Friday, 15 March 2013

'I've never met a brewer that I don't like'

How many breweries can a big city like London support? Depending on how you work it out, there are somewhere in the region of 40 now: it seems a lot, but In 1700 there were 190.

Historical comparisons notwithstanding, London’s brewing boom continues apace. New operations are opening all over the city, from Southwark basements to Walthamstow pubs via industrial units in Hanwell. Such is the demand for space that some brewers are sharing: that’s what’s happening as the last-named, from where Weird Beard and Ellenberg’s are ready to spring their wares on a thirsty public.

It’s also the case in Penge, a part of London most famous for its amusing name and the fact that Bill Wyman, erstwhile Rolling Stones bassist, grew up there. This is where Late Knights, whose beers have until now been produced in Middlesbrough, should be brewing soon. They’ll be joined by Shamblemoose and SignatureBrewing on a site that has in the past been a wine warehouse and a slaughterhouse.

“I live 150 yards away from the brewery,” says Steve Keegan (pictured above), the man behind Late Knights. “We came over to have a look to see if it would work – it was an absolute state. It was chaos in here. You could tell it was a good place for a brewery though.”

It’s a particularly interesting development for Craft Beer London since the app actually played a (very small) part in ensuring Late Knights ended up in Penge. I knew Steve, having contacted him for information for the app, and I knew the building’s owner, Graham Lawrence, because he owns Mr Lawrence, a wine bar and former off-license in Crofton Park, where I live. Graham said that he was interested in getting involved in a brewery, I mentioned Late Knights, and a thus-far fruitful relationship was born.

Steve’s beer history goes back a little further, though. Until recently, he was employed by Fuller’s to manage pubs: he played a big part in turning the Union Tavern (in Westbourne Park) and The Barrel and Horn (in Bromley) into the craft-beer dens they are today. Before that, he ran pubs in Richmond, Oxford and Finchley. Suffice to say, he knows a little bit about beer and the pub trade. “I’ve been working in pubs since I was 14,” he says. “I’ve dabbled in homebrewing in the past, I felt I understood it. [When I left Fuller’s] I thought it was time for me to do something for myself – to take a risk.”

Steve, 30, had been making beer during his time off from working for Fuller’s at the Truefitt Brewery in Middlesbrough, which is run by Matt Power, who Steve has known since he was eight. He decided at Christmas that he could no longer do both jobs. “I had to make a decision,” he says.  “Do I continue to work for Fuller’s and do both jobs half-arsed? Do I focus on the pubs - or the brewery? I spoke to my family, my girlfriend, and this is what I decided. When I went back after Christmas, the first thing I did was hand my notice in. I  don’t think Fuller’s are entirely happy, but in all honesty I didn’t expect it to reach this stage.”

Penge-brewed beer will soon be on bars across the city, but another central feature of Steve’s project is still at the planning stage. It also involves Graham Lawrence and his much-missed off-license, which until the end of January was one of the best places in the capital to buy beer. Beer-lovers disappointed by the closure of Mr Lawrence (you can still buy beer and wine online), though, will be placated by the plans Steve has for the place: license-issues allowing, it will be a brewery tap for Late Knights, and more besides.

“We’d have the full Late Knights range and a selection of other London micros,” he says. “Eight, perhaps 10 hand pumps. On keg we’ll have other American-style beers; we want to do a large bottled selection – 100 bottles and 100 whiskies. The bottles we will also sell as off-sales, so what you could get from Mr Lawrence you’ll be able to get from the bar. I’ve got the experience [of running pubs], I have the level of knowledge that we’ll need.”

As Steve says, other London brewers will also be on the bar – including, no doubt, The Kernel, who have a long relationship with Mr Lawrence. Steve is keen to help others out as he has been helped.

“I got a helping hand from Matt [at TrueFitt],” he says. “I want to offer that to other people. Like Shamblemoose: Matt and Lera [O’Sullivan] used to be locals at a pub I worked at in Richmond. Lera told me they were going to open a microbrewery.

“When I was looking into setting up this brewery, I spent an hour on the internet trying to track them down – I knew she was an American brewer living in Guildford, so I thought ‘I must be able to find it’. I couldn’t find them, and ended up going out to get a haircut. When I got back, she’d emailed me! This was 18 months after I’d spoken to her for ten minutes. Asking me advice – “oh, we’re looking at pubs, can you help me do projections.” So odd!”

And then there’s Signature Brewing, who make beer in collaboration with musicians. Steve met the three men behind the brewery (Sam McGregor, David Riley and Tom Bott) a few months back and a plan was hatched. “I started talking to them, giving them advice,” he says. “Like how to get beer in pubs. They've done some cuckoo brewing at Titanic [in Stoke] and at London Fields. They’re coming to do some brewing here every month; we’ll see what happens.”

Steve is clearly excited by what the future holds. “I've never met a brewer that I don’t like,” he says. “They’re mostly really nice people and they do it because they love it. That’s the kind of industry I want to be involved in. There will always be competition because we want to sell our beers. But we've got to work together as much as we can.”

You can buy the Craft Beer London book here, while the app, which is now available for Android, can be downloaded here

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts you got there, believe I may possibly try just some of it throughout my daily life...

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