No trouble brewing for Redbridge pair with thirst for ale
- Credit: Archant
»It was over a pint of Guinness in Ilford that two childhood friends made the daring but exciting decision to open their own brewery after growing bored with drinking the same beers.
Chris Penny and Gavin Happé, by day an accountant and a solicitor respectively, wanted an escape from their nine-to-five jobs, so following 18 months of hard work and fundraising, they opened The Ha’penny Brewery.
After finding the perfect spot at Aldborough Hall Farm, Aldborough Road North, Aldborough Hatch, “one of the last corners of rural calm” in east London, the friends started brewing in 2009.
Real ale enthusiasts Chris, of Quebec Road, Newbury Park, and Gavin, of Argyle Road, Ilford, had been home brewing for six years when they decided to take their hobby up to the next level.
Having leased a former stable block previously used as a commercial pottery, they worked hard to lovingly restore the building and prepare the way for the installation of a 5.5-barrel brewery.
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What to many is a pipe dream became a reality for the 33-year-olds, who both grew up in Redbridge.
Gavin said: “I had been visiting the farm since I was a little boy as my grandad kept his racing pigeons there.
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“So when we started talking about setting up a brewery, I knew the perfect place.
“We were bored of drinking the same ales and thought we could do better.”
Chris and Gavin, who first met while attending Seven Kings High School, Ley Street, Seven Kings, began producing their first ale, Sixteen-String Jack, nearly four years ago.
Gavin said: “When we first told people we were going to set up a brewery, all they could say was ‘wow’; they thought it was a wonderful idea.”
Chris added: “When we started brewing, we were the third microbrewery to open in London. Now there are around 40.”
According to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), in 2010 there were more than 600 microbreweries across the UK, with more opening each year as drinkers seek a more local and interesting pint, a feeling that has been reflected in the friends’ success.
The pair, who spend hours trying out new formulas, admit that the hardest part was spending countless days and nights restoring the building, which needed a new roof and floor.
Gavin said: “It was very physically demanding, and when we decided to upscale we had to do it all over again. We’d like to try out different ales, and be a bit more experimental with flavours and market it locally.
“We are hoping to start offering bottled beers soon too, so we can trade all year.”
To cover the start-up costs for the brewery, which was a former safe-house used by local highwayman Dick Turpin, the friends organised the Aldborough Hall Farm Beer Festival in 2007, which drew about 2,000 visitors.
Following the success, the festival ran for three years in a row, attracting people to try out different producers.
Gavin, whose mother acquired a taste for ale when the brewery opened, said: “The festivals have been the highlight for me. Seeing a field full of people at an event we’d organised was really something.
Chris said: “To see all the hard work pay off was incredible. To feel the exciting atmosphere and to see that everyone is enjoying your ales is a very good feeling.
“All the ales we produce are also named after the great, the good, the notorious and the legendary from London, which gets conversation started.”
They currently sell a range of ales, including Gog Magog and London Stone, at The Cuckfield pub, in High Street, Wanstead, as well as in a chain of pubs in the West End.
Chris said: “When we first started trying to sell what we’d made, people were very slow on the uptake, but now more and more pubs are starting to jump on board.”
Gavin said: “Lager sales are now in decline while ales are up. People seem to want to buy locally produced ales more and more.”
“Once Mitchells & Butlers came on board it was great and we knew we’d done something right. It was quite life affirming.”
Chris added: “It was brilliant to see something that was a personal interest for us come together. Having the brewery is one of the best things I have done – everyone loves coming down here.”
The pair admit to making a few mistakes over the years but maintain that most of their brews have been well received and there have been no major disasters.
Gavin said: “We have very administrative jobs, so it is nice to get our hands dirty and do something different. It gives us both an excitement we wouldn’t normally have.
Chris joked: “If Gavin has a good day, someone goes to prison, but my job is a lot less exciting.”
The dedicated pair say their families have been very understanding about the time they spend at Ha’penny, but Chris added: “Gavin gets to escape a little more now he has a one-year-old daughter.”
To find out more about The Ha’penny Brewery visit www.hapenny-brewing.co.uk.