Forest Road Brewing Co. isn’t your typical London brewery. While most of the capital’s emerging small brewers produce small quantities of a wide range of beers on tiny, cramped kits on industrial estates, Forest Road’s head-brewer Pete Brown heads out to Belgium every couple of months to brew 15,000 litres of Work, the brewery’s signature 5.4 per cent ale, at the family-owned Brouwerij Van Eecke in Flanders. Pete began homebrewing in New York city back in 2008, and since then the jovial American has amassed over seven years of experience brewing at four international breweries including Siren and Camden. Whilst at Siren, Pete moved into a house on Forest Road in Hackney, and after several successful homebrews, he quickly convinced his housemates they should set up a brewery.
“To build the kind of brewery I wanted to build I needed a shit load of money that I didn’t have,” Pete explains over a pint of Work in The Prince Arthur, a few doors down from the Forest Road flat where the beer was born. “I hit up some guys around the UK saying ‘I want to brew this much beer, this is how I want to do it, this how I want it packaged,’ but the only people who got back to me were people saying ‘we can do it but we can only do cask’ or ‘we can do it but we can’t use your yeast strain’ or whatever. I wasn’t in this to make money, I wanted to brew my fucking beer the way I wanted to.”
Frustrated, Pete turned to Belgium, and managed to convince an old family run brewery in Flanders to allow him to brew on their kit. “I went over on a complete whim to this old brewery and had this meeting with these Flemish guys… they’re not a contract brewery; I was the first person that had ever brewed on their kit that wasn’t part of the family since they opened in 1624.”
While some UK breweries are content to contract out their brewing to Belgium and import the finished product, Pete insists on being involved with every stage of the process. “It’s not like I go over there and its all set up for me,” he says. “I have to source the malt, the hops the yeast – I get my yeast from Copenhagen. It has to get there, we have to propagate it three days before we brew; all this shit needs to be done before we can brew.”
The first brew wasn’t without a few hitches along the way. Two weeks before he was scheduled to go out to Belgium, Pete received a call from the Van Eecke brewery informing him they’d been unable to source the hops he needed. After begging, stealing and borrowing Chinook, Equinox and Mosaic hops from friends in the industry, he headed out to Flandres in November 2015 to brew 150 hectolitres of Work, listing his flat as the delivery address because the brewery didn’t own anywhere to store the beer at the time.
The resulting beer arrived in the UK in February 2016, and three more batches have been brewed since, with Pete heading out to brew a fourth this month. An unfiltered, hoppy ale, low in bitternes but big in flavour, Work certainly doesn’t appear to have suffered from traveling across borders. “There’s no oxygen inclusion, its unfiltered, everything is done the way we want to do it,” Pete says proudly. “I want it to speak for itself. There’s nothing on the bottle about what kind of beer it is. As an American I don’t like seeing mediocre beers being marketed as American pale ales. It drives me nuts. Why is it called American pale ale, just because you used American hops?”
“I don’t put bullshit in my beer, and I don’t do gimmicks. If you want to get fruit flavours out of a beer they should come from the hops, it’s not about putting raspberries in it or any of that shit.”
Of course, Pete doesn’t intend to brew in Belgium forever. The brewery already has a storage unit and bar in Hackney, and has put in an offer for a brewery site “on the river.” In-between prank calling neighbouring Five Points and playing with his one-year old rescue dog Cassie, Pete excitedly tells me that Forest Road are planning to open “the UK’s most sustainable brewery,” in the next year.
“We want be ahead of the curve,” he explains, “we want to do things right, even at a greater cost up front. At the moment people are just dumping shit down the drain and burning electricity. Our kit will be very efficient. It really is amazing.”
“We’re going to build a fucking sweet 25 hectolitre kit in the centre of London. It’ll be London’s most advanced kit – nobody that will have a better kit than us.”
*This article originally appeared in Issue 12 of Ferment magazine, and has been reproduced here with their permission*