Following a dream often requires sacrifices, and the young Italians behind Brewheadz have sacrificed more than most in pursuit of opening a brewery. To finance the cost of their four-barrel kit and eight-barrel fermenters, the four friends all moved into a one bedroom flat in Angel, brewing in the kitchen and taking it in turns to sleep on the floor. “We didn’t have that much money,” head brewer Gianni Rotunno recalls, “we needed to make that sacrifice… we’re still living there, although just two of us now!”
It’s been quite a journey for Gianni, who couldn’t even speak English when he moved from Fondi, a municipality between Rome and Naples, to London ten years ago to study business management. After making the Wenlock Arms near Old Street his local, Gianni fell in love with beer on a trip to CAMRA’s Great British Beer Festival in 2007. “I just went mad for it,” he says, “without speaking English I was just going around asking for ‘hops, hops, hops.’”
Inspired by the beers he tried at GBBF, and a bottle of punk IPA from the then-newly formed Brewdog, Gianni enrolled in a Masters in Brewing & Distilling at the famous Herriot Watt University in Scotland. One by one, his friends became to come to London, and he proceeded to “infect them” with his passion, eventually convincing them they should set up a micro-brewery together.
“We were brewing every week in our small flat. We decided to move from brewing different recipes to just three recipes. It was pretty boring but we just wanted to make sure what we were making was consistent.”
Once the four friends had secured a site in Tottenham Hale, just a stone’s throw from Beavertown, One Mile End and Redemption breweries, those three recipes were scaled up, and released into the market at the end of last year.
“The reason why we’re just making three beers now is because we wanted to go out into and test the market, and get our name out there,” Gianni explains. “We have other recipes already done; I work on recipes all the time on my homebrew kit. We want to put out a Black IPA and a session IPA in a few months, then we want to start to do sours as well.”
At present, Brewheadz range is made up of Electrobeat, a 5.4 per cent American pale ale that Gianni describes as a “low bitterness, juicy and hop-forward beer that is easy to drink”, Fired Up Donkey, an aggressive 6.6 per cent rye IPA, and Kitchen Porter, a 5.2 per cent chocolate porter.
“Porter is a classic London style, and we wanted to pay tribute to that,” Gianni says, “the reason it is called Kitchen Porter is because when we started out all of us used to work in some kitchen or another!”
Despite being taken with the culture and history of British brewing, Brewheadz remain firmly proud of their Italian heritage. On the day of our visit, the four friends are excitedly opening a care-package sent by Gianni and Stefano’s parents, and insist we try the Grappin and Olives produced on their farm back home. The brewery also plans to pay tribute to their roots by producing a beer using ingredients sourced entirely from Italy in the near future.
Set up alongside such esteemed company as Beavertown and One Mile End in Tottenham, it would be easy for Brewheadz to feel daunted. However, their neighbours have been nothing but helpful, according to Gianni. “We were a bit scared when we first decided to move here,” he says, “but straightaway Simon from One Mile End was really helpful. He talked to a local newspaper saying he was hoping we would open a taproom to attract more people to the area. All of them have said ‘if you need any help, or if you run out of ingredients just let us know’, so it’s been pretty great.”
It can be hard to stand out in the increasingly saturated London beer market, but with their distinctive cartoonish branding and colourful bottles, Brewheadz are hard to miss. “Sometimes people have judged us for being too flashy and colourful,” Gianni admits, “l but I don’t really care to be honest. We wanted to do something different.”
In the short tine they have been open, the brewery have certainly made an impression, appearing at Craft Beer Rising and the London Brewers Market, and hosting numerous tap takeovers at Brewdog bars across London. They’ve also recently opened an on-site taproom. For a brewery that is under six months old, their growth has been astonishing, and after tasting their beers, this doesn’t come as a surprise in the slightest.
*This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of Ferment magazine, and has been reproduced here with their permission*