Interview by Matthew Curtis
It's hard to believe that Beavertown are only turning four this year. They've come a long way in the few short years that have passed since they set up opposite the smokers in their sister restaurant, Duke's Brew & Que. Beavertown's flagship pale ale, Gamma Ray, has become a fridge staple for hop lovers up and down the country, while their tap room and brewery in Tottenham, North London, has become something of a destination.
On Saturday February the 13th Beavertown will be throwing one hell of a party at the brewery to celebrate its four-year landmark. Be(aver) My Valentine will feature 30 of Europe's finest craft breweries with a total of 70 beers on tap across the stands. Entry is free, all beers are priced at £2 a third and festivities will kick off at 1pm. You might even see a certain beer writer on the other side of the bar for a change.
Beavertown's owner and founder, Logan Plant, took a few minutes out of his day to talk to me about the festival. I also used the opportunity to bring up a few questions that had been buzzing around my head for a while, including what exactly has happened to the stalled United Craft Brewers.
So Gamma Ray has become pretty popular over the last couple of years. Why do you think that is?
The best way to describe Gamma Ray is by applying the old motto of my favourite footballing city, Wolverhampton, ‘out of darkness, cometh light’. I wanted Gamma to be our hero, a beer that in a flash represents us as a brewery. Not only in flavour and aroma but in its design, intensity and individuality. I wanted to create a bastion that when seen or drank would resonate ‘Beavertown’ in people’s minds.
I wanted Gamma to stand out from the crowd and be our flag bearer. The construction of the recipe began three and a half years ago. I loved the juicy, tropical characteristics many of the US IPAs were pushing at the time and wanted to create an Um Bongo, juvenile Pale ale for our core range. 6 months into our journey as a brewery we still hadn’t brewed a pale ale and so the mission began. I pestered hop merchants for all they could supply from the US. I was scraping the barrel and using any resinous, tropical hops I could get my hands on. I noticed Dogfish [Head] used Calypso in their 60 minute, so grabbed all that, added some Bravo as there was a bit going and mixed in some Columbus. I did manage to squeeze a little of the big hitters, Amarillo and Citra, we were nearly there. Then wrapping it all in a juicy malt bill and letting the hops do their thing through flavour and aroma, we had created the perfect pale in our minds.
"Starting on my own 4 years ago in the cellar at Duke’s to now sharing my day with 40 amazing people, each one making us tick and what we are today is a true highlight."
So in short, Gamma symbolises Beavertown. From its intensity of flavour and aroma to Nick Dwyer’s amazing stand out design on the can. It feels like Gamma has become a kind of cult beer, symbolising Beavertown’s place within the craft beer movement in the UK. We can’t brew anywhere near the appetite for it, so that helps too I guess. When it’s in the fridge or on the bar, people make the most of it! Driven by the quality and intensity of the beer, wrapped in the brilliance of the design, it stands out and screams at the drinker. This is craft beer, this is Beavertown and that to me is a great thing and why I think Gamma Ray has become so popular!
In the four years since you started you've scaled from a tiny 4BBL kit in a restaurant kitchen to a full blown production facility in North London. Do you ever stop and feel astounded at the rate at which you've grown?
We have never sat still at the brewery. From our first year at Duke’s Brew and Que brewing once a week on the 4bbl kit to brewing 50,000 litres a week currently in Tottenham. I have never looked back over my shoulder, only considered pushing positively forward at every opportunity. We are driven by quality and making everything we do better but every now and again, you focus on the volume achievements of the team and it makes me very emotional.
The rate at which we have grown has been crazy. From brewing 1500 hectolitres 18 months ago to this year brewing 35,000hl is beyond belief! What I’m most proud of is we have stuck by our principles and ethos along the very fast road we’ve been travelling down. It’s all about the beer but also so much more than just beer. Our culture and community is key to our existence and our striving for excellence and expression through all we do. These morals have kept us in good shape all the way. We are honest to each other as a group and won’t stop until we are happy.
There are times I sit at home and chat to my kids about the days they used to come in after school and shout at me because I’d made such a mess and the house stank of malt and boiling hops. That was only 4 years ago. It’s been an amazing journey. One that I look back on with utter wonder and amazement. It’s been a very joyous, emotional ride.
It feels as if most of your growth has been in the last twelve months?
When we moved to Tottenham in May 2014, we brewed 6-8 times/4000 litres a week and employed 9 Beavers. Currently we brew 10 times a week/55,000 litres, by March we will be brewing 16 times/85,000 litres a week and hope to achieve 30-35,000 hectolitres production through 2016. There are now 40 people and counting that make up Team Beaver. We can and keg at a 50:50 ratio at present. The new CFT 24/4 canning line runs at 14,000 cans an hour, it’s a monster!
Why do you think craft beer in the UK is growing as quickly as it is?
It’s driven by the need for MORE! As brewers we want to stimulate and express ourselves through our beers, creating new recipes, styles and concepts. I feel inspired by so many of the breweries in the UK, old and new. I’m pushed to constantly improve and learn, this is a great driving factor - want more, learn more, do better! As drinkers, we want more from our experience. We don’t mind spending our hard earned cash on beautiful things. Beer is a thing of beauty and giving the drinker so many options is creating such a vibrant, forward thinking marketplace. The fever is spreading at a rate of knots throughout the country.
Independent bottle shops, bars and restaurants are as obsessive about their offerings as we are as brewers and working together is such a powerful tool. The masses are now able to tell the difference between a mass produced, industrialised beer and one brewed with so much love, care, attention and personality. They want to invest in it, not just because it’s local and hand crafted but because they relate to it and have a relationship with the brewery and the beer. Their experience is driven by the senses and constructive, passionate opinions!
"It has taken us less than two years to go from brewing 1500HL in Hackney Wick to 35,000HL in Tottenham."
Craft beer has broken down walls from being niche to becoming available throughout the land and I believe it’s only going to grow further into the market place. Having the ability to buy great beer on every street corner is a dream and realistic goal for us as brewers and drinkers.
Beavertown are now one of the major voices in UK craft. With the sale of Camden Town Brewery to AB-InBev do you think that this will put more focus on yourselves from both consumers and the industry?
I think the craft brewing industry in the UK as a whole is gaining traction into the mainstream psyche of the nation without the sale of the likes of Camden and Meantime. What those sales will represent is further route to market and a spread of craft beer into every corner of the nation. For all the smaller, independent brewers in the UK, this can only be seen as a positive. It means more people will be turning their heads to the likes of Camden Hells and Meantime Pale and away from Fosters and Peroni.
Once this happens, Joe Bloggs gains a heightened experience from his a beer and wants to venture out for more of it, thus leading them to great bottle shops, independent free house pubs and bars selling a great range of crated local beers. This can only be a benefit for us all as a brewing industry.
A rising tide lifts all boats. That’s the way I look at it. With regards to our position, we will continue to invest in quality, stimulus and growth. Our goal is to grow with the market and with as many independents as possible. In regards to the focus on us from consumers and industry, I want the likes of Gamma Ray and Neck Oil to be readily available, fresh on the bar across this great country. We will do this by sticking to our morals, applying our ethos and working with the right people.
How will this affect the formation of the United Craft Brewers (UCB)? Is this still going ahead as planned?
The formation of the UCB was about getting the ball rolling on a representing association for the UK craft brewers. We simply saw ourselves as a steering group to get the principle up and running once all the interested parties [all breweries that were interested in joining the association] had agreed on a definition, principles, mission and values. Soon we realised that to form an association that would represent all the craft breweries in the UK was going to take serious manpower. As a group we don’t physically have the time/mental capacity to take it any further at present and do it justice along with our own commitments to our own breweries and their welfare. So the UCB is at a standstill at present.
So tell me about this beer festival you're throwing to celebrate the brewery's fourth anniversary.
FUN! We all love having fun and celebrating good times. So we thought it was about time to celebrate another year circling the sun in the life of Beavertown. The first 4 years of our journey have been inspired and influenced by a handful of amazing breweries. Whether it was lending us some yeast, letting us tour their brewery, answer questions about procedures or hooking us up with distributors. Basically, many of the guys who have been so kind to help us along the way and help make us what we are today.
"I wanted Gamma Ray to be our hero, a beer that in a flash represents us as a brewery."
So really, it’s a celebration of these brewers and their beers, the sharing of knowledge, passion and laughter. That to me sums up the craft beer industry. So we have around 30 breweries coming along. Each bringing a session and a rarity beer. Each brewery will be attending through two of their brewers. The plan is to allow the brewers to kick back and relax and enjoy the night with each other and the public. Basically, it’s the biggest meet the brewer night on earth! Beavertown is driven by food and art, so there will be some great food trucks, brilliant music and of course a rodeo bull!
You guys get pretty mobbed on a regular Saturday at the tap room as it is. How will you ensure everyone gets served quickly and has a good time?
We do get a steady four to five hundred people on Saturdays now at the tap room, which is amazing! It’s such a chilled, vibrant environment. I’m so proud of our tap room and the team who make it happen. For the Be(aver) My Valentine celebration, we will have thirty stations, one for each attending brewery, serving two of their beers. The brewery yard will be spilt into four main areas, all under marquee and our new internal tap room space. The areas will hold around 8 brew stations each, so hopefully, people will be able to get around free and easily and queuing will be kept to a minimum.
What about the festival are you most looking forward to?
I will be celebrating beer and the people who give everything to make it happen. I will mostly be doing this by rodeoing a mechanical bull whilst listening to one of our favourite bands, The Graveltones, and drinking Gamma Ray. Life doesn’t get much better!
You've received a little criticism for taking on unpaid volunteers for the festival. Why did you decide to take on volunteers and how would you respond to the critics?
Volunteers are absolutely key to making any festival happen, from Glastonbury to the Copenhagen Beer Celebration! On the day we will be entertaining 30 breweries and probably a few thousand people, all coming to rejoice in delicious beers. We’re a small company and the staff levels needed to pull off such an extravaganza are way beyond our team. We are investing in all the logistics around making this celebration as stimulating, comfortable and safe for everybody involved, from the brewer’s accommodation in town to the free access to the party for the public.
This is not a money making exercise, but a celebration of beer and people. The volunteers are going to be key to the day and their passion and enthusiasm is going to be essential, they are a major part of the event. Their efforts will make the celebration tick and hopefully they will take great pleasure and pride in working alongside Team Beaver to make it as special as possible.
We also provide a volunteer pack which will include: a special t-shirt, tote bag, a BeaverBux card worth ten drinks, a meal, a “pick me up” coffee from Craving Coffee, Birthday Glass and can of our specially brewed birthday celebration beer ‘Double Chin - DIPA’ - a 9% version of Neck Oil, as this was the first beer I brewed on the old 4 barrel kit in the kitchen of Duke’s!
What's been your Beavertown highlight of the last four years?
Team Beaver. We are only as good as our Team. For me starting on my own 4 years ago in the cellar at Duke’s to now sharing my day with 40 amazing people, each one making us tick and what we are today is a true highlight. I have been blessed to work alongside attentive, passionate, considerate, talented men and women who are all making a name for themselves in this great industry. It really is humbling and something I’m very proud of when I look back. With our team we can achieve anything.
"I have never looked back over my shoulder, only considered pushing positively forward at every opportunity."
Finally - What does the future hold for Beavertown?
We are driven by the pursuit for excellence in everything we do as a brewery. This year’s goal is to keep pushing quality and consistency by investing in our team and our equipment. We will continue to learn along the way and also express ourselves honestly and vibrantly. A few company goals are interaction and education. We are soon to launch our new website with online shop and complete the build of our new tap room space in Tottenham Hale in the yard of the brewery. This will be a double container unit space with the capacity to hold around 200 people. Here we will look to put on music/art events, meet the brewers, tap take overs and extend our tap room opening hours Thursday – Saturday.
We are looking to open our first Beavertown bar in town, supported by our brother Duke’s Brew and Que. Here we will be showcasing the freshest and rarest Beaver in town whilst also supplying great beers from many of our friends from around the world. The beer will be supported by a stripped back Duke’s menu, amazing cocktails and a little choice wine. The whole experience will be driven by great beer and food, brilliant service and awesome music and vibes.
On the beer front, we will be expanding our core range. We will be launching a core Beavertown IPA and Pils in 2016. We don’t have a straight IPA!? At present we are experimenting every 3-4 weeks with our ‘Invasion of the Lupuloids’ experimental IPA series. Here we are pursuing the chosen one! We are trying new yeasts, hops and malts with a view to creating our ideal core IPA. Regarding the Pils, this to me is an undeniable beast of a beer style. The characteristics of the yeast and the hops mould together to give you an absolute winner of a beer. We intend to hop this beer heavily. I take massive inspiration from Birrifico Italiano Tipopils and Firestone Walker Pivo Pils as benchmarks to push from.
We are very excited about new releases from ‘Tempus – Beavertown Barrel Programme’. Here is a brief on the programme:
"Tempus. Time. The past, the present and the future. The measure of events and periods. The fourth dimension. Once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back. Time flows and never stops. “Time flies!” said the monkey as he threw the clock. We all move too quickly, always racing the clock to be there, do this and do that. STOP. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Tempus is all about time and stretching its parameters within the confinements of wood.
Wood. Housing, shelter, a home. Wooden walls, they keep what’s inside in and what’s outside out. The great divide between our day-to-day lives and all that goes on in the open. For us humans wood is essential for life, for protection. It enables privacy and seclusion. It breathes.
Now take a step further into the unknowns of Time. If we take ourselves to be the beer and the wooden walls to be the barrel, a new world emerges. A brave new world. One where the boundaries of all that we know are altered. Traditional sanitised brewing, shaken to its core. Here we meet our maker in its rawest form. Yeast. Saccharomyces and its wild brother, Brettanomyces. Bacteria: Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. Here we enter a new realm for us as a brewery."
We are at last fulfilling a dream of working with wooden barrels, ranging from spirit to wine and all in-between. The barrels will be used to age our beers over time. Some we will be looking to work the characteristic of the wood into the beer and others we will be using the barrels as a vessel to protect and nurture the wonderful, paradox world of wild yeast and bacteria and how they morph and twist our beers.
"Craft beer has broken down walls from being niche to becoming available throughout the land and I believe it’s only going to grow further into the marketplace."
Here we welcome you on our journey into the wild unknown. One we are fascinated and obsessed by as brewers. We have invested in a segregated ‘Tempus’ space away from our clean/sanitised brew house and fermentation. Here we now have the confidence to start our long awaited wood barrel program with initial space for 400 barrels and a handful of Foeders. It will take time but out of the process will come a whole new range of beers. Welcome to the Tempus Barrel Program’.
In March we will reach total brewing capacity here in Tottenham Hale. We will be brewing 16 times a week and producing 35,000 hectolitres per year. It has taken us less than two years to go from brewing 1500HL in Hackney Wick to 35,000HL in Tottenham. We export to 22 countries with 70% of our volume going into London and a further 20% nationwide. That in itself is a great snapshot at where we are going! I’d like the freshest Beavertown beers on the bars across London and the UK. We have launched our own refrigerated ‘Beaver Can Van’ distribution line maintaining the freshest beers out of the taps and also giving the best service to our accounts.
In time, the dream would be to create a Beaver World! A self-built environment where all our dreams can be expressed and experienced by our team and the drinker. A place where we invest in a bigger, more efficient brewhouse, a restaurant, tap room and events centre, a retail store. I want people to come to Beavertown and gain a full experience through all the senses. When will this happen, I’m not 100% sure but it’s a dream and you’ve got to shoot for the stars!
Beavertown are at Mill Mead Road Industrial Estate, Tottenham, London N17 9QP. Be(aver) My Valentine runs from 1-9pm of Saturday the 13th of February.