Crafted with care

Signature Brew's Joyce op de Beer, left, and Paulina Cudek, right (credit John Moore)
Signature Brew’s Joyce op de Beer, left, and Paulina Cudek, right (credit John Moore)

David O’Driscoll finds out how three Walthamstow breweries are adapting to the lockdown

During the lockdown, what are the things that have helped you get through? Netflix? Social media? Or what about a bit of ‘amber nectar’?

Alcohol sales are reportedly up by about 30% since the pandemic began. As an NHS mental health professional, I should say that we must be careful because there is strong evidence that alcohol misuse can be detrimental to our physical and mental health. That said, I also know how essential the occasional beer is for my own mental health!As luck would have it, we are now very well served by craft breweries in Waltham Forest. These breweries have been finding imaginative ways to provide some of their most excellent ales for residents during the lockdown, including home deliveries.

Three are located in what has been dubbed ‘Blackhorse Brewery Mile’. This industrial area near Blackhorse Road Station features some of “East London’s most exciting drinking locations” as well as the soon-to-be-built new Truman Brewery. Each moved here to find a bigger platform with more advanced brewing technology, as well as opening a taproom.

Of the three, Wild Card is the longest established locally, having first pitched up at Ravenswood Industrial Estate in Walthamstow Village eight years ago. There it crafted a reputation for producing imaginative events featuring live bands, DJs, and a regular gaming night. Building on this success, Wild Card expanded in 2018 to become the first stop on the Blackhorse Brewery Mile when it opened its new brewery in Lockwood Way, doubling its capacity. During the lockdown, Wild Card is delivering its canned beer and fresh keg beer nationwide.

Meanwhile, Signature Brew has had much publicity during the lockdown. The brewery was started in 2011 by two friends who were “sick of drinking rubbish beer at gigs”. Their motto is “brewed with music” and they invite bands to collaborate with them in brewing their beer; interestingly the first collaboration was with Walthamstow band The Rifles. The idea later took off with The Rocksteady, whose beer was praised in the leading music journal Rolling Stone.

Signature Brew has gone from strength to strength and has big plans for the post-lockdown future. This includes regular music nights and they have lined up a top local act, The Skints, to play a few gigs. During the lockdown, Signature has had massive success with its ‘pub in a box’ service, a smart idea providing a selection of their beers, snacks, glasses and a Spotify playlist. This generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally – even being featured by CBN America!

Exale's head brewer Daniel Vane, right, with Max Chater of Victory London Distillery, left (credit John Moore)
Exale’s head brewer Daniel Vane, right, with Max Chater of Victory London Distillery, left (credit John Moore)

Finally on the Blackhorse Brewery Mile is Exale, a newcomer that moved here after a crowd-funding campaign. It has an impressive range of beers in its very stylish taproom, for which Exale has its own post-lockdown music plans. Exale also has its own in-house gin distillery partnership with Victory London that produces a variety of gins and vodkas. During the lockdown, Exale’s tap room is open for take-away beers on Fridays and Saturdays, 11am-5pm, while online orders over £50 can be delivered to your door.

All three Blackhorse breweries have developed partnerships with the local community and have mentioned how this was an attractive option in moving to Waltham Forest. There has been a tremendous change in drinking culture since 2000 with the craft beer revolution and, as someone who has been brought up on minimal choice – essentially just lager or bitter – I am pleased to see this extraordinary array of beers and spirits on offer for local residents.

Find out more about Wild Card’s beer delivery service:

Find out more about Signature Brew’s ‘pub in a box’ scheme:

Find out more about Exale’s takeaway tap room: