Dog’s Grandad – with a little help from my friends

Unlike many brewers in London, Alex Hill, the founder of Dog’s Grandad, does not have a finance background. In fact his background couldn’t be further away! Alex had been working for charities in the mental health and homelessness sectors for 20 years when, as he explained, “I just decided I wanted to do something new. I love drinking beer and I had been home brewing for three to four years. My friends said that my beer was good and they persuaded me to take the plunge.”

Alex didn’t just jump in however; he first volunteered at both the Gipsy Hill and One Mile End breweries, “It gave me great experience and it didn’t feel like work, so I started to look for premises in 2019. It took me a while to find something in my price range, settling on an arch two doors down from Brixton Brewery”. However, as often happens with setting up a brewery, things didn’t go quite to plan. He had originally hoped to open last June but the negotiations, planning permission, etc, took 14 months, and Alex finally moved into the arch in December 2020. As he explained, “It took me about two and a half months to set up the brewery. It’s a 5.5 barrel plant from Latimer Ales with three 5.5 barrel conical fermenters from China. I did everything myself including the floor and cold room. I had planned to put in a Tap Room at the same time but with the lockdown affecting draught beer sales, I decided to buy a small three headed canning line. With some help from a friend, who is great with DIY, we sat there with the instruction manual and then got it going. The timing worked out quite well and I’ve had a decent trickle of can sales.”

Alex is not intending to do cask beers; just cans and kegs. However, his beers are unfiltered and unpasteurised. The two core beers are Session IPA at 4.3% ABV and Pale at 5% ABV; both are heavily American hopped. Alex explained that he wanted to get these beers right before trying ‘specials’. The first such beer is a ‘normal’ IPA at 5.5% ABV and then a range of dark beers, such as a Black IPA and an American Brown. But, quipped Alex, “I won’t be doing sours. I don’t like them.”

Funding for the brewery came from Alex and his girlfriend, Laurie, topped up by a Government start up loan. But, like the help with the canning line, Alex has been fortunate with getting help from friends. One who has an IT background, did the website and online sales and another, who is a graphic designer, produced the logo and label designs for free. The help from friends is also evident in the beer production. Alex is currently brewing about once every two weeks with friends coming in to help, including with the canning. However, Alex is aware that, going forward, he can’t rely only on friends; he is currently working seven days a week as it is. Alex said, “The first people I will need to employ are bar staff as I hope to open the Tap Room on 21 May. We’ll start with Friday evening (5-11pm), all day Saturday (12-11pm) and Sunday afternoon (2-6pm) and then maybe expand, depending on how things go. I can’t wait to get people in.” Alex described his ideas on the Tap Room: “I’m a big gamer and intend to have an arcade of gaming machines and hosting gaming nights.”

As the brewery grows, perhaps not surprisingly based on Alex’s background, Alex said he would like to employ people from disadvantaged backgrounds and will probably go and talk to Ignition Brewery to see how they have fared.

But the burning question is, where did the name of the brewery come from? Alex explained, “Dog’s Grandad comes from the sayings that I and my friends use amongst ourselves such as ‘Alright Grandad’ and ‘That beer is a proper dog’. All my friends are a bit weird.” So, whether or not Alex will need his friends to help in the running of the brewery in the future, the friends will always have a long lasting impact on the brewery. After all, it was their influence that resulted in the strange name and there is no doubt that the brewery originally got going ‘with a little help from my friends’.

For tasting notes on the beers, see here.

Christine Cryne