Brixton Brewery launched in August last year, after years of careful planning. It occupies two railway arches on Brixton Station Road – one for storage, the other where all the brewing, bottling, labelling takes place and which opens on Saturdays to serve the Brixton public.
BB co-founder Jez invites us over, but warns to dress warmly because the units are rather cold on weekdays. We end up sitting in his car, where he tells the Brixton Brewery story:
“I moved to Brixton in 2006 when I bought a flat on Saltoun Road, where the Black Cultural Archives are on the corner. Mike, the co-founder, also bought a flat across the road around the same time. It took a couple of years before we met, because in London people don’t talk to each other, you don’t generally know your neighbours. Then we both had kids at the same time, and my wife and Mike’s girlfriend got talking. That’s how we became friends. Then one day we were having a drink in Hive Bar, now The Craft Beer Co., and got the idea to start our own brewery. We had no idea about brewing! But we knew Brixton and thought it deserved its own.
We started home brewing in Mike’s kitchen. We bought the books and brewed the early versions of our beers. But we had young families to support, so couldn’t just give up our jobs. So we sent Mike’s girlfriend on a 3 day course to Sunderland to learn how to brew, and naively thought she could do all the brewing for us. Only afterwards did we realise we needed someone who had more time and more than a few days’ experience, and so we found Dominic, who’s now our Head Brewer. He was a fresh graduate from a brewing masters course, had some experience working in breweries, and above all, agreed to work for one which didn’t even exist yet.
It was important for us to be in the heart of Brixton, and we wanted our customers to be predominantly local businesses, so we were very happy we found the railway arch. We went round talking to traders and got started. But we were essentially opening a factory, so it was a bit daunting. The Brixton Pound actually helped us a lot – around that time you ran a workshop on how to start a food business, with Ms Cupcake, Ossie, Liam from 7 @ Brixton, and Anne from Cornercopia. It was great to meet people who had had an idea and made it successful, and learn how to deal with permissions and red tape.
We had two launch parties in October last year – one actually at Craft Beer Co., where it all started in 2011. I made a little speech. Then we held a party at the arch, and at 5pm we ran out of draught beer! We knew then that we were doing something right.
We started off with three beers: Reliance Pale Ale, Effra Ale, Electric IPA, and now have two more Brixton-inspired ones: Windrush Stout and Atlantic APA. We also make a Mexican-inspired beer for DF / Mexico, a restaurant in East London, whose owners now opened Brixton Wahaca, and it is also served there. It’s called Lupulo – it’s the Spanish word for hops.
But it was Brixtonites who supported us from day one, businesses and customers alike. They had faith in us, and they are still supporting us. Our first ever delivery was to Market Row Wines: Dave is a smart guy and ordered 15 crates straight away, knowing they would sell quickly, we just prayed they would!
We’re located very centrally in Brixton and that’s great – we do most of our deliveries with a simple trolley. Beer tastes so much better when it’s fresh – just like other things, bread, fruit and vegetables.. And the traders can tell the customers they are drinking a beer that’s been brewed only a couple hundred meters away – it’s a rarity.
The business still runs like a proper family business and everybody lends a hand – we have to do more with less. My wife is doing orders and deliveries, Mike’s partner social media and the website.
On Friday we brewed for the 100th time – it’s a big milestone for any brewery! And it’s a special edition one – a double IPA. It will be stronger and hoppier and more bitter – we’re calling it MegaWatt IIPA, and will be launching it at our Xmas party on 13th December with a special bottle and label – we want people to take the bottle home and keep as a souvenir. It is inspired by the spiritual candles you see in the market – our designer and I just bought three this morning to serve as inspiration. All our labels are inspired by Brixton: local landmarks and African fabric prints. I feel inspired and motivated by Brixton. It has always been at the forefront of the local independent business movement. For us, everything just came together. I’m not particularly religious, but it was like all the signs were pointing at this, calling us towards it, “come on guys, you’ve got to do it!” And we made the right judgement. The reaction we’ve had has been great, we quickly got recognised in Brixton but also in London. We’re starting to supply outside of Brixton, mainly to other areas of South London, but we’re not producing a huge amount, and I like the idea of a regional, local brewery. It’s a great feeling going around the market and seeing people drinking our beers – every time I scratch my head and think, they must actually like it!”