When the $104 billion merger of the world’s two largest beer companies Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller completes it will create a ‘Megabrew’, enveloping 400 beer brands that will make up roughly 30% of all beer output on the planet.
Can the microbrewery revolution compete against this ‘Megabrew’?
In the UK, entrepreneurs have built 1,700 breweries, doubling up in the last five years. Within London alone, the rough estimate of micro-breweries in operation is around 90. With so many in such a small space, we wondered what makes each one different? Is there a difference between beers from the north, south, east and west?
We donned our beer caps and went to investigate.
First stop, South London
What’s refreshing about the South London brewers is that the most important values to their brand are quality, authenticity and sociability. They spend their energy on creating beer that they and their friends would like to drink. These brewers often take historical recipes or ingredients previously unavailable in the UK and create a fully modern product with a British twist.
People are interested in going to markets and finding good food – sourcing nice things to eat. Also, now they want nice things to drink too. Beer has been included, which it wasn’t before…. Andy Smith of Partizan
These brands have personality, humour and character. They can often be an extension of the founders’ own values, perhaps even referencing the brand’s genesis through travel and homebrews amongst friends. These brewers value openness and togetherness, and invite locals to share and enjoy their beer on their premises, or to take part in beer-themed events. Unlike corporate brands, these brewers often know each other and team up to organise events or to help each other out with brewing ideas, tips and even kits. In fact, what we have discovered that sets them apart from the ‘Megabrew’ is that they have built an entire community around their brands. Micro-brewing to them is not just a product, but possibly a way of life. Can you imagine Budweiser sharing their brewing tips during a ‘meet the brewer’ session?
We’ve interviewed some top South London breweries to get their take on their brands
Jack Hobday, Anspach & Hobday
Name: Anspach & Hobday (the two surnames of the founders)
Established: First homebrew in 2011, but incorporated in 2012.
Strapline: ‘Conceived in the 19th Century refined for the 21st’
Brand values: Appreciation of Quality, Sociability & Humour, Curiosity & Exploration and how beer connects us, and particularly London, to our heritage: Old meets New.
Signature beers: We have over 70 beers, but our Porter is our original. The Cream Ale is now our best seller. It is brewed with a small amount of corn (which makes it very smooth) and the Japanese Hop Sorachi Ace (which gives it a light vanilla, lemon & coconut flavour).
Visual branding: We were approached by a branding agency called Kastner & Partners as a result of our Kickstarter campaign. They took our brand idea and built 19 different concepts. Of that 19, the dual characters on the front of our label was the concept we chose. We liked it for symbolising what we wanted our beer to represent: Old and New, novel and with good scope for some humour and social comment. For example, on our IPA, the modern explorer is taking a selfie whilst the Victorian explorer is looking out onto the world. All of our illustrations are done by Alan Batley.
Chris Hall, Brew By Numbers
Name: Brew By Numbers
The name is based on Tom (Hutchings) and Dave (Seymour)’s early attempts to brew as many different beers as possible out of single batches, and labelling them with their particular numbering system.
Established: We sold our first beer in December 2012, but founders Tom and Dave had first met whilst travelling a couple of years before then.
Strapline: We don’t really have one, we like the beer to do the talking, but ‘Handcrafted in London’ is printed on all of our glasses, bottle labels and kegs.
Brand values: We strive to create new, exciting and forward-thinking beers focusing on quality and drinkability. Whether developing new styles, adapting established ones, or bringing the less well-known styles back into the limelight, we create each beer with the same level of care, attention and respect.
Signature beers: We’re best known for our saisons, beers which were historically brewed in farmhouses and enjoyed by farm labourers at harvest time, sometimes in lieu of payment! Our modern twists on this style can use many different New World hop varieties, spices, fruit peels, even flowers! 01|01, Saison – Citra, was our first commercially released beer and is a recipe we return to regularly, so it’s a great introduction to what we do.
Visual branding: We wanted to have branding that set us apart from traditional beer labels, which reflected our unique approach to brewing the same styles but with different recipes, and also something that was different to other craft beer breweries, which was quite challenging!
Once it was clear that numbers would be a big part of the branding, they were placed front and centre. We also wanted to provide people with as much useful information about the beer, its shelf life and its ingredients as we could, so that took up another third of the label. Finally, as our beers are bottle-conditioned, it was important to convey how to correctly pour and enjoy the beer in a glass. The front-facing part of the label is crisp and minimalist, whilst the other parts convey lots more detailed information for the consumer. Designed by Duke Harper.
Sam McMeekin, Gipsy Hill Brewing Company.
Name: Gipsy Hill Brewing Company. We went around and around with the name, but community is hugely important for us and was the deciding factor in the name.
Established: 1 July 2014
Strapline: Gipsy Hill. Drink it and talk to people.
Brand values: Full flavoured, medium strength beer that goes well with conversation. Our beer is about community, get-togethers and people.
Signature beers: Out first beer was an amber ale, followed by a pale ale. In general we make hop-forward beers, with a focus on full flavour and medium strength to start with. We will be experimenting further with both styles and strengths as we grow up.
Visual branding: We discovered local illustrator Marcus Reed’s work up at East Dulwich Tavern and contacted him. He said, ’send me photos of yourselves.’ The illustrations that came back were brilliant. Modern, cool without being over the top. We wanted something approachable without being too traditional, to properly represent our beers, which are about people and celebrating the differences between them.
Jenn Jordan, Partizan Brewery
Name: Partizan, it symbolises brewing lots of small batches and cultures that could have been lost together and protecting them.
Established: We have been operational for about 3 years with the first beer getting sold in December 2012. Andy Smith says, ‘I started brewing in 2006 with a housemate in Leeds. It was essentially just a way to have cheap beer around the house. The one big thing that was a catalyst to starting the brewery was an offer of a brew kit from Evan of the Kernel Brewery. It wouldn’t have been a brewery otherwise, I don’t think.’
Brand values: We make beer that we want to drink. The Saison’s have become a signature for us with many different varieties from Lemongrass, Raspberry and Lemon and Lemon and Thyme.
Signature beers: The Saisons.
Visual branding: Alec is a friend of Andy’s so was a natural choice for the labels. They worked on different designs but then decided that Alec’s illustrations were perfect for the beer. ‘In terms of their identity, their attitude is “Fuck it… let’s have some fun and make some good beer.” Using Alec’s distinctive illustrations as the branding itself felt like a brave step towards securing their own identity in a closely competitive market.’ Designed by Alec Doherty.
From a community point-of view
Lee Gentry, The Beer Shop London
So, how do these breweries affect the local community? We spoke to Lee Gentry of The Beer Shop in Nunhead, South London. He and his wife Lauren Willis set up shop almost a year ago in the heart of the craft beer epicentre. Lee thinks that there are about 40-50 breweries in South London alone. He serves many of the South London beers and is regularly in touch with the brewers, learning about the beers and understanding their individual brands. He connects beer enthusiasts to brewers with events at his place such as ‘Meet the Brewer’, ‘Homebrew Club’ and ‘Meat and Beer’ evenings. The local community has been very supportive of their business.
Lee is not sure how the merger of Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller will affect the craft breweries. He says ’I hope craft beers go from strength to strength. When I am old and grey, I hope I will still be drinking them.’
Next stop, North London.
A special thanks to Jack Hobday, Chris Hall, Jenn Jordan, Sam McMeekin and Lee Gentry for taking the time to contribute to our piece. Do get in touch if you have a favourite brewery up in North London that you would like to recommend to us.