If you’ve ever ordered a pint in East London, you’ve undoubtedly come across The Five Points Brewing Company’s pentagon branding. A brewery with deep roots in Hackney- even taking their moniker from a nearby five way junction- the founders, Edward Mason and Greg Hobbs, both reside in the area. In three and a half years, the brewery’s success has seen it outgrow its Victorian arch underneath the Hackney Downs Overground station. As a consequence, they’ve recently moved staff and distribution to a warehouse located about 20 minutes away by foot on Mare Street. They utilise every iota of the brewery space, including its yard, where three 60 bbl fermenters tower over pallets of barrel kegs.
I was invited to take part in the monthly brewery tour by Doreen Joy Barber, the Five Points’ Community and Marketing Manager, and enthusiastically took up the offer as both a local resident and fan of their beer. Entering the yard at noon on a dreary Saturday, we stepped through the open arch, where we were warmly greeted and encouraged to have a look around. A row of banquet tables were set up in the heart of the brewery and each attendee received a Five Points chalice. In total, we were a group of 23 enthusiastic guests- only four of us had never been on a brewery tour before- and the majority were familiar with the Five Points’ range.
The Pale Ale began flowing as Doreen, Francesca Slattery and Alix Shaw were introduced and their roles explained: Francesca as the Sales Representative with a patent passion for beer and Alix as a self-described Lead Packaging Operative. The team eagerly divulged the specifics of how the brewery supports the local community and how it has gone from strength to strength since brewing its first commercial batch in March 2013.
Doreen outlined their commitment to the area, both locally and through collaboration with other independent breweries; they were the first certified Living Wage brewery in the United Kingdom (thankfully many have followed), all electricity used in the brewing process comes from renewable sources and they curate the seasonal London Brewer’s Market, where small breweries are given the chance to serve alongside more established entities.
Coming back to the beer, the reason that the Pale is the most ubiquitous offering in pubs is because, according to Francesca, it accounts for upwards of 75% of their sales. It was the first beer commercially brewed and is currently one of two beers available in cans, the other being their IPA. And in case you’re interested, the team were resoundingly enthusiastic about the movement towards the more lightweight, portable, safer and discreet vessels for imbibing and hope to focus on more canning in the future.
The popularity of their pale ale isn’t surprising. It’s a juicy, fresh and thirst-quenching beer, using Citra and dry-hopping of Amarillo to deliver glorious citrus aromas and a well-balanced bitterness. Paired with an ABV of 4.4%, this is the ideal afternoon summer beverage. The original core range was rounded off with Hook Island Red, a red rye ale, and their Railway Porter.
Curiously, Five Points didn’t launch their Five Points IPA until late 2014. Doreen explained that this was due to the brewery’s unwavering commitment to the production of consistent and perfected recipes. They didn’t opt to merely imitate a typical American style IPA. Instead, they circumvented an aggressive hop-forward assault on the palate in favour of a rounded, highly palatable beer. This is achieved with tropical notes from Galaxy hops and citrus character from Cascade, followed by a pleasant bitterness to finish. It’s highly quaffable character makes it surprising that it carries an ABV of 7.1%.
The Railway Porter is the brewery’s second biggest seller and Doreen highlighted that its recipe has remained the most unchanged over time. It uses all British malts- seven in total- and East Kent Golding hops. She also crowed that the Railway Porter is the most highly regarded of the Five Points range according to the punters on ratebeer.com, currently standing at 92. Like the London Smoke, used by local vendors Yard Sale Pizza to braise their mushrooms on their Mullered Mushroom pizza, the Railway Porter’s rich maltiness marries well with a range of foods.
As we considered each beer in turn, we were provided with approximately half a glass each to swill. Questions were encouraged throughout the two hour tour and Doreen, Francesca and Alix demonstrated exhaustive background knowledge of the company and beer in general. We were whisked around the brewery floor, invited to climb ladders and peer inside a kettle, then to stick our heads inside the mash tun. We became acquainted with the bottling line, a hand-me-down from Beavertown Brewery, which Alix explained could fill up to 2,200 bottles per hour. The canning line can manage up to 3,600 cans per hour and we received an animated demonstration of how the cans slingshot through the machine.
One astute visitor remarked the presence of rows of wooden barrels in the far corner of the brewery. The furtive glances between our guides quickly waned, and a not-so-closely guarded secret was revealed: this was their foray into barrel aging, and their Railway Porter was currently encased inside red wine barrels. Already matured for eight months, this was a test batch to be blended. This will perhaps appear as a limited batch- or merely kept for the office Christmas party.
In addition to their experimentation with barrel aging, Five Points have launched three seasonal beers this year- this demonstrates their confidence to finally veer from their rock solid core range. While these were not available to sample on the tour, we were directed towards their yard party happening the same day, a new monthly event held on the warehouse premises.
By the end of the afternoon, I had bulldozed through the entire Five Points catalogue, including the Yard Party Pils, the brewery’s inaugural lager, the special edition Ten Points Extra Pale, brewed to mark the Field Day’s tenth anniversary and only available in pubs local to the area, and the Brick Field Brown, a silky-smooth brown ale. The brewery tour was an edifying insight into how another independent London brewery quickly outgrew its confines and made its mark as an institution proffering a seminal range of beers. Lasting two hours, guests tried five beers, gazed inside the metal belly of the mash tun and were regaled with the history and legacy of the Five Points Brewing Company directly from the staff.
The highlight of the tour was the lasting impression that Five Points have their sights firmly set on being more innovative and visible on the market in the coming months; there’s a lot going on in the pipeline with the brewery and with their reputation for never jumping the gun, you know that the future is as bright as their beer.
I was invited into the brewery by The Five Points Brewing Company, but all opinions expressed are my own.
Photographs by @jack_dougherty.