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Getting to know BREW: Howling Hops

One of the most important aspects of a good quality beer is the freshness. You can definitely taste when a beer is past its ‘drink by date’ as it’ll either taste a little stale or just not how the brewer intended it to.

Fresh is definitely best when it comes to beer so if there was a way of getting it from brewery to taproom in as little time and distance as possible, Howling Hops have cracked it. The beer you drink in the Tank Bar has travelled a whole 12 inches from brewery to bar, in its own tank with temperature and carbonation customised to every beer.

We caught up with Chris Hall from Howling Hops to find out everything from how important he feels collaborations with other brewers are, to what style of beers Howling Hops are looking to tackle in the future.

Q. Can you give me a brief history about Howling Hops?

Our founder Pete Holt took on the Southampton Arms in Kentish Town, London back in 2008, when pubs celebrating independent breweries were few and far between. Brewing his own beer was still a way off, but in that time he learned a lot about what people like and the craft of good beer and serving it well. His next pub was The Cock Tavern, re-opened in 2011.

The Cock Tavern was turned into a brewpub, the first in Hackney, and in the basement of the pub Howling Hops was born. After a hundred or so different recipes, steps were taken to expand the brewery into its own facility. In June 2015 we moved into Queens Yard in Hackney Wick and evolved the serving tanks from the Cock Tavern’s basement into the Tank Bar concept we have today!

Q. How is your beer connected to the local area?

Hackney Wick has seen a massive amount of change in the past decade, and Hackney itself for even longer than that. We’ve done our bit to bring great beer back to the area, but our connection to the local area is really down to all the local folk who support us. Particularly during the pandemic, this really has been a lifeline for us.

Q. What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?

We’ve always been about pushing the envelope in what we can do with hops in our beers, as our name suggests. More than that, we’ve had pubs in our DNA since before we even were a brewery, so making full-flavoured and pint-compatible beers has been our lifeblood. The brewery itself, and the tanks that we serve from, epitomise our obsession with freshness as the key to great hoppy beer. The beer you drink in the Tank Bar has travelled a whole 12 inches from brewery to bar, in its own tank with temperature and carbonation customised to every beer!

Q. Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you haven’t done already?

We are always trying to get the very best out of our hoppy beers of course, so there will be plenty more DDH Pale and DIPAs on the horizon. That said, we’ve lately been pondering how to get people excited our dark beers, and we are very keen to have some exciting barrel aged beers available as often as possible. Our BA Barleywine release at Christmas went down really well, so anything is on the cards at this point!

Q. How important do you think collaborations are with other breweries?

Collaborations aren’t just about making a great beer – they are a massive learning experience, from recipe design, to the day of release and beyond. We’ve always tried to work with breweries that share our curiosity and appetite for knowledge in this respect, as well as all the lovely folk that have supported and helped us out over the years. Collaborations are a great example of beer’s community spirit!

Q. What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?

Reducing, re-using and recycling are daily goals for us, whether in the brewery, Tank Bar, warehouse or beyond. We’re actually quite obsessed with waste separation and collection, as well as the materials we purchase and their ability to be recycled. Even packing materials for stuff that is sent to us gets re-used for packing online shop orders. One of the biggest energy savers is the Tank Bar itself – it means no need to spend energy and water washing kegs for beer we serve on-site!

Q. What have been your biggest challenges? (Pre covid-19 and during the outbreak?)

Pre-Covid, our biggest challenges were similar to most modern breweries – ensuring our beers were consumed fresh and in the best possible quality. Just before Covid hit, we had made some pretty big improvements to the technical side of things, as well as getting our beer to more parts of the country than ever before.

The pandemic meant losing all the momentum we were building and flipping the business on its head – not just to protect the brewery and Tank Bar, but also our pubs too. We were in a very sensitive position in that respect, but managed to turn our online into the lifeboat ig enough to keep everything afloat for as long as possible. We’re now so used to the always-changing environment that disaster-planning is now just the norm. It’s been hugely stressful, but thanks to the support of our customers we have made it this far and have loads of plans for the future!

Q. What has been your favourite beer you have produced?

We started 2020 particularly strong with a collab with Pressure Drop: a DIPA called Lost in Control, and ended it with a beer that was equally highly-rated: Rooftops TIPA. Between then and now we’ve released more beers than ever before, but speaking personally I’ve been most impressed with the consistently delicious batches of House IPA. I genuinely think it’s the best beer we brew.

Q. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?

Enormously important! It’s very difficult for breweries to stand out in an ever-increasingly saturated market, so you really have to put a lot of effort into how you present yourself and your beer. Whilst we’d all like it if our beer did all the talking, you have to do everything possible to get that beer off the shelf and into the drinker’s fridge at home – that means capturing their imagination with a name and a label to make them believe the beer you’ve made is worth their hard-earned cash. We’ve gone through a few different looks over the years, and it’s important to be open to change in order to stay in people’s minds.

Q. Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?

We’ve certainly had beers that were better or worse than we’d hoped, and we’ve definitely learned something from every one of them. I think some of the best beers we’ve made have resulted from us being disappointed in a previous brew and striving to improve. All breweries should be willing to embrace the opportunity to learn from mistakes (as long as it isn’t from every single beer)!

Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?

Non-alcoholic is not something we’ve dipped into yet, simply because of the technical requirements to do them justice and the brewing capacity it would need. That said we think it’s an exciting sub-category of the industry, and hopefully something that provides a choice to folk.

Q. What’s next for Howling Hops over the next 18 months?

Well, hopefully some events and festivals at some point! We couldn’t properly celebrate our 5th birthday in 2020, so perhaps we’ll get a chance to do that. We’ve got fairly ambitious plans for the brewery, and we’re looking forward to gradually getting some events back in the calendar. Whatever happens we have a fairly packed brewing schedule for 2021 already, so we certainly won’t be thirsty.

About Howling Hops

Address: Howling Hops, Unit 9A Queens Yard, White Post Lane, Hackney Wick, London, E9 5EN

Telephone: 0203 583 8262

Taproom: Yes

General Enquiries:

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