From brewing in his one-bedroom apartment in Long Island City, Queens, NYC, to brewing with the California's Russian River brewing equipment in Juno Way, London, it's been a long journey for Forest Road Brewing Company founder Pete Brown. We spoke with Pete to hear his thoughts on branding, crowdfunding and beer festivals.
Q. How did the idea come about to open your own brewery?
I started homebrewing when I was living in NYC back in 2007 while I was managing a local bar with great beers. I had fallen in love with IPAs a few years prior to that and then started homebrewing after.
I fell in love with the process and set out to really learn the craft. It then really took control of my life. I got my first job at Wynkoop in Denver CO, then moved to London became Senior Brewer and completed 2 brewing diplomas and started a BSc in Biochemistry, did a short stint at Siren Brewery as a consultant, and then decided to do it on my own after moving into a house on spare room on FOREST ROAD - I decided it was time to make beer my own way!
Q. What do you look for when you source brewing ingredients (i.e. Local varieties, particular distributors)?
We go as local as we can with everything, but the one thing we can't find yet over here is an equivalent for North West Pacific USA Hops!
Our best-selling and biggest volume beer is POSH lager though, and it is 100% British. The hops are grown an hour from here and the barley not more than 2 hours away.
Q. How important do you think branding/package design is for your beers? (Prefer cans or bottles)
I think it's super important in a sea of competition these days. Our branding spec has always been "to be able to read the beer in the bottom of a bar cooler from across the bar at night".
We want people to be able to SEE what it is. The cartoon dinosaurs and purple cloud thing are pretty overwhelming to me, I don't know how you can build a brand when 1,500 other breweries are doing the same thing. It's getting crowded out there.
Q. How do you feel about crowdfunding investment for your brewery? Is it something you’ve either done or thought of doing?
We've been thinking about it. Not sure. I think so many breweries have done these days - and not spent the money in the way they sold the opportunity, if we're to do it, it would be very specific.
Q. How important do you think collaborations are with other breweries / businesses?
In my opinion, collaborations are best used to learn from another company's style so you can both explore new ideas. These days it feels like breweries just put each other's logos on tallboy cans to keep feeding hype and get Instagram beer lovers excited as if they have actually developed something together. I feel like it's exploitative of the consumer.
Q. With low ABV beers gaining a bigger market share, do you intend to change your core beers to incorporate low/ No ABV beers this or will you stick with traditional brewing?
We get approached and questioned about this regularly. We're pretty confident in making beers the way we make them and if I was looking for a low abv beer - I wouldn't go to us (Forest Road) for them. Let the breweries who make low abv beers make them. We'll be over here making beer.
Q. Do you find attending beer festivals to benefit your brewery or do you think it’s better to invest your marketing spend elsewhere?
This year kinda cemented this one for us. We're not a festival beer brewery. It seems to be filled with the same breweries every time and we don't really gain much out of it long term. (besides having tons of fun ourselves!). The industry feels pretty cliquey to us right now and we don't really fit into that.
Q. Does your brewery support any charitable causes?
We were the first brewery to raise money via a beer to the NHS during the first lockdown (but just didn't pay for press about it as some others did ;-).
We do a local food drive every year for the Hackney Food Bank, and most recently we've made a Pride POSH label to donate 10% of all sales ELOP, Metrolife, and Ask for Clive to support the local LGBT+ community this month (and beyond!). We like to give back to our immediate local communities not blanket charity for the press if that makes sense.
Q. How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd?
Again, we don't really fit into the Untappd/Ratebeer world. We are very much a "brewery" versus a "craft brewery". We make 4 core beers: A 4.1% British Lager, a 5.4% IPA, a 4.6% Pale, and a 6.3% IPA. Rating platforms usually don't find our beers that exciting. But we're over here selling 50L kegs by the truckload of clean, drinkable beer - so it may be important to some breweries, but not to us.
Q. Do you think it’s important to promote your ethos or should you keep personal beliefs and politics out of it?
We keep our ethos in-house but maintain a clear vision of what we want to be doing which guides every decision we make as a company. Our four pillars are Fun, Humanity, Grit, and Honesty. As you may know, my outspokenness has ruffled quite a few feathers in the industry out here - but it's always been a result of defending independence in the beer industry, and the positive impact that it can have on the local community. We care about what we care about - and if others disagree, it's totally fine. They should stop following us :-P
Q. How do you make your brewery more inclusive and promote equality?
You can make your brewery more inclusive and promote equality by providing clear guidelines in your handbook and the recruitment process on how we work together as a company. We are very lucky to have a great group of people from all different backgrounds who work well together. Your vibe attracts your tribe!
Q. What have you got planned for the rest of 2022 and into 2023?
We got big plans. :-)
What’s your Favourite Pub/bar?
Favorite Bar: Highwater in Dalston.
Favourite beer you’ve brewed?
Favourite beer style?
IPA (Porter close second!)
Higher ABV or lower?
Higher - extracts more hop hydrocarbons/ smell = taste / taste = joy
Favourite Hop to brew with?
Favourite snack to have with beer?
Branston Pickle Mini Cheddars
Wanna see where the magic happens?
EMERALD CITY BREWERY