Waltham Forest’s beer-brewing scene goes from strength to strength, writes Steve Watkins
Stuart and Claire Lascelles turned a passion for beer into a career when they set up their own microbrewery in Leyton.
The couple turned their backs on a conventional lifestyle after tiring of their jobs as an industrial chemist and public affairs consultant.
“The hours are crazy but we wouldn’t have it any other way,” says Claire. “We started with a blank sheet of paper and a lot of questions.”
After rapid growth in the last couple of years East London Brewing Company (ELB), based on an industrial estate in Lammas Road, recently began exporting its bottled range to Scandinavia. It has picked up industry awards for its Orchid Vanilla Mild and Quadrant Oatmeal Stout, and, adds Claire: “The response from local publicans has been fantastic.”
ELB now employs eight staff, but the industry has grown so fast that demand for brewing expertise outstrips supply. The company struck lucky in hiring Australian head brewer Ruaridh Atkins, who admits: “Brewing is my religion. I love what I do and the UK scene is really interesting at the moment.”
There were only a handful of breweries in London when Claire and Stuart established ELB in 2011. There are now around one hundred brewers in London, and six in Waltham Forest, following a surge in popularity.
Competition is friendly, however, with fellow brewers often sharing advice as part of the London Brewers’ Alliance. Stuart, whose skills as a chemist have proved invaluable to ELB, says: “It’s a relatively small community and we all take an interest in what one another are doing.”
Other microbreweries in Waltham Forest include hop-happy Brodie’s, which since 2008 has operated from a small building behind the King William IV public house in Bakers Arms and is known for its annual Bunny Basher beer festival in August; Wild Card Brewery in Walthamstow Village, which started in 2014 as a ‘hobby that got out of hand’; and Left Bank Brewery, a small ‘experimental’ microbrewery which began the same year at Blackhorse Workshop.
Wild Card in particular has made a big name for itself locally, opening up its brewery as a bar and occasional music venue in the evening and also selling its playing-card themed beers to pubs around Waltham Forest. It even hosts brewery tours.
Another local brewer enjoying big success is Signature Brew, which has built an international reputation based on collaborations with musicians such as Frank Turner and members of Mastodon and Enter Shikari – hosting backstage tasting sessions at gigs. Founded in 2011 by cousins Sam McGregor and Tom Bott, Signature Brew recently held a crowdfunding campaign to fund its new brewery at Leyton Business Centre in Etloe Road.
The newest brewer to arrive in Waltham Forest, however, is lager specialist Pillars. In October last year the Pillars craft brewery and taproom was launched at Walthamstow Village’s popular evening hangout, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, where its neighbours include Wild Card and God’s Own Junkyard.
Pillars began in a garden shed, used by co-founders Omar Razaq and Gavin Litton to develop a ‘radical’ new lager recipe. Says Omar: “We came to Walthamstow as we thought it was a really exciting place to be. There are lots of new and interesting businesses opening and we love the community feel of the area.”
The arrival of so many breweries in Waltham Forest has inspired the launch of the Walthamstow Beer Project, whose 200-plus members harvest the green flowers of the hop vine blossom from their allotments, back gardens and balconies.
It echoes a tradition from the early 20th Century when London’s poorer inhabitants flocked to Kent’s hop fields every summer in search of work and a cheap holiday. Their modern-day counterparts pick hops closer to home and raise a glass to their efforts every autumn when the flowers are turned into beer at the brewery run by ELB.
A hot summer provides ideal growing conditions but the fickle British weather can sometimes see the hops not flower until September. The hops impart bitterness, flavor, as well as aroma to the finished beer, which is ready to drink a month later.
Growers from Walthamstow Beer Project are rewarded with free bottles while the remainder is sold to local pubs such as Ye Olde Rose and Crown in Hoe Street – usually selling out within a month.
New growers are welcome every spring and for around £25 you receive a welcome pack, a hop rhizome, fertiliser pack, stakes and growing instructions. One of the existing growers, Sarah Allan, hopes more will be inspired to get involved. “It’s a nice community project and we are always looking for new members,” she says. “After all, the more hops we grow, the more beer we can drink!”
If you would like to join Walthamstow Beer Project as a grower:
For more information about the East London Brewing Company:
For more information about Pillars Brewery: