Brewing seemed like a good idea when boredom set in with the office job for Lee Hammerton in 2012 and it looks like he made a decent decision as the beers coming out of his brewery in North London are of a consistently high quality.
At the time he reckoned Islington, despite its high number of licensed premises, did not have a brewery in contrast to many other London boroughs (most notably Hackney) that had a growing number of new breweries.
Having convinced himself of the viability of the endeavour, purchased the brewing kit, decided on the names of his first beers, and signed the lease on an industrial unit in Islington, Lee was still undecided about the name of the brewery.
Having been reluctant to use his own name – as it seemed a little too egotistical – he changed his mind when he found out that the original Hammerton Brewery, which had been located in Stockwell, had been set up by his distant relatives before they sold it and it ultimately ceasing production in the 1950s.
He found out that his grandfathers’ great grandfather had been asked if he would like to join the board of the company, which at the time was no longer in the hands of the Hammerton family. (For the record – the relative declined the offer of the board seat, preferring to spend his time on his career in the theatre. Such diffidence very much amuses Lee).
As well as bringing the Hammerton name back to life Lee had also seen a photo of an original bottle top from the brewery and he now uses this as the company’s logo. With all the marketing aspects and production infrastructure in place it was time to actually start brewing in 2014.
Although there was clearly brewing in his blood the little bit of home brewing he’d done some years before would hardly cut the mustard for commercial brewing. The recruitment of the former head brewer at Moncado to the same role at Hammerton, as well as bringing in James Kemp from Thornbridge and Buxton breweries as a consultant, definitely set Lee on the right path.
First beer up from the new Hammerton Brewery was N7, which remains a key brew and like all great beers it seems to have been born almost fully formed. Lee says it is still pretty much the same recipe as the original although he does admit that the use of six hops (Waimea, Cascade, Chinook, Citra, Amarillo and Herkules) does enable a little flexibility in production, which is rather handy if any of the hops become unavailable at any time.
Next up was Pentonville Oyster Stout, which had been produced by the original Hammerton Brewery, and true to the old recipe Lee throws 100 full oysters (shells and all) into the boil.
The first customer of these beers was the Tap Room on nearby Upper Street and other free houses then followed. Two years down the line and the majority of business is still in London – with most deliveries done direct – although there is growth through distributors who disperse the beers to other parts of the country.
Demand has pushed production to around 3,500 hectolitres per year and Lee reckons, with the addition of some new fermenting vessels, he could push output at the brewery’s present site to 5,000 hl.
As production has increased, the level of confidence at the brewery has not surprisingly grown and with it the variety of beers coming out of Hammerton has moved up a notch. On a recent visit to the brewery’s excellent Tap Room there were nine beers on tap, which covered a broad spectrum of flavours and styles.
Notable were the Belgian style wheat beer Blanche (infused with coriander, orange and ginger), the imperial IPA N7.7 – a souped-up version of N7, and the very individual Chicha Pale v3.0.
The latter was brewed on the brewery’s pilot kit, which produces a mere 60 litres, which must make Hammerton’s Pilot Series beers about as exclusive as it gets. The Chicha beer was brewed with South American black corn and tastes incredibly similar to a bowl of strawberries and cream, with an impressive amount of flavour packed into an ABV of only 4.1%.
The only trouble with the Tap Room is that its opening times are limited to the last Friday and Saturday of each month as more frequent hours would undoubtedly obstruct production on the site. The beauty of the Tap Room is its relaxed atmosphere and this surely stems from the easygoing style of Lee and his clear passion for the job.
Thankfully for drinkers this combination comes through in the quality and drinkability of the beers that are now flowing out of Hammerton Brewery.
Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider