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A Brewery Right Here in Woolwich? Dare We Dream?

June 22, 2013
A refreshing glass of Renegade IPA by Hop Stuff Brewery.

A refreshing glass of Renegade IPA by Hop Stuff Brewery.

Update as of April 2014: Hop Stuff is now up and running, and going great guns (pun intended). Hop Stuff’s Pale Ale, Fusilier, Renegade IPA, Gunners Porter, and Saisonniers  can be found in discerning pubs all over London. James and Emma also hold regular open days (and evenings) at the brewery, which are loads of fun. These events are a great chance to meet locals, drink local craft beer, and generally marvel at how much fun it is to live in Woolwich. Not all suburbs of London can boast their own brewery!

I wrote the following post when the brewery was just a twinkle in James and Emma’s eye, so it’s a bit out of date now. To keep up with the unfolding story, your best bet is the Hop Stuff website for news about events and suppliers, as well as how to order online. You can also follow them on Twitter @Hopstuffbrewery

Years ago, I lived for a while near one of Melbourne’s oldest breweries. I’ll never forget the grainy, biscuity aromas that wafted through the surrounding streets: heady and comforting, like an old-fashioned breakfast cereal doused with warm milk. A dressing gown and slippers for the olfactory nerves. When I heard about James Yeomans and his dream of opening a brewery at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, I had a Proustian moment. I imagined sauntering through the Arsenal on a crisp Autumn morning and drinking in air redolent with the brewer’s alchemical art.

But what is the distance between dream and reality? To find out, I met up with James and his partner Emma to see how it’s coming along.

Over a beer at the Dial Arch, James explains how Hop Stuff Brewery came to be. Simply put, he got tired of drinking mass-produced lager, got into real ales, and then dared to imagine brewing his own. Cue many months of experimenting in his apartment kitchen on the Arsenal.

Along the way, he found a mentor: a chap called John, an experienced and passionate brewer based at a microbrewery in Wandsworth. Under John’s tutelage, James has graduated from being a kitchen-based home brewer to now producing sizable batches and having enough know-how to start up his own enterprise. He speaks eloquently and in almost dizzying detail about the chemistry behind, and art of, making real ale. He also has a clear understanding of the equipment and space and, crucially, the money that’s needed to start production in earnest. As a banker by profession, he’s no stranger to the business side of things. He says that his partner Emma is even more spreadsheet-savvy: she keeps him and their shared dream well-grounded.

Together, they’ve worked hard on branding and marketing. As well as getting Woolwich excited about having its own brewery, they want to bring real ale to the 18-24 year-old market, which they believe is growing and becoming increasingly discerning.

James kindly gave me a couple of bottles of his latest batch, his Renegade IPA, to try. As requested, I waited a few days before cracking one open. I’m no expert so I shared a bottle with someone who is. His verdict? A beautiful amber gold hue, slightly cloudy, with a small, tight bubble to produce a velvety mouthfeel and a short, slightly bitter aftertaste. An IPA with a bright, hoppy, floral quality: an excellent, easy, session ale ideal for a warm day.

To quote Thomas Haden Church’s character in the film Sideways, it tasted pretty good to me, too.

At the time of writing, Hop Stuff is a fortnight into a CrowdCube campaign to gather investors. It’s going well: 34 people have pledged 30 percent of the £50,000 Hop Stuff needs to set up a brewery in a large space James has already earmarked, on the Arsenal. It’s a tantalising time for James and Emma. The dream is so close they can almost smell that same grainy aroma that I so fondly recall. Emma talks enthusiastically of holding a Hop Stuff festival in Woolwich, with neighbours and locals sharing in the fun. They both speak of lack of sleep.

Doesn't get much fresher. Bottled in June, consumed in, er, June.

Doesn’t get much fresher. Bottled in June, consumed in, er, June.

I get the clear impression that they will simply keep on and on until the dream is realised.


From → In Woolwich

  1. Julian permalink

    Great news. I’m with the South East London Campaign for Real Ale and we met with James Yeomans earlier this month at one of our meetings. A brief piece about the matter is on our local photostream, which dovetails very nicely with what’s written here,

    Great news,

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