A mainstay of the famous Bermondsey Beer Mile
Saturday 20 November 2021
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Brew by Numbers (BBNo, for short) is a true brewer’s brewery; one of a small crowd of early innovators who, following hot on the heels of The Kernel, helped cement London as a truly exciting craft beer city a decade ago. A mainstay of the famous Bermondsey Beer Mile, it has seen the stretch of railway arches and run-down industrial units transformed from a cheap(ish) base in the city to one of the world’s most well-known brewing pilgrimages.
“The Kernel really kind of set things rolling in Bermondsey,” says BBNo’s Michael Burt. “There was already stuff going on in London craft-wise, but The Kernel were really the first to bring American-style hoppy beers to London, which I think lit the way for us to come in a couple years after them. Roll forward a decade, and the Bermondsey beer mile is world famous, with tourists, coverage in all the magazines and papers. It means we’re now part of a bigger collective here in the nation’s capital, so we’ve been very lucky.”
London isn’t just Bermondsey though; far from it. In fact, Michael says the city gets much of its dynamism from the fact that it’s really developed as multiple brewing communities developing semi-independent of one another.
“There’s lots of different pockets of brewing. And that’s what makes London a really unique place to be; it feels like a massive city but it, but it’s also comprised of these tight little communities. And, yes, our little pocket’s probably the most concentrated, so we feel super lucky to be here.”
As a tourist destination, Bermondsey has taken a knock over the past couple of years. Even now, there are many people even in London who would rather stay local for a night out than face public transport.
Michael says: “We’ve definitely missed people coming in from abroad, and we don’t see those big stag groups on a Saturday night, where we’d have had 250 people two years ago, jostling for space. It feels mad to think that that actually happened. We’ve only just introduced being able to order the bar again, and it hasn’t been anywhere close to that yet.
“But it’s a double-edged sword; we’ve got a really nice local community who drink at all of the spots along the street. Before, where it sometimes felt a bit impersonal and touristy, it now feels more local. And I think that’s how people’s attitude to drinking, especially in London, is developing; the focus is a lot more spread out, so you’ve got interesting little breweries popping up outside of the usual hotspots. I mean, Little Faith in Deptford opened their own bar, which has become a real community space almost overnight – it’s fantastic.”
Even more interesting, Michael says the shift away from packed bars in a few key spots has prompted brewers to rethink what they’re brewing; when it’s no longer about kicking kegs of hazy juice every weekend, attention turns to providing greater variety and more reasons to keep coming back.
Where it sometimes felt a bit impersonal and touristy, it now feels more local.
“As a brewery, we’ve always been quite experimental, with a lot of different things on the go at any one time,” he says. “So perhaps we were already well placed for a situation where there are still a lot of breweries but no so many people out drinking. So we’ve seen other breweries suddenly diversifying a lot. The trend for lager has definitely benefitted from that; people are always going to want to drink a lager, and if you’re now having to fight for custom, you need to give them what they want.
“And I think everyone has done that to a certain degree, even if just in terms of how taproom culture has developed and adapted. Beforehand, you’d often see 15 different lines of hazy beer and that would be the whole deal. Now you have more choice, as well as food, comedy, music. It’s about how you hold the local community, and what they want from a night out.”
Bermondsey beer mile is changing, as are the breweries that call it home, in a shift which is being repeated across the capital. Perhaps it’s a Covid hangover, or perhaps it’s a sign that taproom culture is moving out of its adolescence and into a phase where we look for more than just plentiful hype juice. Maybe it’s both. “People will always come back here, because it’s just an amazing place to walk up and down – the atmosphere it still there,” says Michael. And at the heart of it, great breweries like Brew by Numbers will ensure that is always the case.
Cover photo: Deb Porter Photography
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