Meet the brewers behind London’s best bitter


A small Dalston brewery has won an award for its American Pale Ale, which was crowned London’s best bitter at the London Drinker awards.

Friends Jon Swain, 32, and Pete Hills, 40, co-founded Hackney Brewery after meeting 12 years ago while working at The Eagle pub in Farringdon.

‘The ale that won us this award was actually the first beer we made’

After several fruitless years of trying to find a pub they could take over, the pair began visiting various breweries and experimented with home brewing kits before starting Hackney Brewery in 2011.

“Pete’s grandad used to make beer and my dad used to make weird fruit wine,” Swain said.

“The ale that won us this award was actually the first beer we made, possibly our tamest beer, and a modern take on cask ale. Today we are working more towards progressive, experimental beers.”

Swain and Hills are convinced that snobby attitudes towards keg beer have fallen out of fashion.

“There used to be this idea that keg beer is bad and that cask beer is quality,” Hills says. “But over the last ten years people have developed a liking for hoppier beers with more flavour.”

‘About 90 per cent of our beer is sold within a 15-mile radius.’

Both believe in spending money locally and supporting innovation rather than mainstream brands that don’t develop their products.

“Most of our beers go out to local bars and pubs,” Hills says. “About 90 per cent of our beer is sold within a 15-mile radius.”

Reducing the waste of resources is another key principle of the brewery, using only green energy. The team use a specialised heat exchanger in the brewing process, which avoids the need to heat water, and all spent grains go to a farm in Hertfordshire to be recycled.

“We used to brew 900 litres twice a week. Now we brew four times a week, 2,400 litres each brew, which brings us to 9,600 litres a week – five times the amount we put out in the beginning,” Swain said.

But despite this success, the uncertainty of Brexit is playing on the minds of the entrepreneur duo.

“I am a bit worried about Brexit. There is an EU initiative called Small Breweries’ Relief. It’s a tax allowance for smaller breweries, which aims to create a level playing field for competing with the big beer brands. If British breweries cease to qualify that could have serious consequences for our beer industry.

“We also get some of our malt from Belgium, and some of our hops from Germany and the Czech Republic, so pricing and customs could affect us.”

Despite looming uncertainties, Hackney Brewery still finds time to give to charity.

“We collaborated with Jamie Oliver’s Friday Night Feast, the food waste charity,” Swain said. “We used wasted bread to substitute about 40 per cent of our grains per brew, and made beer using bread.”

Last year, Sir Quentin Blake designed a beer label for the brewery, and all proceeds went to two charities of his choosing. The company has moved away from bottles and now only sells cans, which are designed by local artist Pete Fowler.

The brewery’s next beer will be a peach and basil sour available in keg and can by mid-April.