London’s craft beer scene is booming, so we sent our local insider to meet Ian Stewart, owner of the South London based craft microbrewer, Brick Brewery. To understand more about his journey from hobbyist to a bonafide craft brewer, and learn about the process behind creating their signature craft beers.
Last month I flew back to visit my old stomping grounds on the streets of east London. However, on a cold autumn morning, I took a trip across the Thames on a craft beer-filled journey. My destination was the Brick Brewery and my sherpa on this voyage was a self-made craft beer king named Ian Stewart. Ian whisked me through a maze of gleaming silver tanks and twirled a tale of entrepreneurial daring over our 4 hours together inside his Deptford-based production facility.
The origins of Brick Brewery
Ian’s led an adventurous life, having spent four years racing on the University of Georgia swimming team, before plying his trade as a professional cartographer. He even came a hair’s breadth away from racing for Team GB at the Olympics, offering a personal best time in the final qualifier but falling painfully just out of reach of the ultimate goal.
Perhaps life would have been different and perhaps not. Either way, things turned out tremendously well for Ian and his wife Sally who runs the marketing side of their business. Ian and Sally and the rest of their small, passionate team have a genuine love of what they do and are proud to be injecting local, independent energy into the roaring London craft beer scene.
At the end of my tour, I sat down with Ian (errr, rather stood up in front of a fittingly perfect yellow brick wall) to learn some specifics about his unconventional journey.
How did you become a brewer?
It started six and a half years ago really – I was a homebrewer for a long time. My wife gave me a “add water to a bag and you get beer within three weeks” kit. She gave it to me as a stocking stuffer and by the time June came around she was getting on my case about ‘using my Christmas gift’. So I went down to my shed, made that first beer and was absolutely hooked from then on.
And then you started Brick Brewer soon after?
Yeah, so our friends were loving the beers and I started doing some commercial brew from the shed and then not long after that, as I said this was about six years ago, I secured a site beneath a railway arch in Peckham. A lot of small breweries have been using rail arches around London and this site in Peckham just made sense for us.
Well, first of all, I’m from Peckham, and Peckham was a place that I thought was on the up – and that certainly has been the case. It was actually voted 11th best neighbourhood to live in the whole world recently. I think that’s all down to me and Brick Brewery to tell you the truth (laughter)…. But simply put we lived in Peckham and I really loved the area and so when I decided to start my business it was the obvious choice.
So why did you move your operations to Deptford?
We moved to Deptford about two years ago because we just literally ran out of space in Peckham. The demand was so high, so we needed more tanks and more tanks means more tank space. The bottom line was we needed to make more beer and that’s why we moved. We chose Deptford specifically because we wanted to keep the connection to this part of south London – it’s only 3 miles from Peckham – so we could keep a strong connection with our provenance.
Would you call yourself a craft brewery?
Yes, we’re a craft brewery, independently owned and family-run and we plan to stay that way.
What would you say is unique about Brick Brewery?
Our ethos has always been to grow organically – we haven’t sought outside investment to increase our capacity overnight – instead we’ve looked to grow on our own and reinvest everything back into the business step-by-step and we’re quite proud of where we’ve gotten to today just through that process.
How have things been since the move to Peckham?
Just amazing honestly. We’ve got a 7,000 square foot unit – producing thousands of pints every day, more than we’ve ever done before and yeah we’re just doing better and better since we moved here.
What kinds of beer do you offer?
We’ve got 6 beers in what we call our “core range” and then we produce seasonal stuff and rotate new things in. We do a new sour every four weeks, for example, which allows the creativity of the brewers to shine through. So we’ll produce a new sour with different adjuncts – like raspberry and thyme, citrus fruits – just really interesting stuff. And we’ve actually become known as one of the leading UK sour producers.
We do all sorts of other beers also – we do IPAs, pale ales, pilsners, we’re actually one of the first small breweries in London to produce a ‘pilsner-lager’ – it takes a lot of time to make it, it’s expensive and very difficult to get right so that’s why a lot of breweries don’t do it. We really believe that we have a beer for everyone – our new tagline is “Right beer, right now.
Do you have a favourite?
It depends on the time of day (laughter) and the time of year. We’ve just relaunched a milk stout and certainly, for the colder weather, it’s a great beer.
What do you think of the British Pub culture?
I mean it’s amazing British pub culture – when it’s done right it can be really fantastic. Unfortunately there’s quite a few pubs closing, but my view is that they are not really moving with the times.
You know they are still serving what we call ‘cooking lager’ and it isn’t quite meeting the demand of the regular punter and again that’s where we sort of have differentiated ourself in the UK scene is by offering a beer for everyone – we have our pilsner-lager as our ‘gateway beer’ … so if you’re drinking fosters or Carlsberg or something like that and you just move slightly over to taste our Peckham Pils and it offers a whole world of craft beer for you.
Pubs are a great place to build community, they are wonderful places for people to go and socialize obviously. There are all types of different pubs as well, true beer pubs are popping up now, like our taproom in Peckham.
Tell me more about the taproom?
Yeah, we maintain a taproom over in Peckham on the original site of our brewery. We’ve got 23 taps of beer there as fresh as you can possibly get and we can keep the prices low since everything is straight to the consumer from our production line.
Do you think the taproom has become part of the Peckham community?
Yeah totally. Our ethos is to have the taproom open for everyone, everyone’s welcome, whether they are with kids, dogs, cats, whatever you want.
We’ve got an offering for everyone as well. You know, my mom comes down and drinks our pilsner-lager, my brother will come down and have a stout, we’ve got kids coming over in their low twenties coming over for our low abv sour beers because they are all about staying healthy. So yeah we try to make it a place for everyone to enjoy.
If all this talk of craft beer has got you feeling thirsty, the make sure you to visit the Brick Brewery website. Or if you’re in a London and want a first-hand experience of their cracking craft concoctions, then pop down to their taproom in Peckham. Oh, and if you’re interested in craft beer, check out our guide to the best craft beer bars in Budapest and our journey behind the scenes at Horizont Brewing.