With beers like Lambeth Walk, Diamond Geezer, Wolfie Smith and Bobby On The Wheat, the By The Horns guys are certainly proud to be Londoners.
Founded in September 2011, Alex Bull and Chris Mills are making a name for themselves across London with their quirky labelling and their varied and interesing beers. Alex had been homebrewing for a few years before they founded By The Horns, and they saw that there weren’t many London breweries (how a few years can make a difference!) and that there was an opening for a new brewery with a younger outlook, and demand for good London-brewed beer. From initial idea to the first brew took about a year, with Alex going to BrewLab to learn about the business of setting up and running a brewery. Then they sought out the equipment they needed from Oban Ales, and took a leap of faith by ordering it before they actually had premises – they signed the lease the week before the kit was delivered. So at least no time was wasted!
The guys definitely consider themselves as craft brewers, defining the term as “small batch production using almost experimental and non-governed beers which you can change every week”. Their regular 4 brews are Stiff Upper Lip (pale ale) – their most popular brew, Diamond Geezer (red ale), Bobby On The Wheat (wheat beer) and, my favourite, Lambeth Walk porter – which was a winter seasonal, but has become a regular due to demand. And they have at least one new seasonal a month too – they’ve done a summer blonde, a Prince Albert Munich dunkel for Oktoberfest, a raspberry coffee stout (in collaboration with Nude espresso), a brown ale called Wolfie Smith… And if that weren’t enough, they have their recurring Hopslinger range – American IPAs, each with a twist (single hop, black etc). To keep up with demand, they brew 3 times a week on their 5 bbl setup.
Chris and Alex are trying hard to change how drinkers and pubs perceive beer and breweries, especially in London. There will always be pubs that stock and serve the same beers to the same customers, but they’re trying to tap into the drinkers and landlords who want something different and home-grown. I still find it unbelievable that I can walk out of a London brewery and pass pubs and off licenses within 2-3 mins walk that don’t stock the beer, and probably haven’t even heard of it.
When I visited they were finalising ideas for new bottles and labels, with the emphasis on sleek, and eye-catching designs that will stand out in bar fridges. Just as Meantime made their London Pale Ale and London Lager in standard 330ml bottles to appeal to pub and bar bottle-drinkers, that’s where Alex and Chris are looking to push now. They are already stocked in a few bistros in the local area, and with recommended food pairings also on the new labels, these would sit perfectly in restaurant fridges too. They want to try to entice lager drinkers over to the craft/real side of beer, which I support whole-heartedly.
When it comes to new brews, Chris and Alex often do test batches on a homebrew setup, and try experimental conditioning styles – they mentioned a mojito IPA, conditioned with lime, mint and white rum. Alex loved it, Chris wasn’t so keen. And they very nicely gave me a bottle of their Diamond Geezer red ale with ginger added that they did for the Antic chain of pubs over the summer. I have yet to try it.
Their next seasonal, a festive one this time, is named Jolly’s Revenge. It’s a Christmas spiced, oatmeal brown ale, and when I tried it out of the fermenter it was very rounded, malty, warming, spicy, smokey and hoppy. And their next Hopslinger is a Summit single hop, which had just finished casking and bottling when I arrived, but the yeast that was running off was very green and smelt pungently hoppy.
Since they started brewing, both their beer tastes have broadened. They used to be lager drinkers, now Chris says he loves dark beers and also drinks his beers warmer, which makes the flavours much more prominent, especially with the smokier, toastier beers.
The name By The Horns is something Alex thought up, and it sums up the attitude of 2 twenty-somethings stepping out of a comfortable 9-to-5 career progression to do something they are more passionate about. Before they were brewers, Chris worked in offshore purchasing and Alex worked in oil, and the experience in negotiating and buying/selling is serving them well as brewers.
The journey from the idea to where they are now wasn’t as smooth as they had envisaged – some aspects were easier than they thought, some were harder, and some they had never even considered. Supplying the beer to the pubs works quite differently to how they initially thought: it’s rare for a small brewery to get a contract with a certain pub or chain of pubs, instead they get requests from new pubs every week, but not neccessarily regular repeat orders. Then you have the logistics of transporting beer across London, sometimes with only certain delivery windows to hit. And when the pubs do get the casks, they often don’t put it on for weeks, or even months. All of this was a bit of an eye-opener, but neither of them regret the change of career. Chris did say, however, that they would have second throughts about starting a brewery in London now, with the huge number of breweries that have been founded even in the last year. And although there is an element of competition with the other brewers, there is also a spirit of collaboration and shared knowledge that binds them all together – take the annual collaborative brews organised by the London Brewers Alliance, most recently a stout brewed at The Kernel. Chris just hopes that all the new brewers maintain the high standard and reputation that has already been set in London by the established breweries.
They have brewery open days about once a month, with the Christmas one on Saturday 15th December, starting at 12pm. You can read about the two previous open days here and here. I recommend you come down if you can, have a drink in the brewery, see the mash tun and fermenting vessels and meet the brewers. I am very much looking forward to warming myself on a few pints of Jolly’s Revenge. And a Hopslinger or two as well while I’m there.