There was a time in the recent past when the arrival of a farmers market signalled that your up-and-coming corner of London had practically up and went. Where once, organic cheese and sourdough were the harbingers of hipsterdom, now, it’s morel likely to be a microbrewery.
Hop Stuff, founded by former City banker James Yeomans, is a prime example of how these small craft beer businesses can add kudos to regeneration projects.
He first approached Berkeley Group, the developer behind his new home on the site of the old munitions factories in Woolwich, in 2013 asking whether there was room on the site for a small brewery. Ahead of his time, the Berkeley chiefs said they’d find space in one of the 17th century heritage buildings for him if he helped to set up a farmers market. Yeomans used his local contacts to get it going and was eventually given a taproom for his efforts, too.
Plans for the redevelopment of the Royal Arsenal site in Woolwich
Now, he’s the proud owner of one of the largest independent – and the first crowdfunded – brewery in London, creating 25,000 pints a week on the Royal Arsenal Riverside site and another 10,000 off-site. From pale ales to IPAs to stouts, Hop Stuff is sold across London under the banner ‘clean, simple, fresh’ and it isn’t just locals who pull up for a pint, sourdough pizza and chicken wings at The Taproom these days.
“When we first opened it was people from the Woolwich Arsenal here, but now we draw people in from Shoreditch and Peckham. It’s a pleasant place to be and all the businesses here, along with Berkeley and the council, were supportive of people being able to eat and shop local,” says Yeomans.
And as the completion date nears for the 5,000 new homes being built across the £1.2bn regeneration site, Yeomans’ customers are set to multiply. “We want to celebrate the locality and the community, but we’ve always wanted to make craft beer more accessible as well.”
In Wandsworth, a new housing development is even proving to be the saving grace for Britain’s longest continuously brewing site. Beer has been brewed at Ram Brewery since 1533, with ledgers dating back to the reign of King Henry VIII. John Hatch worked as a brewer on site for 18 years when it was owned by Young’s. When it closed in 2006, Hatch took it upon himself to build a “scrapheap challenge mini-brewery” out of the remaining clutter in one of the old Grade II listed coach houses.
“When we first opened it was people from the Woolwich Arsenal here, but now we draw people in from Shoreditch and Peckham. It’s a pleasant place to be and all the businesses here, along with Berkeley and the council, were supportive of people being able to eat and shop local”
“It was great fun,” he says, “but it was also quite desperate, because I knew if we didn’t do it then the site with the longest brewing history in the country would come to an end.”
Eventually, he managed to get brewing once or twice a week, just to keep things going, and fixed an honesty box up on the wall in the sample room for anyone who wanted to try his beers. Hatch also ran tours of his micro-brewery, then enlisted a comedian friend to do live shows on the site and donate money for the beer. He even made custom beers on request, trying out wacky flavours like black garlic, spinach and cayenne pepper beer.
“Some of them were disgusting – the black garlic one was bloody awful – but I think I’ve got eight or ten now that are really good.”
His commercial opportunity came along when Greenland Group, a property developer, bought up the site to build new homes for a £600m development called Ram Quarter, but the housebuilder was happy for Hatch to stay – not least because the planning permission insists on an onsite brewery. “Poor old Greenland bought the site and there was a brewer on it, like a bloody squatter!” says Hatch. “They took it on board very quickly and thought it was fantastic because of the heritage. They can’t do enough for me.”
He’s hopeful that the brewery can start operating commercially next year.
So the next time you’re scouting out a new London neighbourhood for its investment potential, see if you can catch a whiff of hops on the air, and you might be on to a winner.
Visit berkeleygroup.co.uk, ramquarter.com and hopstuffbrewery.com