Greg Hobbs on brewing ales in east London
After Five Points Brewery launched its first core brand beer in two years in November, Florence Derrick met the company’s cofounder and Head Brewer to find out why the brand’s stock has risen so rapidly in craft beer circles
The first beer brewing experiment by Five Points Brewery co-founder Greg Hobbs didn’t quite go to plan. “I was 15 years old,” he said, over a pint of the brewery’s new Jupa ale at their Pembury Tavern taproom in Hackney Downs.
“My friend and I boiled up a tin of stuff and basically fermented it in a bin.
“It was awful, we had to add tablespoons of sugar to actually make it drinkable.
“We drank it because we were 15 and there was nothing else, but it was no good at all.”
Much has changed for Greg since that first flirtation with the world of brewing. Today, he’s the Hackney craft brewery’s Head Brewer, running the show with co-owner Ed Mason.
“I have responsibility for all of the beer coming out of the brewery, both in terms of its quality and also recipe development,” he said.
“Just making sure the beers are to spec and taste how they should taste.”
The journey from teen bedroombrewer to hops specialist saw Greg studying chemistry – “it’s a big part of brewing. I don’t think I’d be where I am without the chemistry background” – and learning on the job at another craft brewery.
“I was managing a pub in Dalston and got talking to the owner of East London Brewing Company, in Leyton, on a brewery tour.
“I ended up working there for about a year-and-a-half as an assistant brewer,” he said.
“I learnt everything there and through countless hours of reading everything I could, trying everything I could at the brewery.
“Then Ed, who I knew already from the pub, said he was thinking about opening a brewery and the rest is history.
“It’s a really open and friendly industry, everyone helps everyone.
“When we started out we asked other brewers so many questions and now we’re more established other people are asking us those same questions, which is nice.”
The independent craft brewery has just celebrated its fifth birthday and Greg is still reeling from how quickly the business took off.
“Ed and I were ambitious but we never thought we’d grow this quickly,” he said.
“When we launched it was only with three beers, which is unusual.
“Five Points Pale, which is still our best seller – it accounts for 55% of what we produce; Hook Island Red, which is a 6% red rye beer that is a bit of a Marmite beer, people either go crazy for it or don’t like it at all; and Railway Porter, which is our take on a classic London porter.”
In November, Five Points launched its first core-brand beer in two years – Jupa.
“We were hoping to release it in early summer but it’s been an amazing year for us sales wise, which meant capacity-wise it’s been difficult to fit it in,” Greg said.
“Our pale ale is 4.4% and our IPA is 7.1%, and there was nothing in that sweet spot in between for people who are looking for a more flavourful beer but don’t want to get really drunk. All our beers lean to the side of bitter but we also wanted to show that we could do something softer and fruitier.”
The release closely followed the opening of the brewery’s new taproom pub, which opened in Hackney Downs in September.
“They’d sold Five Points Pale Ale on keg at The Pembury Tavern, but we didn’t have much else to do with them,” he said. “About a year ago we came in for some Friday drinks and me and Ed were chatting.
“We’d always planned to open a taproom but we didn’t have space at the brewery, which was our original ambition. We’d looked at some local places in the area but nothing really worked and we said wouldn’t it be amazing if this pub came up for sale?
“A couple of weeks later, Ed wrote them an email saying if you’re ever thinking about moving on we’d love to have a conversation about it.
“Lo and behold, a couple of months later we had that conversation and moved in.
“We kept all the staff and ripped out the original bar, painted it, put the lights in, changed the cellar completely and kept the bar billiards table. I like playing it.”
While the pub specialises in the Five Points range, it champions other British, and even international, craft brews too.
“It’s not all about us, we specialise in other people’s beer too and we’ve had a green hop festival here.
“We plan to use The Pembury Tavern as a proper boozer, basically – not too pretentious but smart and nice, focused on the community. Just a nice place you’d go without the craft beer thing being rubbed in your face.”
This down-to-earth ethos reflects the company’s ambitions, as well as those of the industry at large.
“People who brew craft beers are doing it because they’re passionate about it,” said Greg.
We plan to use The Pembury Tavern as a proper boozer, basically – not too pretentious but smart and nice, focused on the community Greg Hobbs, Five Points Brewery
A background in chemistry has helped Greg Hobbs in his role, checking the quality of the beer and recipe development