South London is a hotbed for craft brewing – from pale ales to IPAs and tea-infused beer to Indian stout – you can guarantee there’s a brewery with something to suit even the pickiest of drinkers.
In fact, the latest research by easyProperty, the property arm of easyGroup, shows some 28 ‘beer neighbourhoods’ have increased in value by up to 105% over the last five years, with Walthamstow, Lea Valley/Leyton, and Walworth buzzing with gentrification.
One brewery helping buck this trend is The London Beer Factory. Launched just over two years ago by brothers Ed and Sim Cotton, the duo now boast a team of 10 full-time members of staff and brew between 10,000 and 15,000 litres of beer every week.
Tucked away on an industrial estate in West Norwood near Crystal Palace, the brewery has established itself as a firm favourite among locals and supplies around 150 venues across the capital each week.
“We setup the brewery just over two years ago,” Sim said. “I’d been home brewing for around six-seven years and my brother Ed had been working in the industry for years having studied wine at The University of Brighton. Yes, wine!
“I was previously working in the City where I spent seven years working in a bank after completing my accounting exams. That was one of the reasons we setup the brewery, I just wasn’t enjoying it.
“Our old man is our main influence. He was an entrepreneur and setup businesses in various industries. We were brought up with the belief that setting up your own business isn’t the craziest idea in the world.
“We had always wanted to setup our own business and I approached Ed with the idea of setting up our own brewery and he jumped at the idea. That was around three and a half years ago. There was so much to do before we actually had the brewery in place.
“We spent 18 months finding a site, securing funding and putting together the business plan. Since we started the business has developed in many ways.
“We now have a business with 10 full-time employees and a core range of five beers which include our lager, pale ale, IPA, blonde ale and our stout.”
For many families, two brothers going into business could seem a dangerous task. For Sim and Ed, it made perfect sense.
“It was always going to be a difficult one – we weren’t sure whether it would be a good or a bad thing.
“The main advantage is that you trust your brother more than anyone else so you have complete confidence on them.
“The downside is that you don’t have as diplomatic an approach when discussing things or resolving issues – the best thing is everything always gets resolved quickly however.
“We have a great understanding and a great working relationship. I look after the production side of things and Ed takes care of the business side, we know our roles.
“Working with Ed has made setting up the business a lot easier, we know each other’s strength and weaknesses and know each other very well.”
The duos first task was to develop a brand name. Keen to capitalise on the rising popularity of craft beer, the duo knew they wanted to harness the popularity of the booming London scene – and they settled on The London Beer Factory.
“We spent ages deciding what to call the company and came up with close to 100 different names. In the end we just wanted something simple and settled on The London Beer Factory, it gave us a bit more flexibility and basically did what it said on the tin.
“That was it really! We spoke to one of my brother’s friends who was a graphic designer and brand consultant and he helped us develop the logo. We really liked the design and how it fit in with the name so we went with it.”
With a brand name in place, the duo got down to business. Initially, they worked with two other guys to develop their first batch to test the water.
“The first beers we made commercially were the Chelsea Blonde, which is still a firm favourite among our customers and London Session, our 3.8% best bitter which we’ve stopped producing.
“When we started out it was me and Ed and two other guys. One was out doing deliveries and the other was brewing with me.”
With over 1,500 breweries spread across the UK and close to 100 in London alone, Ed and Sim knew they would have to do something a little different in order to stand out from the crowd.
Firstly, they decided to bring their packaging to life. Every product you see is a reflection of the city that surrounds them.
From Paxton IPA to Chelsea Blonde and Beyond the Pale, all of their products are designed and developed with London at the heart of them.
Secondly, they invested a lot in innovation, which has proved a major success.
“Two months ago we became the first ever UK brewery to launch our core range in 360 degree cans. I came across them whilst I was traveling across the USA last year and thought to myself; why is nobody doing this back home?!
“I spoke to Crown packaging which is the company that manufacture the 360 can and I asked how we could get our hands on some. He said we’d have to bring over a container to make it worth their while, which would be 10 million cans.
“We were only after around 250,000! Thankfully there was a brewery in Norway who were also looking to bring 360 cans over so they took the majority of the container and we took a pallet which was all we needed to get going.”
The investment proved a shrewd one and the duo received press coverage across the UK, from local redtops all the way through to specialist industry publications.
Having already broken into almost 250 bars, retailers and restaurants across the South, the duo are now looking to brew up further success.
“The investment is already starting to pay off. In the next year we really want to get our cans into a couple of the major retailers and that’s sort of where we hope to get some exposure in the rest of the UK and also a similar thing in regards to exporting.
“We now deliver to around about 60 venues per week but we do quite a lot of our business through wholesalers so it’s hard to say how many places they supply. I’d expect us at any one time to be in about between 150-250 places in London.
“At the moment its only really London we supply but we want to change that over the next year or so. We’re looking at focusing a lot more on moving out of London and also into the possibility of exporting to other countries in Europe.
“Hopefully up to Sweden and we’ve been speaking to people in Italy, so they’re the two places we have our eye on initially.
“We want to test the waters and see how it works for us. If it’s an area we think we can grow in, we’ll go for it. We hope the 360 can will help drive this!”
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