East Croydon Cool talks…Taprooms

East Croydon Cool talks…is a blog series that explores topics of cultural interest via local area experts. With summer fast approaching, we can almost smell the beer in the air – although London’s pub gardens have had a bit more competition in recent years…

The huge growth of the craft beer scene has led to an increase in London breweries offering Taprooms – dedicated areas within their premises where people can enjoy a pint “fresh from the tank”.

In 2011, when the first edition of ‘London’s Best Beer, Pubs and Bars guide’ was published, there were only 13 breweries listed – fast forward to 2021, and there are now around 130 (and counting!) breweries in the UK’s Capital, many of which have their own taproom.

Here in Croydon, we are lucky to have several brewers in our local vicinity including Anspach and Hopday, The Cronx Brewery and Signal Brewery and Taproom.

This Saturday, marks the kick off of the Summer season at Signal’s Taproom so we caught up with Charlie – the Managing Director – to learn more over one of their freshly poured beers…

First off how did you get into the brewery business?
Hello, thanks for having me. I got into brewing in 2016 after a chance conversation with another dad at the school gates! Murray had started brewing from his garden shed in CR0 so I headed down for a lager tasting. His kids were constantly trying to commandeer the space as their play area, which his wife felt was a “signal” that commercial premises were now needed. And so, having been impressed by the kit (and product!), I then spent 6 months researching how to take the business forward. My background is in finance (Charlie ran his own business in the financial trading world) but I had successfully completed all my wine exams so felt I had a decent palate. More importantly, as a long-standing beer lover, I was hugely excited to help pioneer a natural production process and to start making tasty beers that were lightly carbonated rather than gassy!

What made you set up in Croydon?
We’re actually in Sutton – right on the Croydon boundary (with a CR0 postcode!) so I hope we qualify as East Croydon Cool?!  Croydon was an obvious choice, as this is where Signal first started (in its very early iteration!). But ultimately, being near Croydon always made sense because it was the second biggest borough in London, the brewing space was competitively priced and we found a patient and accommodating landlord!  Brewing paraphernalia ‘sprawls’ as you grow and we needed somewhere we could expand into.  We love Croydon, have lots of clients there and support the borough and the local community whenever we are able to.

What are the key revenue streams for Signal Brewery business?
The majority of our revenue comes from selling into independent venues, pub chains and sports clubs.  We have fostered great relationships and are indebted to those who have stuck with us through thick and thin.  When Covid hit we diversified quickly into contract brewing and packaging for other breweries which really helped and also taught us a lot.  We are now a ‘SALSA’ registered business (SALSA is a food-safety standard designed specifically with small and micro producers in mind and written by experienced food safety experts to reflect both the legal requirements of producers and the enhanced expectations of professional food buyers). We also have Cloud Nine (our bar-cafe at The 02), our Taproom and a growing Beer Subscription business.

How big is the team?
A great mix of 8 Full-timers; 3 in production, 2 in sales, 1 in admin, 1 in data management/alchemy, and me! Check out their happy little faces here 😉  We also have 7 part-timers spread across the Taproom, Cloud Nine at The 02 and all being well, further venues to come. 

How many beers do you make – and which is your favourite? 
7 in total which you can see HERE. We have 3 Core keg beers:  a Lager, a Pale Ale and a big hoppy IPA called Turbo Joost. We also produce 3 cask ales and a delicious rice beer.  Everything is in the 4-5.5% range. The Lager is my personal favourite because it was the first beer we ever made so it’s a nostalgia thing.  It is also by far the most popular beer in our portfolio. 

What is the beer making process?
We steep (soak) malted barley and other grains in 75 degree water then flush the resulting ‘mash’ with more hot water. The starches in the grains turn to sugars, then we boil everything up to 100 degrees, flavour with hops, throw in some yeast and the fermentation process will follow. Easy, right?!  We then condition the beers and gently carbonate them ready for packaging.  All of our beers are made naturally with no nasties.  If anyone reading this would like to see a day at the brewery, then we would invite them to come and help out on a brew day, via team@signalbeerco.com.

Tell us more about your Taproom?
Our beers taste great everywhere – but nothing quite beats the feeling of a fresh pint surrounded by the steel tanks it’s been brewed in. We’ve been opening up the Taproom on sunny days since April but this Saturday marks the start of the summer season – when we’ll be opening up on Friday afternoons (from 4pm til 6pm) and Saturday afternoons (from 1pm to 7pm) come rain or shine!  We’re based on an industrial site – so if you’re after countryside views, this isn’t the drinking spot for you, but if a more “authentic” experience is your thing, step this way. The Taproom, isn’t just for beer lovers either – we also produce gin, vodka and rum offsite which we serve alongside a selection of wines, soft drinks and nibbles. There’s something for everyone! It’s a great atmosphere – and in addition to darts and table tennis, this summer we’ll also have occasional DJs and sports screenings. Keep an eye on our social feeds to find out more!

How did you manage/pivot during the pandemic?
The uncertainty for brewing and the pub world was unnerving.   No one knew when things might open up again and a lot of beer was spoiled.  Online sales and home deliveries increased by 12x for us and we embarked upon some contract brewing to make up for reduced revenues.  Our clients have been immensely loyal and we have come through the hiatus stronger and more experienced. 

What steps are you taking to help be more environmentally conscious?
This is hugely important to us and we do our utmost. We re-use our water during the brewing process and all of our packaging is recyclable (cans and card especially). We will soon be assessed by an independent company for our carbon footprint.  We realise that it will not be perfect yet aim to be as sustainable and as socially responsible as possible.

There’s been some negative press in recent years surrounding the culture within the beer industry – any thoughts?
The craft beer world is in a parabolic growth stage and long may this continue.  The industry, like many others, has experienced some issues in recent years that are now thankfully being addressed in earnest. Overall, the craft beer world is immensely welcoming and inclusive we love being a part of it. Our Taproom offers a warm welcome to all – come join us to experience it for yourself (and if you quote ‘East Croydon Cool’ when ordering this Saturday, we’ll even give you 15% off your drinks!)

To find out more about Signal Brewery CLICK HERE (or book a table at the Taproom for this Saturday or any future summer dates CLICK HERE).

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