Hidden away in a corner of southeast London, within stumbling distance of the famous Crystal Palace mast lies one of the newer additions to the burgeoning craft beer scene. Gipsy Hill Brewing Co. managed to find a street unencumbered by a micro-brewery, so moved in to realise their dream of hosing down coppers and fermenters, wrangling temperamental bottling lines and figuring out a cask storage conundrum.
Predictably another brewery moved in on the other side of the industrial estate moments later, such is the growth of the industry. In fact by the time I publish this there will probably be another one signing their lease and taking delivery of shiny new fermenters!
Starting your own brewery might be the dream of many, but the few that make it a reality know the level of commitment and hard work it takes, and Charlie, Sam and Simon are no exceptions. The whole time I was there Simon did not stop hosing, cleaning and prepping the brewery equipment; Sam was at his desk, jabbing at a laptop while Charlie volunteered to chat for a while ….a good a reason as any to take a break from the daily toil of the brewery
I asked Charlie how the brewery got started and how they all met. Charlie had been working as a journalist, and when that path didn’t lead to total fulfilment he got his interest in brewing. After a part time job working at Five Points Brewing in Hackney he met Sam and they set about looking for a place to brew. This led them to my neighbourhood in Gypsy Hill. Simon then joined the crew with a wealth of brewing experience from Dorset’s Piddle Brewery
Charlie showed me the copper and fermenters, explaining that the equipment did not come cheap! Probably a blessing as I recently heard of a brewpub that bought a cheap copper boiler from China, it has now been condemned and the owner is left with a bill for buying a new one!
The two core beers so far is the Southpaw amber ale – an American style , with a healthy addition of stateside happiness but good malt body and the 3.8% Beatnick pale ale, a very light amber, refreshing hoppy beer, again taking some influence from the North American version, but at a very sessionable strength.
Sessionable is a popular term at this brewery as the original idea for an element of individuality amongst a growing field of new-wave breweries is to make beers of great flavour at the not so great strength of under 4.5% ABV. Charlie hits a note with me with his reasons. Having young children, like myself, drinking high alcohol beers that seem to be popping up everywhere from craft breweries all day, and getting falling down drunk is not an option! Those hangovers of our child-free past could be tended all day with peaceful tv marathons and delivery pizza.
Not any more.
Timmy’s got football at 8.30, It’s Jenny’s best friend’s birthday party, and we have no present yet! The baby is screaming and it’s not even 6 am. It’s a Sunday and, it’s right about now I’m grateful that I could drink a few pints that taste great and not turn me into an unwilling extra for an episode of “The Walking Dead”. There’s another reason too, beers at over 5% ABV enter into a different tax bracket and making session strength beers keeps the cost down.
There is soon to be an addition to the two brews so far, perhaps a darker style, Charlie hints, but he’s not sure yet. Seasonal beers are mentioned too, but it seems that it is too early commit to a style just now, but keep your eyes open, I’m sure something will be appearing at a pub near you.
That is where the majority of the beer goes; pubs that is. Whether it is near you is another question. I asked where their beer can be found and they are doing well at many local southeast London pubs, especially around Crystal Palace, Dulwich and Norwood. Their bottles are available at a few independent shops too, and they seem to be a favourite of some London beery pop-ups so look out, it’s early days but they’re certainly one local South London brewery to look out for.
All three are now full time and had a desire to turn their enthusiasm for great beer into a full time career and the ups and downs of self employment. The 15 barrel (25 Hectolitre) brewery often operates at full capacity, and they have the enviable problem of finding enough cooler space for the popular casks, and the growth of the craft beer market bodes well for those that can survive the first wobbling steps and evermore competitive arena.
Charlie cites influences as diverse as Stone Brewing from San Diego in California to his alma mater Five Points from Hackney in London, but their beers so far are not trying to be copies, but exhibiting the style and flavour that they want to make.
Despite competition from all the freebies that larger traditional real ale breweries hand pubs and the marketing of more established craft breweries, Charlie sees the expansion of quality beer over the mass produced fizzy yellow liquid as a positive for all craft breweries. The success of Camden and Meantime open doors for the smaller breweries in pubs that a couple of years ago would never had given breweries like Gipsy Hill a chance. He feels that there is room for all the new wave of breweries, and I hope so too; the rapid growth of breweries needs to be matched by growth of consumers for all the plethora of great little breweries like this to succeed.