Hammerton: from Victorian times to the 21st Century

Although the Hammerton Brewery in Islington has just celebrated its tenth year, the name has been around a lot longer. Lee Hammerton kindly took time out to explain to CAMRA’s London Tasting Panel his family connection and how the reincarnated brewery was doing. “I used to work in Moorgate in IT for the financial sector,” said Lee. “I was getting into USA beer with its strong hop character and was doing some home brewing. I lived in Islington and so I did some research into the market and noticed that there was not much of a brewing scene in north London other than Redemption. So I did a business plan to check the viability and eventually found these premises.”

Lee Hammerton

The next question was how the brewery name came about. Lee explained, “By chance, I went to see my grandparents who told me that I was a distant relation of the Hammertons who owned Hammerton Brewery.” The original Hammerton Brewery was south of the river, in Stockwell SW9. It is thought that there might have been a brewery there since 1730 and it was known that the local springs were a good source of water for brewing. It is not clear as to when the original brewery was founded but one was recorded in 1806, over half a century before the Hammertons got involved. Lee’s ancestor, Charles Hammerton, bought the site, then known as the Stockwell Brewery, in the 1860s. The first written reference to them is an advert from 1868. The brewery was renamed after the Hammerton family, who also lived on the site.

Although Charles Hammerton died in 1903, the brewery continued to expand, taking over other breweries, pubs and off licences over the next 40 years. They prospered until the Second World War, the effects of which led to them issuing profit warnings and being taken over by Watney, Coombe, Reid & Co in 1951. Watney’s turned the site into a bottling plant and sold the pubs, just keeping the off licences. At this time, Hammerton appear to be well known for their dark beers such as porter, brown ale and oatmeal stout, which Watney’s retained for a while. Hammerton’s other claim to fame was that it was, it is said, the first brewery in the UK to use real oysters in a stout. The brewery buildings were demolished in the 1960s.

The tap room

When the current brewery was set up, Lee employed Sam Dickison as its first brewer. Sam left eventually to set up the Boxcar brewery in Bethnal Green. Sam’s leaving however turned out to be a good thing. Lee said, “It was the best thing ever. I had to step in as head brewer, which enabled me to really understand brewing. I have now got the confidence and knowledge to challenge the brewers and take no bullshitting”.
Hammerton, like many small breweries, have found it difficult to get beer into outlets. For this reason, in 2017, Lee decided to open a pub. It is called the House of Hammerton and is situated on Holloway Road. Since then, they have managed to lease the unit opposite the brewery for use as a warehouse, which has enabled them to create space in one of the two original units for a tap room. This has led to an increase in staff numbers. “We employ 18 people, including the tap room and pub. We have four brewers, who brew every day and sometimes double shifts if we need it,” explained Lee. With this amount of brewing, the number of fermenters has been increased but the brew length remains at 15 barrels.

The Tasting Panel

Beer sales are mainly in London, with some going to Manchester, Leeds and Derby. Their biggest seller is Panama Creatures (4.3% ABV), a gluten free keg beer that accounts for 40% of their production. As with most craft brewers, the beer range changes. Hammerton are known for their flavoured beers, such as Crunch (a 5.4% ABV peanut butter milk stout). Lee said, “It was a special around five years ago and we spent time perfecting it. We get the peanut butter extract from the USA.” More recently, this has been joined by City of Cake (5.5% ABV chocolate fudge cake stout). The cask version of this beer won SIBA’s Speciality category in their London & South East competition in late 2023. However, the first beer Hammerton brewed was N7 (5.2% ABV), a fruity pale ale featuring American hops. This was joined by N1, N7’s little brother (4.1% ABV), which is less bitter and hoppy. Another early brew was Oyster Stout, a homage to the original brewery, but this has since been replaced by the seasonal Penton Stout (5.3% ABV) to cater for the market’s move to more vegetarian friendly beers.

Production is split 20% cask and 80% keg. Hammerton has moved into nitro-keg stouts, following the lead of Anspach & Hobday with their London Black. The Hammerton version, Tint, is an unfiltered beer dispensed with 30% CO2 and 70% nitrogen (4.3% ABV).

During lockdown, the opportunity was taken to install a canning line and 20% of the keg beer produced goes into cans. The canning line is unlikely to be the last investment. “We are up 20% on last year and we intend to carry on with some expansion but that means more fermentation vessels. We may look at the option of putting them outside as we are not looking to move,” said Lee, who concluded, “Running a brewery is all encompassing and there are always problems to be solved but it is still my passion.”
For tasting notes on the beers, as compiled by the London Tasting Panel, go to the brewery section on CAMRA London’s website. For more information on the brewery, pub and tap room, click here.
Christine Cryne