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.
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