If you don’t know about Redchurch, you really need to get up to speed
Saturday 20 November 2021
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If you live outside of London, or possibly Essex, there’s a decent chance you’ll never have heard of Redchurch. Fair enough; in many ways the brewery seems quite unremarkable, started by a former lawyer who turned his home brewing into a career, making traditional British beers (it has a best bitter) while still attempting to appeal to a modern crowd (it also has a Pornstar Martini beer). What makes Redchurch interesting is that it has a habit of winning award after award for the quality of its brewing, and has brewed under contract for some of the biggest names in British craft. In short, if you don’t know about Redchurch, you really need to get up to speed.
The brewery celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, and has come a long way since setting up shop in a Bethnal Green railway arch in 2011. It was a two-storey building with the brewery on the ground floor and a cosy tap room upstairs. The arch is still clearly close to Redchurch’s collective heart, and its exposed red brickwork still has pride of place on the beer’s unassuming branding. The neighbourhood is also still represented in its beer names: Hoxton, Great Eastern Street, Paradise Row, Shoreditch and Stratford.
The brewery itself has moved, however, since demand outstripped the distinctly finite capacity of its old home, and set up a new production facility in the London overspill town of Harlow, Essex. The original taproom remains.
Commercial director Tony Porter says: “What’s really interesting is that whenever I meet people who know Redchurch, they are either older people that have moved out of London to Harlow now and say, ‘I used to live in Bethnal Green’ or ‘I used to live in Hoxton’, or they’re youngsters in London that say, ‘my parents live in Harlow’. So our customers are a fusion of where we’ve been in both sides.”
By 2015, Redchurch was arguably one of the top five craft breweries in London, whose technical expertise made it a darling of the brewing cognoscenti and even other breweries looking for capacity.
“We brewed Neck Oil under contract for Beavertown,” says Tony. “But then they were acquired by Heineken and Logan Plant didn’t need us any more. That was in the middle of March 2020, so it was almost to the day that the pubs and bars were closing. It was a double whammy, sure, but also a massive calling card when someone asks if we do a lot of contract work. Yeah, we did Neck Oil for three years.”
But what about Redchurch’s own beers? A glance at the line-up shows a love for traditional British styles, designed for accessibility and broad appeal.
“I think we make straight up great beer,” continues Tony. “We’re just not the kind of brewery that makes a 9.5% chocolate fennel stout, because we have to brew beer that’s saleable at scale. That’s where that contract brewing mentality comes in.
“So look at our portfolio. We’ve made a dark Mexican beer, it’s not revolutionary – it’s based on a Modelo, frankly. What we’ve found with new customers is a high percentage of them have been supermarket drinkers. I like to think we’re taking those customers on a journey, but we’re not taking them too far from where the apple would have fallen before. We’re not making them 9.5% chocolate and fennel stouts, we’re making them a Dark Candy, we’re making them a Marzen; we’re just giving traditional beer styles a slight tweak and giving them to our new-found customer base.”
In October, Redchurch opened a brand new indoor bar in its Harlow brewery, in what was previously the malt store. It’s basic and honest, made with pallet furniture – Tony describes it as “Shoreditch in Harlow”.
“I think one of the things that’s really changed over lockdown is that people have been forced to look at what they’ve got that’s local. That’s been great for us in a way, because I’ve had so many people say they didn’t even know there was a brewery in Harlow. So we’re finally starting to build a real local brand here, and I think having somewhere people can sit and enjoy a pint will really help with that.”
Having seen the Bethnal Green community of breweries grow up around Redchurch, and now building up a new base in Harlow, I’m curious to hear what Tony makes of the London scene in terms of how cohesive it really is. Can we even talk about a single London ‘scene’ in a meaningful way?
“That’s an interesting question, and you’re right that London is more a bunch of communities wedged together than one solid thing,” he says. “You’ve got the Bermondsey brigade and you’ve got some of the Bethnal Green brigade. You’ve got southeast London where there’s a whole bunch of people cheek by jowl. And in those areas, I think the breweries do influence each other, and I think there’s extra pressure to be different or stand out purely on the kind of beers they brew.”
There’s a whiff of disapproval in Tony’s words, but he’s also clearly happy to leave each to their own, and acknowledges there is a market for more self-indulgent brewing. But there’s also a large market – and a lot of respect – reserved for the quiet brewery that proudly plies its trade. Within the space of three weeks recently, Redchurch picked up four more World Beer Awards, three Great Taste Awards and Best Beer at the Casual Dining Show. The latter, awarded for its Pornstar Martini beer, perhaps proves once and for all that you can indeed have your cake and eat it.
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