Gipsy Hill

Why independence matters

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We were privileged to host Cloudwater at the shop this week as part of the brewery’s Indie Retailer Roadshow, stopping in at fabulous beer retailers across the UK as part of a nationwide tour. As well as serving great beers, we also served up impassioned debate with a panel discussion on Why Independence Matters, inviting Gipsy Hill co-founder and passionate indie campaigner Sam McMeekin to participate as well. While it's going to get a whole lot tougher for independent beer businesses, be they breweries like Cloudwater and Gipsy Hill or retailers such as ourselves, it's a challenge we're ready for, a fight we won't back down from and a cause that we'll continue to shout about from the rooftops.

In the nearly five years since we opened our doors, we’ve seen some of our favourite, best selling breweries give in to Big Beer: Camden sold to AB inBev in 2015, Brixton and Beavertown both sold a share to Heineken in 2017 and 2018, and Fourpure sold to Lion/Kirin in 2018, followed by Magic Rock earlier this year.

When Camden sold back in 2015, we had a “suck it and see” approach - we were still a very young business and Camden was one of our best-selling breweries, and the first of the breweries we stocked to sell out on our watch. We decided we would wait until either a) the quality of the beer dropped, b) staff got a raw deal or c) the beer became available at supermarkets for half the price. 

As the weeks went on though, we started rethinking this approach. We started to notice visits from both ABI and Heineken teams (failing terribly to stay undercover) looking at how we do things, taking notes and taking this intel back to their corporate lairs. Their aim was to copy what indies like us do well in order to capture our market share - and ultimately put us out of business. 

Big Beer has been extraordinarily effective in infiltrating the craft scene. ABI bought UK retailer Beerhawk in 2016 and just last week, made two more important moves, purchasing BeerBods, a popular online retailer, as well as the warehouse lease of failed wholesaler the Bottle Shop, as well as appointing its former CEO as head of sales, in an effort to boost its Beerhawk trade arm. These are huge in-roads into both UK beer retail and wholesale, and tilts the playing field even further. Of course, now that ABI also owns Ratebeer, it has access to even better data to understand how to target customers too.

What does independence mean to us as a retailer?

At HB&B, our business is built on independence and supporting independent producers. As an independent, we have the luxury of choosing the people and businesses we want to work with (and those we don’t). The more independent breweries we can work with, the more exciting the beer world is, both for us and our customers. Working with these breweries means we have constant variety on our shelves, and the continual excitement of trying new beers and styles. Indie brewers have the freedom to do something because it's fun and new, rather than the top priority being to deliver value to shareholders. 

Importantly, independent breweries provide a sense of community. Many of us got into this industry for similar reasons - because we love the beer scene and the warm sense of community it offers, where we can mingle with the people who make the beers we love and the people who love drinking them. 

Local independent breweries are especially important to the success of independent bottle shops. These breweries are a hugely important part of what makes the beer community - and the wider community - great. Drinkers enjoy being able to support local by choosing their beers at the bar or to take home from their local bottle shop (four out of five of our best-selling beers over the past 12 months are from SE London breweries) and their beers often offer a great gateway into the wonderful world of craft beer. We don’t want to risk losing these local breweries that have become the hub of their communities because they can't keep up. The infiltration of Big Beer into the craft scene means that smaller breweries will find it harder to compete and may fall by the wayside. 

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Why is Big Beer bad?

Big Beer makes concerted efforts to obtain advantage through wielding its enormous power: infiltrating distribution and retail to skew these channels in favour of their brands, tying up taps and shelf space for ‘faux’ craft and shutting out independently brewed beer; utilising huge marketing budgets and legal teams to lobby for legislation in its favour and to woo media and influencers to try to change public opinion; using enormous economies of scale to drive down the price of craft beer, creating an unfair playing field and making it even harder for small independent brewers to compete.

Big Beer likes to operate in stealth mode - hijacking the goodwill accumulated by independent brewers and retailers and passing off beers as faux-craft or being deliberately ambiguous about ownership to the average drinker (Beerhawk, for example, certainly doesn’t promote its ABI connection on its website).

Another deception is the illusion of choice. You might walk into a Heineken-owned pub and think you have an array of choice from many independent craft breweries on a tap list, but in fact you're likely to be buying from the same huge beer corporation - one which, as Sam explained, is actively shutting out independent breweries by preventing its pubs from making too much profit from non-Heineken lines.

And it’s doing all this on the shoulders of those who created the scene. Paul from Cloudwater compares Big Beer to Kenny G (and at our event made us listen to some too, the scoundrel). Kenny G made a fortune from hijacking the jazz scene with his ersatz jazz - using the hard graft of the creators who built the scene to feather his own nest without paying his dues. Big Beer is Kenny G. 

We want to see the profits from all of the hard graft done by the UK’s craft breweries staying in the community, helping local businesses to thrive. We don’t want to see the funds disappear offshore to huge multinational conglomerates that do not have the health of the local beer scene at heart, whose key objective is to create ever larger dividends for their shareholders and to shut out competitors at any cost. 

It’s clear that independent beer businesses need to get more strategic and work together to have a chance of survival. We need to support the independent eco-system where we can, giving our support to our fellow independent businesses.

For us as a retailer, this choice is a bit more straightforward - we can choose not to stock businesses owned by Big Beer and thus avoid putting money directly into Big Beer’s pockets. For breweries, it’s a bit harder - they have difficult choices to make, particularly with distribution. As Gipsy Hill’s Sam McMeekin pointed out, lack of alternatives and market penetration (as well as the appeal of end-to-end cold-chain distro) means that sometimes there may be no choice but to work with a distributor owned by Big Beer if a brewery wants to survive and thrive. A longer term goal would be to establish distribution through a cooperative independent means - something we hope can become a reality in the not-too-distant future.

“As long as the beer doesn’t change, I don’t care”

We heard this a lot on social media after Beavertown sold to Heineken in 2018. It’s easy, in our little craft bubble, to forget that not everyone shares our staunch view on independence. 

SIBA UK research found that just 2% of people believe craft beer can be made by a multinational global brewer. But Brewers Association research in the US shows that in fact flavour, freshness and aroma are the most important drivers for choosing a beer - provenance doesn’t really come into it. So it seems while there is an expectation that craft beer will be independent, when it comes down to it, for many it’s just not that important a priority. How do we make people care about who’s making their beer?

We believe greater awareness is the first step - helping drinkers realise what’s at risk if we lose our independents and, importantly, reinforcing all the good things that the independent beer scene contributes.

I (Jen) remember when I first came to the UK in 2000 - the beer scene was nothing like what it is today. With the reins of the industry held by just a handful of companies, choice at the taps was limited, and by god was it dreary. After a few years’ break from the UK (enjoying the healthy craft beer scene in New Zealand), I returned in 2012 to find a vibrant, exciting land of beer choices - driven entirely by these new start-up breweries who were able to forge their own paths, take risk and provide drinkers with fun and excitement, community and choice.

We don’t want to go back to those grim old days where all the power resides in the hands of a few. Variety is the spice of life, and never more so than in the beer world. Independents have made the scene we love what it is, and they need to be able to continue to keep doing so. That’s why we need your support.

PS - Big thanks to Chris Coulson @cwiss for taking some great photos of the night. Find more of his amazing work on Instagram.

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The Beer Lover’s Table: Venison Steaks with Sweet Potato Puree and Gipsy Hill x People Like Us Bramble Sour

Venison is deep and rich and dark, more animal tasting than beef, ferric as blood. It is a lean meat and is thus best cooked quickly, just long enough to brown its outside while leaving its interior rare and tender. Little wonder it’s often matched with barrel-aged chocolate stouts or Belgian quadrupels; its uncommon intensity helps it stand up to the heavyweights.

This time, though - rather than pairing two powerhouses - I wanted to find a beer that could help temper some of venison’s richness. Enter People Like Us, a collaboration between Gipsy Hill and the eponymous People Like Us, a Danish brewery run by people from marginalised groups. This bramble sour was brewed with raspberry, blackberry, and lingonberry purees, and pours a beguiling shade of magenta.

It’s no accident that venison is commonly served with blackberries, drizzled in a redcurrant sauce or otherwise paired with berries; this is a meat that benefits from contrasting brightness and an added spark of acidity. Here, this beer isn’t just a pairing: it serves as an element of the dish that’s been outsourced to the glass, a stand-in for a reduction or glaze. The addition of fried sage leaves and vibrant sweet potato puree (infused with sage-scented brown butter) makes this a simple, wintry showstopper.

Venison Steaks with Sweet Potato Puree and Fried Sage Leaves
Serves 2

For the venison steaks
2 venison steaks, approximately 225g (1/2 pound) each
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the sweet potato puree
1 small sweet potato, approximately 300g (2/3 pound)
2 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Brown butter from sage leaves (see below)

For the fried sage leaves
20 sage leaves
125g (1 stick) unsalted butter

1. Roughly 45 minutes before you plan to cook, remove the venison steaks from the fridge and pat dry with paper towels. Season both sides generously with salt and pepper. Leave at room temperature so they won’t be fridge-cold when it comes time to cook them.

2. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of salted water to the boil. Peel the sweet potato and finely dice. Add to the boiling water, along with the garlic cloves, and lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for roughly 12 minutes, or until the sweet potato is very soft but not yet falling apart. Drain and transfer the sweet potato and garlic to a food processor.

3. While the sweet potato is cooking, make the brown butter-fried sage leaves. Melt the butter in a medium frying pan, and add the sage leaves in a single layer. Cook for 4-5 minutes, swirling the pan frequently, until the butter has turned a deep brown, smells nutty, and the sage leaves are fried. Remove from the heat immediately, and leave to cool for a few minutes.

4. Transfer the sage leaves to a plate, and pour the sage-infused butter into a liquid cup measure (or other vessel with a pouring spout).

5. Season the sweet potato mixture with pepper and nutmeg before blending on high. As the food processor’s motor runs, pour in the brown butter in a steady stream. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if needed.

6. Place a large frying pan over high heat. Once very hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the venison steaks and cook on the first side for approximately 1 ½ minutes, or until well browned. Flip and cook on the reverse for approximately 1 minute more (you can cook for slightly longer if you like, but venison is best served rare). Using tongs, sear off the sides of the steaks. Transfer to a cutting board and leave to rest for approximately 5 minutes.

7. Divide the sweet potato puree between two plates. Slice the venison steaks and place on top of the puree. Garnish with the fried sage leaves, and serve.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is published by Dog’n’Bone Books in March 2019. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.

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#HBBAdvent Beer 13: Gipsy Hill Superfan Dry-Hopped Bohemian Pilsner (SE London)

Gipsy Hill says: Superfan is a Bohemian style Pilsner. Lagered for seven weeks and gently hopped, it's a floral, delicate Pilsner.

We say: We're the humble lager's biggest fan - in a world of pastry stouts and bosh-worthy hazy juice bombs, sometimes there's no greater pleasure than the joy of a crisp, clean lager. One of our litmus tests for a decent brewery is one that can get a lager right - there ain't no hiding with this style. 

Of course, Gipsy Hill's credentials were never in doubt, but it's always nice to get confirmation. Crisp, clean and a great little mid-week cleanser. - Jen

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 2: Gipsy Hill Hepcat Session IPA, 4.6% (SE London)

Each night at 8pm, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Gipsy Hill Brewing says: "Hepcat is in the know. A session IPA with big fruit, juicy note and a light, jazzy malt body. Liberal kicks."

We say: Gipsy Hill’s aim is to produce lower-ABV beers that don’t skimp on flavour. We’ve been big fans since we opened - so much so that they’re our house pour on flagon-fill. For such a young brewery they’re remarkably consistent, and we reckon their Hepcat is the best of the bunch. Fragrant on the nose with great balance, this is a solid session that never fails to deliver. At 4.6%, it’s a perfect Wednesday beer.

New stuff in store - 24 September

  • Jen had a fantastic day at Beavertown Brewery for Rainbow Day last weekend - seven UK breweries collaborating with seven US breweries to create some incredible brews. We've been lucky enough to get our hands on three of the Rainbow beers this week - Siren & Surly Brewing's Blue Sky Blue Sea seaweed & cloudberry gose, Partizan & Prairie's Real Time Saison and - arriving Friday - the beer that won the day for Jen, Hawkshead & Crooked Stave's stunning Key Lime Tau. Be really, really quick to get your hands on these beers (three-beer selection packs available from Friday). They won't last long.
  • We've also brought in a bunch of Omnipollo beers which were the hit of the recent London Craft Beer Festival. HOW good do these sound - Noa Pecan Mud Pie Imperial Stout, Bianca Mango Lassi Gose and Smoothie 411 IPA brewed with wild strawberries. rhubarb, vanilla and lactose?! Best believe they taste as good as they sound.
  • Hail to two new local heroes on the pale/session front - Brick Brewery's Peckham Pale Ale and Gipsy Hill's Hepcat Session IPA. Hepcat has been going gangbusters in both bottle and on flagon-fill so you'll be pleased to hear we've stocked up on another keg to keep you going over the next few days. The Brick pale has just turned up while writing this - looking fly in jaunty orange...
  • From Bermondsey way, Kernel's London Brick Red Rye Ale was so popular on flagon-fill last week that we've brought in 330ml bottles. You're going to love this beer.
  • Oh yeah, and Gunnamatta's back!

New stuff in store: 10 September

All of this week's beer deliveries are now in and new hot sauces are on their way... We'll save the sauces for a separate post - here's what's new and exciting in the HB&B world of beer:

  • Howling Hops! It's always exciting when we introduce a new brewery to our London shelves but we've been especially looking forward to stocking East London's Howling Hops Brewery. In lieu of making it to their amazing tank bar, take home their bottled range. We've picked four varieties to start with and by jove, they're good - the clean and crisp Pale XX, the delightfully light and fragrant Running Beer American brown ale, the bold, flavour-packed IPA and their tasty dark Black XX. Collect the set.
  • A slew of new Brew By Numbers goodies, including their White IPA Citra & Mosaic in bottle and on flagon-fill and a new porter, Bramling Cross. Yes, it's officially porter season, people.
  • On the US front, we welcome back Alesmith X and IPA. We've also got a new addition from The Bruery. Regular readers of our Twitter feed will have observed the occasional ode to Rueuze, The Bruery's superlative sour. Joining it on the Big Beers shelves is Cuivre, The Bruery's one-off 7th anniversary Old Ale. We won't lie, it's the most expensive beer in the shop. That's why we've only got six of them. Splash the cash and make one yours.
  • And as always we've got a stunning line-up on flagon-fill. The Kernel brings together the big Cs for their IPA Citra Columbus Chinook Centennial, there's a great collab session pale, North by South East, from Manchester's Marble Brewery and our new South London neighbours Bullfinch Brewery, and Gipsy Hill's Yuzu returns, tasting better than ever, to name just a few.

Sweet and lowdown

We were chatting with one of our customers on Twitter yesterday about his need to find great lower-ABV (<4%) beers, and the sheer range of great-tasting low or no-alcohol beers out there made us think it would be a great topic for a blog post. Voila!.

We started getting a lot of requests for low/no alcohol beers from people in the final days of 2014 as they prepared to put down the pint glass for Dry January. (The fact most of them were back on to the 8% DIPAs by mid-Jan is naturally of no consequence here.) We duly expanded our range, assuming it'd be a January thing but we continue to see huge demand.

For some, such as our Twitter friend,  it's medical reasons; others are expectant mums after a refreshing drop, runners in training for a marathon, or folk who want to sink a few and still remember how to get home. But you don't need a reason to go low. Here are some of our favourite beers from the smaller end of the scale. 

 

  • The Kernel Table Beer, 3.2% - The ABV of this classic varies slightly according to the recipe but always hovers around the 3% mark. It's a much-lauded, truly outstanding beer that almost beggars belief as to how they continuously pack so much flavour into such a small beer. One of our best-selling beers and deservedly so.
  • Wiper & True Small Beer #10, 2.6% - We love this great Bristol brewery, and try to ensure we always have one of their Small Beers on shelf. Currently we're showcasing #10 - a hop-packed pale ale with citrus, papaya and floral notes.
  • Siren Craft Brew Half Mast Quarter IPA, 2.8% - Last summer, before we had a shop, when we still had a social life, we drank this glorious seasonal from the moment we discovered it until the day we drank it dry. Our "I can't believe it's not 6%" beer. It is possibly the perfect summer drink - lashings of grapefruit and mango in a beer so refreshing you could drink it all day, and at just 2.8% you probably could. (In moderation, natch.)
  • Gipsy Hill Beatnik Pale Ale, 3.8% - We couldn't not mention Beatnik in this line-up. This "iconoclastically fruity" drop is our best-selling beer on flagon-fill and a fantastic proof point of Gipsy Hill's mission to create sessionable beers that don't skimp on flavour.
  • Weird Beard Black Perle Coffee Milk Stout, 3.8% - Another great beer proudly belying its <4% status. Massive amounts of flavour in this extremely drinkable light stout. A beer to be enjoyed with breakfast, lunch, dessert or any time really.
  • & Union Der Graf Von Bavaria, 0.4% - OK, so this probably won't be the best beer you've ever drunk, but we'll wager it's one of the best alcohol-free beers you'll try. The makers of this Bavarian wheat beer claim that its isotonic properties also make it the perfect sports drink, something we can't corroborate as we don't do any sports. Regardless, it's an extremely worthy contender for what should go in your basket "when you care but you can't drink beer". 

Apologies to the other wonderful low-ABV beers out there we didn't have room to mention. We've got many more in store - ask us to point them out to you next time you're in.

New stuff in store: 4 June

After last week's order frenzy, we weren't sure we'd have any room left for more new stuff but we thought, stuff it - let's get more anyway. Here's what's new this week.

Summer is made for sours, and while summer may not technically start til the Solstice on 21 June, we're getting in early. Friday sees a delivery of sensational sours including:

  • The bolstering of our Cantillon cupboard with a re-up on Cantillion Gueuze, Kriek and Rose de Gambrinus, and new additions including the Cuvee Saint Gilloise and Vigeronne. Where do we stash all these? No idea. Come in and play hunt the lambic... ;)
  • MO CHORLTON! We adore this Manchester brewery's wares and are beyond excited to get more of their good stuff on our shelves. Get ready for their new Citra Sour and famed Woodruff Berlinerweisse, as well as their Sandalwood ale and Eclipse Lager.

We're also boosting our US section with the likes of:

A bit closer to home, Gipsy Hill's Yuzu returns in bottles and on flagon-fill. Surely their most popular beer yet, and now award-winning too, recently taking out the best in show award at the Crystal Palace Beer Festival. We also welcome Brockley's new Summer Ale, with 10% of the proceeds going to the Brockley Street Art Festival.

Finally - we've had a load of new-old records come in. Some fantastic disco 12"s and LPs in the bins, with more set to arrive next week. Get diggin'.

New stuff in store: 16 April

Another motherlode of the good stuff. Drums, please:

  • Brand new to our shelves is the excellent One Mile End brewery, based beneath Mile End Road at the White Hart Brew Pub in Whitechapel. This brewery is getting kudos from all quarters and we know you're going to love these beautifully crafted beers: Salvation Pale Ale, Snakecharmer IPA and Hospital Porter.
  • Moor, Moor, Moor! SoHop, NorHop, BritHop... all your hops are belong to us. Grab all three of these spectacular ultra pale ales and vote for your favourite.
  • Ahead of our Anspach & Hobday brewer showcase on the 29th, we've stocked up on their new Pale Ale plus got a re-up of their excellent Table Porter. Expect more special treats on the night...
  • Firm flagon-fill favourites Gipsy Hill add another string to their sessionable, full flavoured bow with the Yuzu Japanese Pale Ale, a zesty number brewed with Kent Brewery.
  • We loved Siren's quarter-IPA, Half Mast, last year - this tasty 2.9%-er packs a flavoursome punch for such a low ABV beverage. Get it while it's cold!
  • Also on the session front, Weird Beard's Little Things That Kill is your ideal summer ale. Hopped and dry-hopped with Centennial and Nelson Sauvin (from Jen's hometown), with an addition of Cascade, we predict this will fly out the door if these sultry temperatures continue.
  • If, like us, you love the refreshing cidery tartness of Wild Beer's Somerset Wild and Ninkasi beers, then you'll adore Zintuki - a skilful blend of both. We put this to a taste test on Wednesday over lunch outside the shop in the sunshine and can confirm it's perfect summer drinking. Hey, it's a hard job, but someone has to do it...
  • Wiper & True's beautiful branding is an accurate indicator of the sophisticated contents inside in the bottles, the result of which is that we can never keep this Bristol brewery's beer on the shelf for long. Two new additions this week: Blossom Amber Ale and Southern Cross Pale Ale.
  • Lastly, Founders All Day IPA. Our best-selling US beer now in cans!

There are probably some we've missed off - best to come in store and see for yourself. And don't forget to check our flagon-fill page for all the deliciousness coming up on draught too - only the best for you...

No hops, no backstage pass

 

On Wednesday 25th March, we kick off our Top of the Hops Brewer Showcase series. These are regular 'meet the brewer' events with an HB&B difference - bringing together two of our greatest loves, we're asking our favourite breweries to bring along not just their best brews but also their favourite brew-tunes.

The first brewery to accept the challenge is one of our favourite new breweries, SE17's own Orbit Beers, born from a love of travel, music and beer (sound familiar?).

Mario, Robert and Robbie will be bringing the fruits of their 'hi-fidelity brewing' to HB&B, soundtracked by their quintessential brewhouse tunes, including but not limited to the Velvet Underground & Nico, Neu!, Throwing Muses and more... You'll get to meet the brewers, taste their beers and hear their favourite music (which you'll also be able to buy on vintage vinyl).

It's free to come along and while you don't need to book, for this first event, if you book a place you'll also get 10% off purchases on the night. Reserve your spot here

Upcoming showcases feature Gipsy Hill Brewing (Wed 15th April), Anspach & Hobday (Wed 29th April) and Five Points Brewing (Wed 13th May), with many more to be announced.