London Brewers fear for the future
The London Brewers Alliance (LBA) was set up in 2010 by thirteen London breweries. Thanks to London’s growing and vibrant brewery scene, with at least five new entries in the Good Beer Guide’s breweries section each year since 2010, the LBA now has 105 members. They recently conducted a survey of their members and worryingly it revealed that if COVID restrictions continue as they are, nearly a half of them do not see themselves as having a long term future.
The numbers were as follows:
1 to 2 years 19%
9 to 12 months 5%
6 to 9 months 12%
Less than 6 months 12%
Not sure 14%
The LBA’s secretary, John Cryne, commented, “The majority of brewers in London rely on pubs and restaurants for their sales but because they are a supplier, they don’t receive the same support. The furlough scheme has helped but life as it is is not sustainable. Even during the summer, pubs had been drastically cutting the beer they ordered as people did not flood back to pubs, particularly in central London. There was a double whammy in that pubs were also reducing their range and, as independent London brewers were often represented as a guest beer, they were the first to lose out. As a consequence, some of our members have not bothered to reopen.” Happily, it isn’t all doom and gloom. John continued, “Although those breweries with tap rooms did benefit from the summer relaxation, it is those with their own can and bottling lines that are best placed to weather this storm. They have been busy doing home deliveries, either themselves or via others. And it certainly has been all hands to the pumps; I have had three brewery owners delivering the beer themselves; no sitting in offices for them!”
The state of play
On page 8 I mention an article that appeared in the Ham & High newspaper. These are the quotes from the three breweries that the H&H contacted in addition to Moncada. They give a good indication of the situation in which our small breweries have found themselves. You have to admire their determination and flexibility.
The Gorgeous Brewery, situated behind the Bull in North Hill, Highgate, is run by brother and sister team Rob and Sam Laub. Sam described the past year as ‘a shock to everyone’s system’ but they were delighted with the way that the community responded. They were, Sam said, ‘lovely and ordered cases of beer directly from us’. Gorgeous also linked up with some beer subscription agencies to boost sales.
James Atherton, the owner of the Beerblefish Brewery in Edmonton, said that cask beer made up 90% of his trade in March 2020. Although that trade ended, the demand from drinkers and bottle shops increased. As James said, ‘people need beer’, so the brewery shifted its production to bottles and mini-kegs. They had good weeks and bad weeks but they survived, as he said, ‘by being small and able to adapt quickly’.
The Goodness Brewing Co in Wood Green overcame the setback of not being able to open their tap room for most of 2020 by setting up a delivery service, not just for beer but for pizzas as well. They recently started a crowdfunding appeal to purchase a canning machine. Their co-founder, Zack Ahmed, told the H&H that it would make their operation ‘faster and cheaper’ and would also make it easier to produce ‘one-off specials’.
Congratulations to Beavertown who won the UK Brewer of the Year award at the 2020 International Beer Challenge. In all they collected five medals: two golds for Neck Oil and Lupuloid IPA and three silvers for Gamma Ray APA, Bloody ‘Ell Blood Orange IPA and Nanobot, their low alcohol beer. This year’s judging, inevitably, had to be carried out virtually.
The Tottenham based brewers of Czech-style beers have recruited Jonathon Swaine, the former managing director of Fuller’s Inns, to advise them on growing the business and expanding their distribution operation. Petr Skocek, one of Bohem’s founders, said, “We’re delighted that Jonathon is working with us to support the brewery’s growth. This is a challenging time for the whole sector, but Jonathon’s willingness to come on board is testament to the fact that we have a very distinct proposition in the market. Our fresh, authentic lager offers a point of difference, and having access to the advice and contacts of someone of Jonathon’s calibre is a huge benefit as we focus on continuing our carefully managed strategy for growth.”
Ian White, CAMRA’s Brewery Liaison Officer for Clarkshaw’s has kindly passed on this report from Lucy Grimshaw, one of the brewery’s directors. “Back in the middle of March we were getting ready to reopen our taproom after our annual winter closure. We had a brewery full of beer ready for customers when the news came that we would be shut down. Over the next few weeks our stocks of bottles flew out at an unprecedented rate but the casks and tanks of beer for drinking on site were going nowhere. As a very small taproom, we were unable to safely open throughout 2020. We repackaged what casks we could but hundreds of litres of beer went to waste and we have now ceased production of cask beer for the foreseeable future. However, it was not all doom and gloom. While we’ve been closed to the public, like many breweries, we have adapted the way we get beer from the brewery to people and to this end we have pivoted to producing more small pack. We stock five litre mini-casks which are available through the Brew2You ‘app’ or from our online shop https://clarkshaws.co.uk/shop.html. These contain real ale which is conditioned in the container. We have also invested in developing techniques to re-use the mini-casks and now have our own bespoke, very mini, two stage cask washer. Our customers can now have real cask ale at home and can maintain their environmental credentials either by returning the empty minis to us or holding them until their next delivery, just like a pub would, for uplift, cleaning and re-use. The containers themselves are also climate neutral and, by re-using them, we further reduce the environmental footprint of our beers.”
This company operates three outlets, two inside Mercato Metropolitano food markets in Elephant & Castle and Mayfair and the other in Kingsland High Street, Dalston. They have been operating for some time but somehow we missed their arrival. The beers are brewed in the German tradition and served fresh from tanks or kegs at each site. Accordingly, they are brewed without additives or preservatives and are unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to comply with the German purity law of 1516, they use only water, malt, hops and yeast. They were offering takeaways during the summer but are currently understood to be closed.
Another transfer to Walthamstow! After ten years, Hackney are planning to leave Dalston and set up a new brewery and beer hall with a large outdoor seating area, adding another port of call to the Blackhorse Beer Mile. The project, called High Hill, is being financed by a ‘Pay It Forward’ crowdfunding scheme which was launched at the end of November and ran until 16 December. They were hoping to raise £30,000 but, according to their website, the final figure was £49,351, with 639 people contributing. Joint founder Pete Hills told the Morning Advertiser, “We’ve been looking for a site for a long time, but High Hill was worth the wait because the space is perfect for us inside and out. This is a huge step for us, putting us on a national stage while still remaining rooted in the London scene we love so much.” They were hoping to open the site in March but, inevitably, that will most likely be delayed. For more information see https://www.hackneybrewery.com/high-hill.
Jawbone are now brewing and their beer is available from their taproom at Unit C, 1 Strawberry Vale, Twickenham, TW1 4RY. It is open from noon to 7pm. Their first brew is a pale ale called Bone Idle (4.6% ABV) which is currently available in cans. See their website for more details: www.jawbonebrewing.com/. My thanks to George Gimber for supplying some welcome good news.
If you have previously read this item please ignore it – we have misunderstood the situation as regards the company’s closure. More information will be provided as soon as possible.
A successful second round of crowdfunding in the autumn generated some £140,000 from around 200 subscribers. This was very impressive considering that they were only aiming for £100,000. The company, set up in 2014 by Josh and Frankie Kearns and based in Kingston upon Thames, will use the funds to increase brewing capacity and step up their marketing operation. Park were another small brewery to demonstrate their flexibility during 2020. They acquired a second-hand canning line and quickly set up an on-line shop, with around 2,000 home deliveries made in 2020.
Portobello takes over Antic pubs
In the last edition I reported that Portobello were looking to expand their pubs operation. I did not however expect anything to happen quite so quickly or in the way it did. At the end of November, the investment trust, Downing LLP, decided to transfer the management of thirteen pubs in which it has an interest from the Antic group to Portobello’s new pubs division. This arrangement is for the management of the pubs only; the ownership of the pubs, which is spread across nine different companies, remains unchanged. The sites involved include the Westow House in Crystal Palace, which, as part of a recent refurbishment, was extended to include 23 en-suite bedrooms.
Effra Social, Brixton
Eltham GPO, Eltham
Farrs School of Dance, Dalston
Forest Tavern, Forest Gate
John the Unicorn, Peckham
Knowles of Norwood, West Norwood
Old Red Lion, Kennington
Pratts & Payne, Streatham
Royal Albert , New Cross
Shinner & Sudtone, Sutton
Sylvan Post, Forest Hill
Walker Briggs, Crystal Palace
Westow House, Crystal Palace
Mark Crowther, the recently appointed chairman of Portobello, was quoted on the Brixton Buzz website as saying, “We intend to invest further in the estate to ensure the pubs maintain their retail offer and distinctive personality in their local markets.” An associate director at Downing LLP, Nick Carter, added, “We are always seeking to work with high-quality, talented operators and are pleased to partner with Portobello, with whom we are looking forward to an exciting future for these pubs. We would like to thank the team at Antic for their previous management of these assets.” I have seen no suggestion whatsoever of any criticism as regards Antic’s running of the pubs and early reports were that existing staff were retained, although that situation may have changed because of the COVID restrictions.
Antic, predictably, were not happy and they posted a message on the Effra Social’s website which said that they had only been given 36 hours’ notice of the transfer and that it was, to their mind, ‘untimely, unwarranted, and we believe ill-conceived, and certainly not what one would expect from an 11 year relationship’. Antic still operate some 37 pubs across London and they have every intention of continuing to run these pubs in, as they describe it, ‘the spirit of our rather eclectic public house approach’.
Southey Brewing Company
Just before Christmas, Penge based Southey Brewing collaborated once again with the lifestyle blog, Deserter, this time to produce a new version of their Deserter IPA. It was part of Deserter’s fundraising campaign for their new book, Shirk, Rest and Play, written by beer enthusiasts Andrew Grumbridge and Vincent Raison. The recipe for the 5.5% ABV IPA was given a tweak to include Citra, Cascade and Mosaic hops, with dry hopping using El Dorado, Cascade and more Citra. Sadly, no live event was possible and so the beer was made available in cans. There may still be some available in various local outlets, including Southey’s own beer shop.
Andrew and Vincent founded Deserter in 2014 to help future generations avoid the evils of hard work, ambition and sobriety. Their first book, Today South London, Tomorrow South London, was well received, winning the London Evening Standard Comedy Book of the Year. Shirk, Rest and Play continues the theme, described as ‘a blueprint for a happy life, shorn of duty and deference and filled with celebration and sausage rolls’. There is also a Deserter Pubcast (sic). Take a look at https://unbound.com/books/desertertwo/.
Wimbledon Brewery recently announced, “We thought about offering a 10% discount during January but decided instead to donate 10% of the proceeds from our shop and home delivery sales to our chosen charity, the Wimbledon Foodbank”. They also gave the Foodbank’s website address so that people could make their own donations. Good on them.