our Meheen bottling and labelling machine, which is pretty much all of our Christmas presents come at once. Last year at the same time, we were hand bottling, capping and labelling every single bottle ourselves. We’ve long prided ourselves in our hand-crafted approach but we were pretty happy to let the robots take over the boring bit so we can focus on more interesting things. Like new recipes, and consistently top quality brews.

20161217_111223

One wise Megawatt (far left), Yoda and a warthog…

Spring

As the weather warms, our thoughts inevitably turn to lager. We started making our Coldharbour Lager in 2015 and it quickly became one of our most popular fine weather beers. Making lager can be tough for small breweries. They need to slow ferment in cold conditions, and the process takes around three weeks. Compared with just a few days for ales, this means that precious tank space is out of commission for a lot longer. Capacity has always been one of our biggest challenges – we mainly sell it as fast as we can brew it. But you can’t mess with seasonal drinking favourites, so this year we’ve managed to squeeze in a few more tanks and fermenters. Coldharbour Lager will be keeping you cool and hydrated in barbecue season 2017 and beyond.

20170216_165027

More tanks mean more beer! Increased capacity in Arch 547

Summer

Foodie destination that Brixton is, it was only going to be a matter of time before we sorted out a collaboration with a local chef. We developed the deliciously spicy Market Saison, subtly flavoured with green tea and Jamaican sorrel flowers, for Masterchef winner Tim Anderson’s brilliantly experimental ramen restaurant Nanban. For an extra twist of keeping it local, we enlisted the exuberant talents of resident designers Eley Kishimoto for the label. The Market Saison will be available again this spring with some new flavour combinations planned.

MarketSaisonLabel

Our Market Saison collaboration with Nanban, label by Eley Kishimoto

That, in a few short paragraphs, is a quick blast through our brewing calendar. We remain eternally grateful for the incredible support we’ve had from friends, family, the brewery team, Brixtonites, beer lovers, and our trade customers. It’s been a wild ride for us as brewers and business owners. We’re still growing and developing new recipes while keeping our core range of beers fresh and flowing. Brixton continues to be a great inspiration for us. We’re happy to be here, making great beer.

If you want to a chance to see the brewery, find out more about us, and have a unique night out, come along to one of our regular tour and tasting sessions (details and tickets here), or check out our Tap Room, open 12 til 6 every Saturday at Arch 547, Brixton Station Road.