Brixton Brewery: capturing an electric community in beer
The idea for Brixton Brewery was hatched at the old Hive Bar by two local couples with a shared love of beer. Today, the Hive bar is now a Craft Beer Co and the brewery – eventually founded in 2012 by Jez Galaun and Mike Ross – is only a stone’s throw away, almost within eyeshot from where that brainstorming session took place. Beneath railway arches in SW9, Brixton Brewery is going full-throttle and struggling to keep up with demand. The community of Brixton itself is integral to the brewery’s brand, its beers and its focus. The brewery and the locality are synonymous.
Brixton’s colourful branding is visible in a number of London’s bottle shops, but it’s not always an easy task to find them at a bar or taproom beyond SW postcodes. This could be attributed the brewery's focus on producing a range of traditional styles such as pale ale, which is a difficult style to both master and make distinguishable. Yet their pale ales are beautifully rendered, bringing together traditional methods with juicy, modern flavours. A perfect balance between malts and hops is what they strive for in their beer. And despite what the rest of London thinks, Brixton is enthusiastically embraced and enjoyed by locals.
Disconnected from the Bermondsey and Hackney brewing scenes, Brixton has avoided much of the craft beer fervour in London over the past three years. Located only a few minutes from the Brixton underground station, they are spread across three arches: one for brewing, one for stock and office space and the last for keg storage. In their brewing arch, there’s a small bar, a fridge stocked with bottles and several wooden tables to accommodate locals popping in for a pint. Those who can’t get to the brewery have a second option to source Brixton’s beers, however: Brixton has a good relationship with Craft Beer Co Brixton – the very site where the brewery itself was once conceived. Kegs can be literally run from the brewery to the front door of the bar by staff.
The brewing space is snug and Brixton brews up to seven times a week, or as often as a fermenter is available, but that doesn’t faze the team. They’re content with brewing in small batches for the time-being, but they do have three fermenter tanks siting unused in storage. If these tanks were relocated into the main arch, it would encroach upon (or completely eradicate) their intimate taproom space.
The highly recognisable branding is rooted in the area, influenced by its vibrancy, diversity and history. The vivacious colours and designs are inspired by African textiles, which are sold in local markets and displayed in the community. The iconography used also makes local references, with thunderbolts alluding to the famous Electric Avenue. Even the names of the beers are laden with local significance, such as the Effra ale, which refers to the underground river that flows beneath the streets of Brixton, and the Atlantic pale harking to Atlantic Road, where the Brixton Market began trading in the 1870s.
Even the recipes have been shaped by the area; the Electric IPA is an ensemble of pronounced flavours, its namesake is Electric Avenue, where influences of African, Caribbean, South American and Asian cultures coincide. The Effra is a meeting of the traditional and new, much like Brixton itself, modernising an English ale with a healthy measure of new world hops.
Although Brixton focus on achieving well-rounded, balanced beers, they’ve not completly adverse to experimentation. They’ve collaborated with the highly revered De La Senne brewery from Belgium to create the Brixi Saison, a modern classic saison-style beer with big juicy aromas or peach and tangerine and a sweet and mildly bitter taste. They also partnered with Chef Tim Anderson of local restaurant Nanban to produce the Brixton Market Saison, a beer that paid homage to the flavours of Brixton Market, infusing a farmhouse ale with Jamaican Sorrel and Japanese green tea.
As far as the future goes, Brixton has ordered new equipment that will improve dry-hopping and the flavour of their beers. They’re also considering an in-house yeast management programme to allow them to reuse their yeast in brewing. But they do face certain limitations due to their restricted brewing space; one such drawback includes their inability to brew anything with a higher ABV than their popular annual release, the Megawatt DIPA, which is 8%. This is down to the fact that they physically can’t fit in any more grain into their mash tun. As far as canning goes, they aren’t happy with canning technology on a small scale to date, feeling that too much oxygen is trapped in the cans. Once technology improves on this scale, they’ll re-evaluate this. And there’s always the issue of supply chain variations with the availability and quality of hops, but this seems to be improving as the craft industry in London grows.
In November, Brixton hosted brewery tours to gauge the interest of the general public to visit their compact, but efficient, brewhouse. The tour was popular and the majority of the crowd seemed to be both local and familiar with the beer. It’s evident that they’ve entrenched themselves in the bricks and mortar of the community in just three short years, which is commendable. But it’s hardly surprising, as they’ve been consistent and focused on an intensely drinkable range.
The electric character of the Brixton community is being bottled underneath the brewery's arches, so it's hardly a surprise that the beer is best enjoyed in situ. The experience is indisputably worth journeying out of East London or Bermondsey for.
I was kindly invited along to take a tour by Jez & Mike at Brixton Brewery.