Three years of Hammerton Brewery in Roman Way: ‘We started in Islington pubs...now we’re selling in Europe’
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Roman Way Industrial Estate is one place where ‘dry January’ is not welcome – it’s home to Islington’s only brewery. Hammerton has only been going for three years, but the Gazette finds it already has international reach.
On one side of Caledonian Road and Barnsbury station is paradise. And it’s not Pentonville Prison.
Units 8 and 9 of Roman Way Industrial Estate, on the other side of the station, do not look like much on the outside.
Inside, however, is a beer drinker’s heaven. Huge silver brewing tanks rise to the ceiling, hundreds of barrels fill the floorspace and the atmosphere is toxic (in the best possible way) with the smell of beer hops.
It’s hard to avoid Hammerton Brewery if you go out drinking in Islington.
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From Clerkenwell in the south to Holloway in the north, pubs are flogging gallons of Hammerton’s craft beer.
At the end of last year, it also won a contract to sell bottled beer at 53 Co-op branches in London and the south east – including the store 200 yards away on the Cally.
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When it started three years ago in January 2014, Hammerton had two staff on its books and brewed once a week.
Since then, its operation has multiplied: it now employs eight staff and brews four times a week.
On the face of it, founder Lee Hammerton’s success is no surprise. After all, it runs in his blood. Between 1868 and the late 1950s, his ancestors also ran Hammerton Brewery.
Not that he knew anything about this.
“Three months in, when I was writing the business plan, my brother showed me some old advertising posters for Hammerton Brewery,” he told the Gazette. “It was interesting we shared the same name, but I thought nothing of it.
“Another six months down the line, I was telling my grandparents I was opening my own brewery.
“They were like: ‘Oh, right – you do know your ancestors owned the original brewery, don’t you?’
“It was the weirdest coincidence, but it at least helped me to decide on a name. Before that, I wasn’t egotistical enough to name it after myself, but with my family history it just had to be done.”
The original brewery was big back in the day, Lee says. But it appears he is already matching his relatives’ success only three years in.
“It took a while for us to get going, but over time we gathered a big following in Islington, and then in London. People look out for our beers.
“But we have also started selling in Manchester and Scotland, as well as distributing to Italy and Scandinavia. We always expected to do well locally, but never thought it would reach that scale.”
Lee, 37, who runs the brewery with partner Karina Benavente, adds: “Our unique selling point is that we are the only commercial brewery in Islington. There are a couple of pubs in the borough with in-house breweries, but they are very small scale.
“There are so many breweries in Hackney and Bermondsey, but these are areas with lots of industrial space. Islington has very little.
“It’s why I was so happy to secure this unit in Roman Way. I love Islington and I have lived here for 10 years. So it was really important for me to open up here.”
It is this local pride that forms the basis of Hammerton’s core beer selection.
Its first two brews were named N7 IPA and Pentonville Oyster Stout, which were later joined by the N1 Pale Ale and Islington Lager.
“I guess the names would attract attention if you’re from Islington,” says Lee.
“But people will always try your beer if it has been brewed locally. They’re not going to continue buying it if it’s no good, though.
“We have really good beers and it’s why we have grown. It feels like we have only just started, and there’s a lot more for us to achieve.”
One of Hammerton Brewery’s plans for expansion is to open its own pub in Holloway.
Lee Hammerton said on Monday that the offer has just been accepted. He hopes to open up within the next few months – but wouldn’t be drawn on its exact location.
But he did say: “It’s great to see our beers in pubs across Islington.
“I live in Newington Green and my locals are the Alma and Lady Mildmay, which both sell Hammerton beers.
“It’s really cool to see people enjoying them and we’ll get to see that for ourselves.”
He also plans to be ever more experimental with his brews, with Peruvian and Thai-inspired beers in the pipeline.