As they approach the end of their first year Gipsy Hill Brewing Company have made their titular area part of their identity. Situated near Crystal Palace, in the heart of Gipsy Hill, the aim of the Gipsy Hill Brewing Company is to make full flavoured, medium strength beers that give you a unique taste but allow the conversation to keep flowing. The team, who loving refer to themselves as Gipsies, hope to support the local area as well as seeing their product expanding rapidly throughout the country. Having only recently established themselves in the area we spoke to co-founder Charlie Shaw about what GHBC do and the importance of having that #VillageLondon sense of community.
Tell us a little bit about what you do
We are a microbrewery who make ale. We produce about 4,000 litres of beer a week, which is somewhere in the region of 7,000 pints. We sell that mainly in London but we're now starting to distribute more around the South of England and increasingly up North. We're heavily into the bottle game now as the demand is strong. That's great as it allows you to ship your beer that little bit further, obviously with casks, which we do, you have to go and pick them up so it's harder. We recently started doing a bit of export but our bread and butter is local pubs.
How did it all start?
I was a home brewer, fantasizing about having a commercial brewery and saw a lot of them were beginning to pop-up, there's now in excess of 80 in London alone, and with the tax environment becoming more favourable small breweries like us get a bit of duty relief which means we can compete with the big guys. I went to work part-time in another brewery in Hackney, East London called Five Points to see if I could do it and discovered I could. We then found this spot in Gipsy Hill which worked very well for me because I live in Crystal Palace. Then I started to build a team, there's Sam who is my business partner, who has a lot more business experience than me. I'm much more from the brewing side of things but then we also hired a head brewer so I could focus on the selling and marketing aspects of it all.
What's your process?
We source the best ingredients locally and then hops, which gives modern beers a lot of their flavour, tend to come from abroad. British hops are good but for the flavours people are enjoying these days we source from America. Our brewing kit is steam powered, which is how a lot of the bigger breweries operate. Most of the smaller ones have elements, like a big kettle, that run off electricity. Steam allows us to be more efficient energy wise and gives us a quicker brew. With marketing and branding there's a spectrum in the brewing world of the traditional on one side and the more hipster on the other. Our unique selling point is we're making low to mid-strength beers. People like something they can have a few of and with craft beer becoming what it is many beers are getting stronger, so finding something below 6% is difficult. Sam and I both have two kids, we're not in our twenties any more, we can't expect to go out, get drunk and turn up for work the next day but we like to drink beer and so we're making the sorts of flavoursome beers that you can have a few pints and still get on with what you need to. People say don't do what you want but what there's a market for, I think we're fortunate in that we're managing to do both.
We live in a time where people seek out and expect good food and drink. Localism is very strong, people want to consume high quality products that are preferably being made down the road. Obviously with a name like Gipsy Hill Brewery people know straight away where we are. We've gone from selling one brew a week in March, when people are still in hibernation, to about two brews a week. With summer round the corner we're expecting another boost. We've been around about ten months now so people know who we are and are now coming to discover us. We've got a lot of specials planned. Our collaboration with Kent Brewery was a Japanese Pale Ale, not something you see everyday, that proved extremely popular.
Why Gipsy Hill?
Your name and design especially in the brewing world is extremely important. Do we want to be called the place where we're situated or something else, something more abstract? We put it to a lot of people and they responded well to Gipsy Hill, it sounded right. One of the things I like about it is it's not London in the perceived sense of the world. Gipsy Hill, to people outside London, it's a nice name.
What's special about the area?
Gipsy Hill as an area is quite understated. People who see us in shops have not necessarily been here. It's a tiny part of South East London but it's a lovely residential area. Most of the people who come to our brewery on a Saturday when we're open are mainly residents, sometimes people are travelling distances to come and see us, but on the whole they're local who want to get beer from the local brewery.
Your beer names all lean towards the alternative, is that something you strive for?
Very loosely we're striving to produce very tasty beer that isn't too strong. There's an innate alternativeness in that because most beer these days is quite strong. What we're doing is slightly left field in that we haven't seen other breweries trying it. We wanted names that in some way hinted at that. So Southpaw, which is boxing with your left-hand, is packing a taste punch perhaps where it's not expected from a beer that's a bit weaker. Beatnik, we hope is surprisingly tasty where other beers of that strength perhaps aren't. Dissident is the same, it's a bit stronger but it's a loose theme we're aiming for.
Are you hoping to bring a certain sense of your character to the area?
There's a big initiative called Love West Dulwich which is comprised of a group of business who are trying to put West Dulwich on the map. There aren't many breweries in this area, we'd like to bring more attention to the area where possible. There are a lot of small businesses here and that's very much the zeitgeist these days; the return of the small business, people wanting things made on a small scale for high-end quality and it's nice to be a part of that.
How do you feel gentrification has impacted the local area?
Our industry is quite middle-class. So the people moving out to Gipsy Hill are perhaps more our target audience. We do the Crystal Palace Market once a month and the people who come to the stall are couples who have just moved round the corner because they were priced out of places like Balham. They're all vibrant and interesting people and it's nice to see that.
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