A Cup of Tea with Gipsy Hill Brewing Company
By Isabelle Wilkinson
One grey September morning, a few of the Good & Proper team took a day out of the office to go and meet Gipsy Hill Brewing Company’s Head Brewer, Simon Wood, and the rest of his team of brewers. Work starts early for these guys so forklifts are already whizzing around the estate when we arrive in, you guessed it, Gipsy Hill.
We’re here to see how things run at Gipsy Hill and to play our part in the creation of our collaboration beer - a Lemon Verbena Saison. Between meetings about production, recipes and quality control, I grabbed Simon for a cup of tea to find out more about this South East London brewery.
Thanks so much for making the time to have a cup of tea with me - I can see there’s a lot going on in the brewery today. How did it all start at Gipsy Hill?
We drink a lot of tea in the brewery and having a biscuit or two with a cup of tea is almost compulsory. We’re always working at a million miles per hour so it’s important to keep our energy up. Since founders Sam and Charlie dreamt up the brewery in 2013, no two days have been the same but that’s what makes it so fun. I came on board in April 2014 as the Head Brewer and have brewed a lot of beer since then. Between the brewing team, packaging, marketing and tap room staff we’re now up to over 20 members of staff, but our goal remains the same as when we first started - to keep quality at the heart of our production.
On your cans you encourage the person who picks it up to ‘drink it and talk to people’. What does community mean to you at Gipsy Hill?
Community is at the core of our values. Without the initial curiosity and loyalty from our neighbours and local south-east Londoners we would have never got things off the ground.
That has meant that from the beginning, we’ve always wanted to have somewhere on site where friends and locals can come by and enjoy the beer with us. Over time, we’ve got to know the people who drink it. We now have a dedicated Taproom up and running opposite the brewery, which has allowed us to get immediate, unfiltered feedback on what we’re producing, which in turn helps us gauge whether we’re innovating in the right direction or not.
A Brewery is an unusual kind of business. The products that we create evoke strong emotions in people and that’s a responsibility that we feel the weight of. People choose to spend time and part with their hard earned money to socialise in our spaces and with our products. The more innovative we are, the better, larger, more relevant and more inclusive the events we host, the richer the experience we provide for the consumer. This has a very direct impact on the consumers’ and communities’ enjoyment.
A responsibility not to be taken lightly! So how does it work on a daily basis - what are the house rules at Gipsy Hill?
There are obviously “house rules” but to be perfectly honest they all revolve around the quality of the finished product. We’re extremely self-analytical - always pushing to improve and learn, and knowledge is not considered exclusive here. If we pool knowledge we all learn, grow and develop as a team and can jump forward together in leaps and bounds. Working in an industry where science, experimentation, creativity, innovation (and alcohol) are our daily tasks, some of our rules will look dramatically different to those of, say, an office. I think it leaves us somewhere between artists and pragmatic scientists.
The industry itself is growing fast - there are now more than 2,000 functioning breweries in the UK. How does Gipsy Hill stand out?
A constant drive for quality is what puts a company’s head above the parapet.
Consumer trust is a difficult thing for any starting company to earn, but you learn the hard way, after a lot of tears, that you do that by acknowledging your mistakes and accepting when things haven’t gone to plan. Sometimes this looks like scrapping a brew or having to dispose of something you’ve worked hard on, but holding ourselves to the same high standard with absolutely everything that we produce and growing from the losses has set us up well.
Aside from working with G&P (ahem), tell us about your favourite collaboration this year?
Without wanting to offer too much of a politicians answer, each collaborative project presents a different set of challenges. Each month we work on releasing four new special beers, as well as continuing to excel with our core range, so working collaboratively with other breweries and companies allows us to keep our offering fresh and exciting. Ultimately the ambition is to walk away from each collaborative experience having created something that fairly represents the two businesses and something unique that the market might not have seen before.
We find that for the most part if something looks right on paper it will work in reality.
Tell us something you’re excited about that you’re working on?
We’re currently working on putting a Gipsy Hill spin on an existing style. Fruit sours are fast becoming the “go-to” for the modern consumer. We’re attempting to push this format to a new place by adding a comical volume of fresh puree (in excess of 20-25% content) thus creating the “Breakfast smoothie” sour. The early stage experiments have been awesome but we definitely need to refine and tweak this idea before we can package it as a saleable product with any kind of shelf life.
We’ll certainly keep our eyes peeled for that one… Finally, our collaboration came to be because, like us, you’re based in South East London. Why do you love it and where are your favourite hangouts?
Living in the South-East is really unlike living ‘in’ London. There are all the perks of a city life, great transport links, close to a ‘town’ for whenever you desire that experience but also the possibility of escaping the rat race and slowing down a little. Access to open spaces from all of the parks and farmers’ markets breeds a more relaxed atmosphere and attitude.
If you’re really lucky you might find one of the last remaining cans of our Tea Beer ‘Watson’ in your local bottle shop. Do send us a photo if you do!