It may only be 7:45am but the sun is blazing as I make my way to a small industrial estate just outside the centre of Tooting, South London. I’m en route to the home of By The Horns Brewing Co. to chat with co-founders
Alex Bull and Chris Mills and see how Kokomo – one of Flavourly’s new-and-exclusive Crowdsourced Collaborations – is made. Why don’t you join me?
As I approach the bright blue painted building, I’m greeted at the door by Chris who welcomes me to London and offers to give me the tour. What began as one small unit which housed their brew kit has grown with demand for their beer, with By The Horns now occupying four units within the estate. We head inside the original unit that the guys took on back in 2011 and I’m immediately hit with that glorious, sweet smell of the mash – the brew day has begun.
The newest member of the By The Horns team, Tom, is the on the brewery floor, mashing in and getting the latest batch of Kokomo underway. It’s exciting to see how the beer that make its way into those beautiful wee cans – then the fridges and mouths of thousands of craft beer fans up-and-down the country – comes to life. It truly is a hands-on,
manual process with Tom stirring away at the grains as they begin their journey to beer.
Chris takes me round the entire brewery and taproom, and it’s hard to think that not so long ago By The Horns was running entirely out of one small space. We move from the brewhouse to the on-site taproom (which you should visit if you get the chance!), to their cold storage facilities and onto the area which houses their fermenters and new canning line; each unit is packed to the rafters, quite literally in some cases as I stand beneath a mountain of Fresh Tracks at least twice my height.
Success and demand has seen Chris and Alex have to squeeze every last drop of potential out of the space available to them, sometimes manifesting itself in unusual – but highly effective – ways. Chris smiles as he explains how they load the grist into their mash tun: through a hole in the ceiling from the floor above!
With the tour, and the day’s first cup of coffee, under our belts, Chris and I head upstairs to meet his fellow co-founder Alex to talk how the By The Horns story began, and just how far they’ve come.
“We met each other at Bath University where we were both studying in 2004,” Chris begins. “At that point, craft beer was something we hadn’t really heard of.” It wasn’t until the pair found themselves in America post-university that the idea of better beer even came onto their radar.
“Chris was in Whistler for a bit, I spent some time in Northern California then Whistler as well,” Alex continues. “There, we were exposed to the other side of brewing from your commercial lagers. Sierra Nevada was the first real craft beer I had – probably the same as loads of other people – back in 2007 or 2008.
“We both got a bit of a flavour for what else you could drink in a pub other than your straight-up lager or standard British ale.”
Chris goes on: “There was a brewpub in Whistler so, whenever we had enough money, we’d go in and sample IPAs and different kinds of stouts and see where it’s brewed. We thought this is amazing, we have nothing like this back in the UK. Not that we were aware of, anyway.”
On returning to the UK, getting “proper jobs” and living in London, the duo began seeking out beer that matched what they had been drinking in the states. Their weekends usually consisted of hitting up beer festivals but, back then, these were made up of traditional cask ales and not the craft beer they’d been trying in America.
“We saw that there was the American craft beer angle and the British side of things, then a void
in the middle that we felt needed filling,” Alex tells me. “We were going to bottle shops and seeing all the American beers that were being imported. We were trying all these new, fun things and hops you hadn’t tried before. That inspired me to start homebrewing.”
From there, it wasn’t long before it dawned on the pair that the quality and flavour of their homebrews actually exceeded what they were drinking elsewhere.
Alex goes on: “We went to a bad festival, were drinking bad beers and thought you know what, why don’t we start a brewery?”
This is a common origin story for craft breweries all over the country these days but, almost a decade ago, this was somewhat pioneering thinking. As Alex says: “In London, at the time, there was less than ten breweries. It kind of clicked as being a bit of no-brainer. We make great homebrewed beer, let’s look into opening something commercially.
“We cobbled together a bit of a shoestring business, real grassroots business. We put it together to see where it’d go. Within a few months of doing that, we’d jacked in the jobs and started it full-time.”
Since their first beer – Stiff Upper Lip, a pale ale originally made for local cask lines – By The Horns has gone from strength-to-strength as a brewery. They’ve scaled up, grown the team and installed additional brew kit all to meet demand for their beer. They’ve developed a wicked core range while continually pushing the boundaries with new-and-exciting special releases.
Just as vital, though, as Chris stresses to me numerous times throughout my visit, has been their focus on implementing world-class brewing processes to improve the quality and consistency of their product. They’ve even brought in their own in-house canning line to give them total control over every stage of the process, and it really shows in the quality of beer coming out of the brewhouse.
The next stage in the By The Horn journey is one that Flavourly will be going along for the ride on. We are thrilled to have them on board as our latest Crowdsourced Collaboration partner and are even more thrilled by the four exclusive craft beers we’ve developed together.
Once again utilising real customer reviews, ratings and feedback, we went to By The Horns with the beer styles our community of beer lovers wanted to drink and left them to work their magic; the beers they’ve developed have exceeded all expectations.
First up there’s Doozie, By The Horn’s take on the modern classic Session IPA style; plenty of hop flavour yet enough bitterness to balance the profile, all brewed to a low 4.2% abv. It’s both sessionable and packing flavour.
Next up is Fresh Tracks, a clean and fresh pilsner-style lager. It’s got an underlying balance of light biscuity malt with just the right amount German hops.
Of course, there’s Kokomo. A tropical, American-hopped pale ale conditioned with passion fruit and grapefruit. Alex explains how they tried to find the perfect balance of fruitiness that wouldn’t overpower everything; we think they nailed it.
Then there’s the beer that has caused the most buzz in the Flavourly office: Levitate. By The Horns describe it as the type of beer that “got us into American craft beer back in 2008, an old-school West Coast American take on an English pale ale.” It’s an accurate description. Levitate has a full-bodied, sweet malt character that gives way to beautiful hops offering orange, light spice and citrus notes. It’s a big complex beer which offers a lot for 5.0% ABV.
“By The Horns and Flavourly feels like a perfect fit.”
They’re everything we love about modern craft beer. Their core range of beers are balanced and drinkable. Their experimental beers are always delicious and interesting. And their
focus on consistent quality is just so important.
Plus, the crowdsourced nature of these recipes fits exactly with the By The Horns approach to brewing. While discussing the beers they’ve produced over the years, both Chris and Alex constantly talk about the people drinking their beers, considering format, location, time of year and more. They’ve always made beers that people wanted to drink. This is just taking it to the next level.
I head back down to the brewery floor just in time for the hot break and the first hop addition of the day – Summit and Cascade for bittering – and continue to take in the labour of love that goes into each and every batch of these Crowdsourced Collaboration beers. The team at By The Horns have put so much thought into each recipe, so much effort into each brew day.
This becomes especially apparent as I chat with brewer Tom who explains how they add the passion fruit and grapefruit to the beer. The process includes allowing the beer to ferment, conditioning it for three days, fining it and only after this do they add in the fruit to make sure no flavour is lost. This is just one example of the level of detail these guys take into account.
As I leave the brewery and head back into the scorching, South London sun, I come away with a sense of excitement; Chris and Alex both expressed that they have no intentions of standing still. They want the By The Horns Brewing Co. to keep growing, innovating and producing outstanding beer. Flavourly is thrilled to be one small part of that next step and I, personally, can’t wait to see what they do next.