From nano to macro: the ascent of the craft beer brewers

Jasper Cuppaidge, founder of Camden Town Brewery

Jasper Cuppaidge, founder of Camden Town Brewery - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to two brewers fascinated by the alchemy of mixing barley, hops, yeast and water.

Camden Town Brewery. Picture: Camilla Greenwell

Camden Town Brewery. Picture: Camilla Greenwell - Credit: Archant

The last six years have been hectic for Archway resident Jasper Cuppaidge.

The dad of three has gone from Hampstead publican with a microbrewery in the cellar to selling his Camden Town Brewery for multimillions.

That’s how fast the craft beer craze has caught on, booming in recent years to 1700 small brewers in the UK.

When Cuppaidge missed his flight back to Australia in the mid 90s he took a job in one of the original gastropubs The Westbourne. Years later, driving back from a family lunch in Highgate, he spotted a for sale sign outside the Three Horseshoes in Hampstead.

“It was an old pub in a great location,” he says. “I was desperate to work for myself and run a gastropub.”

He bought it, shed two of the horseshoes, and reopened in 2006.

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It was the microbrewery craze in the US “where brewing was really sexy” that got him interested in making his own beer.

He installed some vats in the cellar at The Horseshoe and after trial and error created Mac’s beer from an old recipe of his granddad Laurie McLoughlin who once owned a brewery in Oz.

“It started as something fun just for our customers and a few friends making around 500 litres a week,” he says.

Camden Town Brewery. Picture: Polly Hancock

Camden Town Brewery. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Polly Hancock

“I took a course, read lots of books and asked questions. Making beer is very easy, making good quality consistent beer is really difficult.”

He was so passionate he often got to the pub at 3am, brewed until 4pm, then waited tables until late.

He once found an A4 sign on his keyboard begging him to STOP BREWING.

“The whole place stank it got in your clothes and came up through the Victorian floorboards,” he recalls. “But the beers were ok and getting better.

“It’s like making a cake you improve every time. I thought they were incredible then. I now realise they weren’t.”

In 2009 he discovered railway arches below Kentish Town West station, drafted in malt and hops from Germany and opened a brewery in 2010.

“I mortgaged my house my whole life to buy the best brewing technology, great equipment and invest in fantastic people,” says Cuppaidge who compares beer to other food trends.

“I remember at the Westbourne you could only get global brand lagers. But everything has had a bit of attention; coffee, bread and now beer. We already had great beer in regional breweries like Adnams and Fullers but we took a classic and innovated, turned it up a dial or two to make great full flavoured distinct beers for people who wanted more authenticity and flavour profiles.

“At the start it was hard for us to sell, people couldn’t believe there was a brewery underneath the arches open 24 hours a day, it was like a mini Willy Wonka down there. Now people are hunting out craft beers and you’re seeing them in more pubs.”

St Marys Church Primrose Hill. Stephen Reynolds (church warden and brewer), Jason Allen (youth team

St Marys Church Primrose Hill. Stephen Reynolds (church warden and brewer), Jason Allen (youth team manager), and Timothy Miller (church curate and brewer). Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The likes of Hells lager won awards and brought Cuppaidge to the attention of ABInBev who make Budweiser and Stella Artois.

They now employ 70 people, are building a brewery in Enfield that will make 10 times the old capacity of 2m litres a year, will renovate the Horseshoe and take Camden lager to the US next year.

“I never had any money for any of that before,” he says, defending himself from accusations of selling out: “It’s more of the same beer with investment in me to grow it the way I want. I am still here at 7am until 9pm making beer. It’s my choice to do that because I love it. I just don’t have to worry about finances the way I used to.”

He plans to pilot new brands, collaborations and one offs at the Kentish Town site.

“It’s still the engine room at the heart of the company. I love Camden. I’ve lived here for 12 years. Everywhere I go people know about Camden it’s not like any other part of London, from 18-80, you can be in the Dublin Castle in a suit or dressed as a Goth.”

And he’s not lost his passion for beer.

“I like making things. I’m not a CEO who lives by spreadsheets. I am more creative. I am dyslexic so I can’t put it on paper but I can translate it into a recipe. You think of an aroma, texture or strength, put that into beer and improve it. Like my other passion, cooking, it’s sociable. People can share in the pleasure. I am a giver.”

The beer craze has caught on to the point where one Primrose Hill Church plans to set up a nano brewery in the crypt to help fund its youth outreach programme.

Stephen Reynolds, a church warden at St Mary’s in King Henry’s Road, enrolled on a beer making course with Ubrew.

St Marys Church Primrose Hill. Picture: Polly Hancock

St Marys Church Primrose Hill. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

With the blessing of Vicar Marjorie Brown they hope to create an ale to supply to local pubs with Kentish Town’s The Gipsy Queen already signed up.

He said the scheme came up as a “crazy idea” after clearing out the crypt.

“Once we got rid of the old boiler system there was suddenly all this space. We are always sitting in committee meetings wondering how to raise money for youth work and the church in general and thought we could combine the two.

“When we voiced this silly idea and ran it past Marjorie Brown we expected her to say ‘it’s not what we should be doing in a church’. But she thought it was a great idea.

“We then needed permission from high above and asked the Bishop who is fully behind it ‘as long as he gets the first pint.’”

Over the last six months Reynolds and congregation member Roddy Munroe have “made lots of mistakes”.

“It’s been a steep learning curve. Beer making is a bit like baking. It’s biochemistry, you ferment stuff and we have made some awful beer that’s too strong or tasted very chemical,” he admits.

But they’ve now created a few ales they are pleased with, and launch the brewery this weekend with a beer tasting evening at the church to sample some pilot brews.

Reynolds says the next step is to raise funds to buy a stainless steel vat of up to 1,000 litres.

“We’re considering the technical and practical side of what equipment we need and we will have to raise some money. We have three goals: to make great local beer and non-alcoholic drinks, to create a vibrant beer club for the local community, and support the ground breaking youth work at St Mary’s that needs constant financial support and engages hundreds of young people aged six to 19.”

Lectures, tastings, and other brewery visits are planned as well as a potential coalition with Transition Belsize to use the hops they grow.

Once they have a product, they hope to sign up other local pubs and restaurants to sell it.

“We want to become part of the craft beer revolution. The great thing about making beer on a small scale is we can be entrepreneurial and really see where it can go.”