We caught up with Mark Hislop, Founder & Managing Director of Exale Brewing to find out everything from their biggest challenges since Exale began trading 2 years ago, to how he feels about beer rating sites like Untappd - plus a few bonus questions.
Can you give me a little bit of history about Exale Brewery?
I started off brewing in a shipping container outside a warehouse nightclub in Tottenham, brewing beer on a little 500ltr kit. Luckily I met Andy, my partner at Exale and we decided to set up a new brewery, in an actual building!
We started 3 months before the first lockdown so we don't really have a great deal of history behind us. We're just now getting into the swing of operating in a world with pubs to selling beer to, which is nice.
How is your beer connected to the local area?
I'd like to think we have a good connection with the locals, our core beers are sold in a lot of the little independent bars and restaurants. We do work a couple of working men's clubs which are great and we also sponsor the local football team (Walthamstow Football Club). We've also developed a couple of wild yeast strains from local fruit trees and we're starting to use them in our wild beer releases at the moment, one is a really funky Brett strain which I'm excited about.
What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
I'd say we make really well-balanced beer, that's not really unique to us but it's something I think helps our beers stand out a little. I also like to experiment a bit with interesting flavour combos, the Irn Bru sour being an obvious example of weird flavour choices, we've also done a really good seaweed and pepper stout and collaborated with winemakers to use different grape varieties in beer styles. So we probably make more unusual beers than most breweries but always with the flavours balanced.
How do you decide on what new beers to brew?
I tend to be led by ingredients, we like a bit of foraging and we try to use local fruit and products from the local area. I guess much like chefs do we try to create flavours using things in season but also beers that go with the seasons. Dark beers in winter, sours and saisons in summer etc. Sometimes it's just simply tasting or smelling something new in a meal or in another product and that will inspire me to try and create a beer that can show off that ingredient.
Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you can tell me about?
I've just made a Red IPA which I enjoyed trying to get that perfect balance of malt character and hop profile. We're thinking of doing our take on an Irish nitro stout. We've also got 2 mezcal barrels full of sour that I want to blend into a pineapple gose so they should be happening over the coming months.
How important do you think collaborations are - with other breweries or businesses?
I really like doing collaborations. You hear people complaining it's just an excuse for brewers to get drunk together, and that's absolutely true haha. But I do think you can learn a lot visiting other breweries and seeing how they do things, developing recipes together it's a learning experience a lot of the time. I also love working with people like Victory Distillery and Renegade Wines who have completely different ingredients and production methods but you still learn useful things working with them.
What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?
I think we do a fair bit, we try not to make it the focus of our business but just quietly make good choices where we can. We try and reduce our use of plastic and minimise waste across the business. We've been making hot sauce from waste beer and experimenting with making spent grain miso. We have also signed up to 1% for the planet helping raise money for environmental causes and have a cycle to work scheme. We're constantly revising our processes and trying to see where we can trim our footprint and reduce our impact on the environment.
What have been your biggest challenges over the last 18 months?
We've only really been going for 20 months so it's been in a constant state of flux. We've had to be very dynamic and quick to react. I feel we've done a really good job of keeping the business healthy and keeping all the key staff here and helping the team develop. We have a small team but the people we have at the moment are all very committed to what we want to do and I think this year we're really going to blossom thanks to the people we have in place. So I would say the biggest challenge was keeping the best of our team together and motivated and making changes where we had to even when it was painful.
What are the biggest problems you run into in brewing beer?
These last few months it's been supply chains, having massive varying lead times and trying to make sure everything is here when you need it to be has been very challenging. Kegs have been a constant problem for about 6 months. On the brewing side, we’re generally pretty solid and know the kit really well, but we are only a team of 2 and Bruno recently had to have surgery on his shoulder so has not been able to use his arm for 3 months, so that's one of the issues with a small team if someone gets hurt or ill it can really impact production.
Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
Yeh, we've had a few over the years, we tried a black pudding stout once in the shipping container brewery with dried pigs blood. It was a terrible idea. We did an imperial Crunchy stout with Pilot which was so mad to brew, we were chucking in about 100kg of cinder toffee into boiling beer and it was going mental, but that beer was actually delicious.
What has been your favourite beer you have produced?
That's a tough one, we did a grisette called Holler, with a barrel blended in and single hop Nelson Sauvin. That was beautiful. I also really loved the lime and sea salt gose we did for the Euros, it was so well balanced and tasted a bit like a margarita.
How important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
I think it definitely helps and we're actually in the process of doing a bit of a rebrand, but ultimately I think if the products are great the branding doesn't really matter. Just look at Kernel no effort on branding but the beer does all the talking and it's brilliant. Although there are plenty of breweries who probably do better than others on the strength of their branding alone.
Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
Yeh, I think the way we look after ourselves has changed a lot in the last few years, I always have a few non-alcoholic beers in the fridge these days and I'm Glaswegian! We're working on one ourselves at the moment so I'm hoping to get one out before the end of the year. The problem is I think a lot of them are rubbish so want to make sure ours is really tasty. I think as an industry there's probably a lot of problem drinking and health problems that come with it, we could probably all do with drinking a bit less and good quality alcohol-free beer can only be a good thing for the industry and society as a whole.
How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for you in the industry?
I really hate untapped, at least in the old days of rate beer people understood style parameters and reviews were normally quite valid even if you disagreed. Untapped has a lot of really unpleasant people who only give good reviews to pastry stouts or Hazy IPA over 8%. I never look at it, I don't have it on my phone and I think if people only brew beers to please untapped reviews the beer world would be a really, really boring place. I might actually start giving free beer to anyone in the taproom that deletes their Untapped hahaha.
What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
Just a little normality would be nice, doing a few collaborations, getting around other breweries and cities in the UK and just enjoying all the great stuff in the UK beer scene. In the brewery, we are always just looking to fine-tune the core beers and get everything as close to perfect as we can. We don't have any massive plans, we just really want a nice steady year making great beer and having some fun.
Where’s your favourite Pub?
The Free trade inn in Newcastle. I love that place. I lived in Newcastle for about 6 months and I loved it. Free trade was my local and it will always have a special place in my heart, much like the rest of Newcastle. The people there are just the best and anytime I go back it feels like going home.
Favourite beer style?
I probably drink mostly pale ales, I just enjoy the balance and drinkability of a nice hoppy pale between 4 & 5% - a bit boring I suppose I should say doughnut stouts of glitter sours.
Favourite Hop to brew with?
I use a lot of Amarillo in most of our beers, it's not always the main hop but it's really great at tying other hops together, with mosaic and Citra in our pale, or with Simcoe in the West Coast. It's just a great all-rounder and a bit underrated.
Favourite snack to have with beer?
Well, all our beers have food pairings on the label and one is always crisps. My ultimate is the Pub fish and chips when you get some good quality salt and vinegar and top with Scampi Fries. That or anything deep fired, preferably in the batter.
About Exale Brewing and Taproom
Address: Unit 2C uplands business park, London E17 5QJ