Unreal city

Here to stay


Sambrook’s Brewery has long been renowned for the calibre of the beer it produces, but predating its emphasis on quality was its mission to bring independent brewing back into London city. Sales director, Mark Kelly, acknowledges “that seems like a ridiculous ambition nowadays given you can literally put breweries to Tube stations, but when we started brewing in 2008, there was Fuller's brewery in Chiswick, and Meantime, which was in Greenwich, but that was the extent of what breweries then featured on the Tube map”. Even before Sambrook's upped sticks and moved from an industrial unit in Battersea to the country’s oldest continually working brewery, in Wandsworth, the brewery has been infusing its beers with the city of London, claiming the city as its own while brewing beer for the people who live there. 

Needless to say, founder Duncan Sambrook’s decision to embed the brewery in its local area is where many of the brewery’s beer names come from. Premium best bitters, Junction and Wandle are named after Clapham Junction and the brewery’s local river Wandle. Pale ale, Pumphouse, is named after the old pump house in Battersea Park, and brown ale, Brown Dog Riot pays homage to a statue of a terrier in Battersea Park which was erected in protest of animal testing. Sambrook’s house yeast is even a product of its southwest London environment, beginning life as a brewer’s yeast from the south of the UK, and later mutating as it adapted to London’s air and water profile. Mark says the Sambrook’s team isolated the mutation in 2010, and still use the resulting yeast to this day. 

It’s these little details that all point to the brewery’s place in London today, which is pertinent to the city’s connection to beer and its history of brewing. Sambrook’s current home in Wandsworth was previously occupied by Young’s Brewery, which produced beer there for 175 years before the site’s closure in 2006. Before Young’s, the site was home to a brewery called The Ram, and that we know any more about the site’s history owes to a member of the Young’s team who went looking for a well that featured in the building’s blueprints. Unable to locate it, the Young’s team bravely decided to excavate the area where they believed the structure to be, and uncovered a dry well that dated back to 1533, when the river Wandle still flowed under the brewery. 

That Sambrook’s inherited the legacy of the site is obviously an immense source of pride, but Mark is also keen to credit the man who single-handedly ensured the site held onto its title of “oldest continually operating brewery” between 2006 and 2020, when Sambrooks moved in. “John Hatch is an incredible character,” Mark begins. “He was a former employee of Young's before it closed, and his mission after the brewery shut was just ‘keep brewing’. It sounds simple, but I’m sure John would tell you it wasn’t simple at all. He had to garner support from lots of different areas to be allowed to use the site, but beyond that he was pretty much on his own. 

“We have this tiny little nano kit, which John made himself from scraps, and bits of the old stable — it’s still here, and we still use it. We integrated it into our highly modern and sophisticated brew kit and the two still work together, which is weird, but it does work. Basically, John brewed one barrel per week, every week for fourteen years, on his own. He didn’t have the licence to operate as a commercial brewery, and so he had to just give the beer away once it was made. So, in a way, when we took over it was taking the baton from John really. He ran a very, very impressive stint on his own, it's pretty incredible really.”

Today, John offers tours through the heritage centre which is an integral part of Sambrook’s brewery. On the site’s ground floor there’s a shop and museum, which is also the site of the well so you can see that upon entry, at which point John will sort you out with a pint if you’re taking the tour. The second floor of the heritage centre is dedicated to the people who have run the brewery over the years, whether that was before, during or after Young’s time. The top floor of the centre is home to the enormous solid copper tanks, which were made in London, and previously used in the production of beer. “They’re immovable objects, as we’ve learned,” laughs Mark, “so we figured they can stay where they are”. 

It’s no wonder that London and its history is verging on sacred to Sambrook’s, but the team there equally hasn’t lost sight of the fact that beer is for the living and breathing. Upon asking Mark if any standout visions or decisions permeated the brewery’s decision to move from Battersea to The Ram’s Quarter, he responds by saying that remaining “authentic” is something the team discussed a lot. 

“You know, we have a reputation for brewing quality beer, but we also used to throw brilliant street parties in Battersea,” Mark says with a smile. “We did all the things you’d expect from a brewery that wanted to be at the centre of a community. So we wanted to hold on to that brewery that we’d always been, even as we grew and moved, and I think we definitely have.”

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