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Food Workshop

Brewing up a storm

Prospective indie brewers are getting their first hands-on experience at a facility in Bermondsey.

10 Mar 2017

As amateur beer brewers with varying levels of ambition look to break into the crowded craft beer sector, an incubator in south London is offering a useful testbed.

Ubrew provides equipment and ingredients for customers to brew their own beer, with founders Wilf Horsfall and friend Matt Denham on hand to give advice. Membership is priced at less than £80, and there’s currently a hefty waiting list for new members.

The idea taps into the renewed interest in homebrewed beer, piggybacking on the ‘craft’ boom, and the company has seen a healthy increase in sales and members. In January, Ubrew announced sales of its homebrew courses increased by 40% (up to 459 from 326 in 2015), and last year it opened a second site in Manchester, selling all 75 membership spots before opening the doors. There are plans to launch a third site in Berlin.

Although aimed at hobbyists, a number of users are experimenting with starting up their own beer businesses, in a relatively safe environment compared to going it alone. Ubrew boasts space for up to 15 ‘nano-breweries’, including Ignition, Vandals and the Old Kent Road (OKR) breweries.

OKR’s co-founder David Clack says the small-scale offering is what encouraged them to take the leap from homebrewing to something more sophisticated. ‘We only need to do one brew a month to have our beer in pubs in south east London.’

The two founders, Clack and Will O’Neale, have full-time jobs alongside their beer venture and have been able to scale the business to a manageable level, spending just two days a month at Ubrew’s facility in Bermondsey (one to get the brew going; another to bottle it up), while any admin, orders and deliveries are dealt with in the evening.

‘The big craft beer boom happened in London five years ago, and they all [took on] big investments and huge risks,’ Clack says. ‘That’s what we like about brewing here. We’re not really making a lot of money at the moment but that’s OK.’

The company has been growing though. From brewing 200 bottles-worth of beer a month at Ubrew (around 65 litres), OKR stepped up to one of Ubrew’s bigger kits last year, churning out 800 litres of booze at a time.

Clack reckons the appeal for these beers lies in their super-local identity, with OKR’s three brews – a hoppy stout, a pale ale, and a saison – all named after south-east London landmarks and only found in a handful of bottle shops and pubs in the local area.

The idea of a rentable brewery is nothing new, though. Similar DIY ventures have existed in the US since the early 90s – it’s just taken time to translate to the UK. Other amateur brewing spaces have popped up around the capital, riffing on Ubrew’s success, from Brew Club and Home Brew Depot in Hackney to Brixton’s London Beer Lab.