• • • Music Taproom Award • • •
Saturday 21 October 2023
This article is from
10th Birthday Awards
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For Signature Brew – and particularly for founder Sam McGregor – beer and live music aren’t just a good pairing, they’re inherently part of the same package. The brewery was founded with the modest (and relatable) desire to provide better beer for live music venues than weak, flavourless lagers that predominate in such places. Thanks to Sam’s genuine and obvious passion though – and some canny moves during lockdown – Signature and its taprooms have become much more than that, drawing in big-name acts for collaborations and live performances.
“We've collaborated with more musicians and artists than any other beer brand in the world,” says Sam proudly. “It’s pretty mad, we're just building a page for it on our website where you'll be able to see the top 50 of those artists. We’ve always said Signature Brew exists to make beer that makes music better. So we don’t just supply live music venues – it’s really anywhere that has music as a core part of its thing, even if that’s a tiny bar with a good stereo or great playlists.”
Signature is also a live music venue in its own right – which is the main reason it’s the stand-out winner of this award – with regular, lovingly-curated gigs both at the brewery itself and the 200-capacity railway arch taproom in London, Signature Brew Haggerston, which has just celebrated its fifth birthday.
“This year, we've held some crazy events so far. We did a stout recently with the band Flogging Molly, that we only released at the brewery. I hosted a session where the fans came and met the band, everyone got to try the beer together, and seeing people’s faces – like 'oh my God, this is amazing' – that’s the experience we’ve always wanted to create. And then they went and watched the band be interviewed by a journalist called Giles Bidder, who has a podcast called 101 Part Time Jobs, and then the band played in the brewery. People travelled from all over Europe to watch this one gig, and it sort of just reminded me why this is so special and unique.
“Then we had one the other day, a band called Hot Milk. They’re quite new, and sort of hype, so people turned up at the brewery at 10 in the morning, sitting outside, like hardcore fans. So we got to pretend we were a US hype brewery for a day, which was fun. It was meant to just be a meet and greet, but the band obviously ended up playing, so we had this impromptu gig for about 400 people.”
Sam is absolutely full of these stories, each of which he tells with more endearingly earnest energy than the last. It’s wild to think that just a couple of years ago, the idea of sharing this kind of experience would have seemed like a mad dream. For a brewery founded on a love of live music though – and supplying the venues that host it – Signature managed to absolutely nail lockdown, making national headlines with its ‘pub in a box’ service and hiring out-of-work artists to deliver beer.
It even managed to continue hosting gigs, albeit outdoor and seated. “We did the first ever, and probably last, seated drum and bass gig, with Dynamite MC and DRS,” says Sam. “The whole thing was fucking hilarious. Tony Coleman from London Elektricity refused to sit down on principle, and nearly got thrown out by security.”
While he lived and breathed music before setting up Signature Brew, the project has introduced Sam to fantastic artists from all over the world, many of whom he now counts as firm friends. For a fan like Sam, it’s a dream come true, and nothing brings him more pleasure than being able to impart that sense of closeness to his customers.
“The artists often really get into the process of creating the collab beers,” says Sam. “Which makes it even more special because it's all about bringing yourself closer to your favourite artists by having a beer that they've developed the recipe and brewed themselves… Sometimes, I have to stop and just enjoy the fact that artists who I’ve a superfan of for years have created a beer with me – we’ve come up with the recipe together, named it, brewed it – and now I’m drinking it while listening to their album at my house, or watching them play live. That’s fucking cool.”
In terms of the beer itself, Signature’s brewing is – and has always been – first class. I ask Sam if he ever worries the brand has been tarnished simply by association with venues where, as we’ve discussed, the beer selection has historically been a bit iffy.
“Yeah I’m not sure how well known we are among the craft beer crowd, to be honest, but we’ve always been very focused on the beer itself,” he says. “We want to appeal to the kind of people who are really open to new stuff, without necessarily being super nerdy. I never want people to be alienated just because they’ve not heard of something, either on the beer or the music side. There should be something for everyone, and a place for everyone, so we try to reflect that across the genres of music we host, but also in the beer we brew. Our fight is with the big boys – we love taking Peroni taps out of venues – so if you’re independent and really care about your craft and your art, we want to have a beer with you.”
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