Getting to know BREW: Hackney Brewery
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
As some of you may know, the craft beer scene in the UK has changed a lot during the last decade and we’ve seen the number of micro breweries and pubs surge from just a handful in the late 2000’s to thousands.
To be successful in the craft beer sector is very challenging and the sheer size of competition makes it harder for some breweries to survive, especially for breweries in London as there are 129 breweries around the capital alone.
But there is one brewery in particular that’s been competing and succeeding over the last decade - Hackney Brewery, nestled in the heart of Hackney Borough, underneath historic railway arches between Haggerston and Hoxton tube stations.
Hackney Brewery was founded by Peter Hills and Jon Swain in 2011 and they have ten 2,500 litre fermenting vessels with temperature and pressure control enabling perfect management of the fermenting process. In 2016 they installed laboratory facilities so that every batch or beer could be tested for alcohol content, bitterness and carbonation levels ensuring consistency and quality across their range.
We caught up with Founder Jon Swain to find out a little more about the brewery and what’s in store for them over the next 12 months.
Q. Can you tell me a little about Hackney Brewery?
Pete and I founded Hackney Brewery in 2011. The craft beer scene was quite a different landscape back then with barely double figures of breweries in existence. Over the past 9 years of organic growth, the brewery is now very different from when it started. Focussing on Keg and Can formats with hop forward styles and continuing to carve a route through the ever-changing climate.
We’re quite a quiet brewery, I think people don’t know much about the size we are and how long we’ve been about. We don’t have a taproom, so we rely on annual open days and events to be able to directly connect with people.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area?
We’ve lived in the borough and have called it our home for nearly two decades. We have always thought that as we use the name of the borough as our identity that we give back to the community and causes within the borough. We have always supported the local charities and events in Hackney.
Q. What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
We’ve spent years refining our recipes and try to keep everything up to date and are always making progress with the ever-changing tastes. The classic “freshness of the beer, quality of ingredients and hygiene” is a standard now, that’s just a basic starting point. We invested a lot in lab equipment and run studies on how our process and ingredients interact to get the best out of them. I think time is key, we may take a while to do something, but when we do it’s well thought out.
Q. How do you decide on what new beers to brew?
We generally make beers we would want to drink, alongside making things that are commercially viable, we do have bills to pay. We discuss a lot about specials and the route of the core range with the whole team. Seasonality has a part to play, although we try to always have a sour, a stout and a lager (different to our core) available all year around. Generally, we’ll brew things between 4.0-7.0%, it’s rare we’ll veer from that. They tend to be monthly specials too, although, things have changed slightly with the current global crisis. So, there are a few more can specials about now.
Q. Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you haven’t done already?
The West Coast style is something that seems to be making a resurgence. Our West Coast pale has changed over the years and is now an IPA. A bitter, clear, pine, resinous and dank IPA is something I would like to do again. So maybe a return to that making something like that?
Q. How important do you think collaborations are with other breweries?
We have been lucky enough to brew with some incredible breweries over the years and have come particularly good friends with the New York scene. Sharing of knowledge to level up is something we strive for. New techniques people have discovered or how a new piece of equipment has benefited them, or not.
The brewing industry is very social. The reason we all do it is to share the love of beer with like-minded people. As a business, there will inevitably be an aspect of marketing that will go alongside a collaboration, I think that is hard to avoid. But it’s what happens behind the scenes that makes a big difference.
Also, collaborating with other industries is a great way to understand ingredients better. We’ve spent a few years investigating the use of coffee in the brewing process. We collaborated with Ozone making a passionfruit and coffee sour a few years ago and that design and research process created something incredible.
Q. What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?
The environment is something we believe is our responsibility to look after. From when we first started brewing, we spent extra to source our electricity from renewable resources. It’s currently windmills and bio-mass now. We have various bits of energy capture during the brewing process to save heat during transfers, we save as much water from the brewing process as we can for cleaning, a nitrogen reclaimer to reduce our CO2 usage and reusable containers, cans instead of bottles and short distribution area all help too.
We’re very careful with our chemical use and send our spent grain to a farm. We try to limit our impact as much as we can. There are always things we can do to improve and as we grow our aim is to be carbon negative.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
Other than the obvious issues the virus has caused. There haven’t really been too many challenges. We were in a good place and had a lot of plans for this year, which have all been cancelled or postponed. Which is a huge shame but at least we are still operating. There were moments in March where we didn’t think we’d make it. We were lucky enough to have the local community rally around and support us, which allowed us to adapt to offer direct distribution via our website.
Q. What are the biggest problems you run into in producing beer?
We’ve always grown organically, so each year we reinvest in our staff or equipment. Which has been tough at times having to wait to grow when other business’s around us have huge backing to advance what they offer. But we do things our way and I guess we have an appreciation for the work we need put in to get great results. I think people are often amazed what we can produce in these railway arches when they come and see the site.
Q. Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
Ha, yeah. Last year we were caught in the run of breweries having fruit additions slowly naturally fine their beer. We made a Hazy Guava IPA that had a huge hop addition and a load of fruit in it. It came out amazing, for the first two weeks. Then the pectin from the fruit and the acid content of the hops somehow interacted and caused the proteins in solution to bind together and drop out of solution. It basically looked like a snow globe! We obviously recalled it all and dealt with it. So, yeah, didn’t turn out the way we hoped!
Q. What has been your favourite beer you have produced?
Millions of Peaches. It came from a project we did in 2016. We called it the Stooge Project. We basically brewed a base beer in line with the season and split it into three. This was from the sour base, we split it into a gose, a hopped sour and a peach and basil sour. It was the best of the three and has become an annual release ever since marking the start of summer!
Q. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
We are incredibly lucky to work with Pete Fowler (Super Furry Animals, Seahawks, Monsterism) who creates our world around the beers we make. Before Pete we had very traditional branding and beers, it was when we installed the current brewery that we shifted up a gear and made entirely keg and can focussing on hop forward beers and Pete was a missing component to add something special to how we present ourselves.
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
Not too sure. I can see that there is an emerging market for it. I do honestly believe that alcohol in beer is essential to balance out what it tastes like. I’m not sure there is a fair way to compare the two products.
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
Big plans! We had a lot in the works before the lockdown and we are slowly managing to get them moving again. Next year is our 10th anniversary. We’ll be busy celebrating with new beers, events, merchandise and the biggest news of it all… We are currently planning a move to a new site. We’ll finally have a taproom for people to enjoy our beers and for us to be able to connect with our audience directly with more space for events. Watch this space…
About Hackney Brewery Co
Address: Arch 358 Laburnum Street, Hackney London E2 8BB
Taproom: No, but coming soon! Online delivery: Yes
Rating on Untapped: 3.56 / 5 based on 31,499 ratings