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Howling Hops has come a long way since it began life in the basement of The Cock Tavern in Hackney, East London. The brewery now creates everything from fruity pale ales to earthy stouts in a vast converted Victorian warehouse, which doubles as a tank bar. Culture Trip catches up with founder-director Pete Holt to find out what’s brewing at Howling Hops.
Culture Trip (CT): How did Howling Hops come about?
Pete Holt (PH): We started brewing in the basement of The Cock Tavern back in 2011. We sold everything on the bar upstairs. It was a lot of fun. We brewed well over 100 different beers, sometimes with eight different ones on at a time. No mean feat in a tiny room with only 5 feet 10 inches of standing room. The top of the copper was about 18 inches below the ceiling – you had to squeeze in head first to dig the hops out. That couldn’t go on forever!
We’d been looking for somewhere to expand into for a while, when out of the blue someone offered us a warehouse in Hackney Wick. It’s a great building and perfect for what we need – although we’ve pretty much outgrown that space now.
CT: How did you get involved with this brewery?
PH: We’d been running the Southampton Arms over in Gospel Oak for many years, selling beers and ciders from small independent breweries long before craft was a thing. I still hate that word. A love of beer naturally leads to an interest in brewing it.
CT: How did you get into brewing beer?
PH: Drinking it, selling it, brewing it.
CT: What do you look for in a beer? Is it taste, or is it the philosophy behind the brand?
PH: I’d love to say it’s just the taste, but the brand is important too. People buy into a brand. If you’re trying to choose something in a shop and there are hundreds of beers to choose from, the brand and the packaging helps you choose.
CT: Can you talk through the range of beers on offer? Does this change with each batch?
PT: So the brewery tap room, or tank bar as we call it, has 10 serving tanks with 10 different beers. About half of them are usually beers that we brew regularly and the others will be single-batch or seasonal brews. Low-strength pale ales, dry hopped with large amounts of intense New World hops, is what we’ve always done a lot of. But in the interests of diversity we brew lots of different styles.
CT: Can you talk about each one in terms of taste?
PH: So a few examples:
IPA: 6.9 %. Hazy orange colour, white head, New England yeast. Sweet tropical fruit and pine aroma. The taste is crisp and clean with juicy stone fruits and citrus. Medium body and an assertive bitterness. It drinks more like a 5% beer, which can be dangerous.
Black Forest Gateau: 6.5%. Pitch-black with a thick tan head. The aroma is cherries and dark chocolate. The taste is dark fruit, berries, chocolate, caramel and roasted malt. The beer is surprisingly well balanced, not too sweet despite the name. The cherries contribute to the beer’s bitterness.
Riding Ale: Only 3% but plenty of body and bags of flavour. Super pale, lovely soft carbonation and a clean white head. Mango, orange and peachy aroma. Juicy citrus flavour and slightly spicy. Medium bitterness.
CT: What is your approach and philosophy to brewing beer?
PH: Our philosophy is brewing whatever we feel like brewing that morning, being experimental and having fun. Unfortunately, that philosophy is not always easy to achieve any more, brewing on the scale that we do. But changes are afoot that will help us get closer to that.
CT: What were the first beers you made? Have your flavours changed, or have you kept it original?
PH: The first beer we brewed on this kit was the Riding Ale. I still had a bottle of it until recently, but my kid broke it, so I have no idea how it tasted. Probably not of much after nearly three years!
All of the beers change and evolve over time. We are always trying to improve them. We learn new tricks, try new things. Sometimes those things work and sometimes they don’t, but when a tweak pays off and a beer improves, it’s very satisfying.
CT: Do you offer any brewery tours? How can people experience your beer?
PH: We don’t do tours at the moment. We may do at some point. The best way do drink the beer super fresh is at the tank bar.
CT: Where is your beer available to buy?
PH: Other than the tank bar, there are usually a few of our beers at the Southampton Arms and The Cock Tavern and a few other choice establishments, mainly in North and East London.
For more information, visit the Howling Hops website.