This is the story of Pete Brown and Forest Road Brewery. It begins as a one-man mission that arrives a frat party and becomes an adventure buddy movie. It jumps between America, London and Belgium.
There’s chance and determination, science and creativity. There’s skateboarding scientists, brewers and beer salesmen (all played by the same guy). Jack Whitehall has a cameo. And it’s all for perfect beer and a helluva good time. This is the story of Forest Road’s WORK, self-proclaimed as ‘London’s fastest-growing pale ale.'
Pete’s Red Sox hat and pronunciation of ‘bee-ah’ make his Boston origins obvious. In 2008, living in an apartment in New York City, he started home-brewing while working in a craft beer bar. From there he moved to Denver and got his first professional job at Wynkoop Brewery. His then-girlfriend wanted to move to Europe and in 2012 they arrived in London, with Pete briefly working at London Fields Brewery before moving to Camden Town Brewery, where he made beer for three years while also studying biochemistry. By the beginning of 2016, after a stint at Siren Brewery, he had his own London brewing company. And that all started when Pete found himself needing a new home.
But not just any home. Pete needed a house with a garden so that, very importantly, he could brew beer in it. He searched on Spareroom.com and found a place with four other guys in Forest Road, Hackney.
“I showed up with beer, said ‘I’m a brewer!’ and they’re like, yeah, sweet!” he says. The first weekend, just an hour after meeting the housemates properly for the first time, he and one of the guys, Freddie, both “had spread sheets open doing the math on the initial sums needed for the capital to build a brewery.” Things moved quickly.
Along with Freddie, their housemates Marcus and Joss all help where they can. “Because of that house, because of the way it started, they’re involved emotionally. They all want it to work.” Freddie’s production company made a film about the brewery and Mark made the website. They even roped in their mate Jack Whitehall, who the lads went to school with, to do the voiceover for the film: “Jack loves WORK, man! We have a kegerator at his house with WORK on draft!” (because, Pete adds, “that’s what you do when you have a brewing company!”)
The fun and friendship side of the brewing industry is clear to see and Forest Road is built on WORK to help people play. Yet it’s all underpinned by a single-minded desire to brew the best-tasting beer possible. But that part caused Pete some problems because he didn’t have a brewery.
“As someone who cares desperately about consistent product and doing it in the right way efficiently, the capital that you need to start a plant in London is a lot,” he says. “I want to do it right. And that takes a lot of money.” His best opening option was to find an existing brewery where he could make the beer.
“I started reaching out to breweries about where I could brew in the UK,” he says. “I talked to maybe 15, 16, 17, 18 breweries in the UK and they all got back to me and couldn’t do it exactly the way I designed the recipe.” The thing with Pete is that he is incredibly precise with his beer. “I didn’t want to get into the game because I want to sell something just because I’ve been to brewing school. I want to brew my beer. So when a guy gets back to me and says we can do it but we can’t use your yeast strain and we can’t measure the total packed oxygen in your product, I’m not going to give you money.” He’s fastidious about his brewsheets and knowing precise values for every single measurable parameter in his beer – quality matters. That’s when an unlikely meeting came with a 500-year-old Belgian family brewer.
“The Belgian’s know exactly what they’re doing. The head brewer looked at [my brewsheet] and said ‘yep, we can do it.’” He found his brewery. But it didn’t start without a stutter.
“No way did I ever plan on importing beer across international borders. It’s not fun,” he says. “The first truck left empty-handed. I paid for a truck to come with no beer in because Belgian authorities wouldn’t dispatch it. Absolute nightmare… But I made the beer I designed and I got it in eventually.”
WORK is somewhere between a Pale Ale and an IPA, but that’s not necessarily important. The name was one of many four-letter words which Pete was toying with. “I wanted [the name] to have nothing to do with the style of the beer because I want your experience to dictate how much you like it. I’m not trying to cling onto other people because pale is a popular style. I want it to work for itself.” Knowing Pete’s attention to detail, it’s good to look closer at WORK.
“I believe in malt – there’s six different grains in my beer.” The yeast strain doesn’t exist commercially. Pete likes it because “it imparts a nice soft pitted fruit ester which enhances the hops that I use.” And the hops are interesting, too: “I like low bitterness at the beginning. I first wort hop it and then don’t touch it. I used to like really bitter beers – too bitter beers – but now I really like to have just a small amount of bitterness. I like it to be smooth.” The grain, hops and yeast all contribute to that and it’s a great beer; the kind of flagship beer to build a brewery on. And so far it’s the only Forest Road beer.
So what happens after WORK? “Other beers are coming!” he says, but he’s in no hurry. “Potentially our next core beer is coming next spring or summer.” In Belgium he’s brewing 15,000 litres at a time, which is a significant volume to brew, store and sell. “I’m planning on doing a couple of small-batch things here [in Britain],” but for now “all my focus is on making WORK great.” If Forest Road only make WORK for 18-months then that’s not a problem for Pete. If anything, that’s a good thing – it means that one beer will be exactly as Pete wants it to be.
Pete’s job is the brewer, the lab technician, the salesman, the marketing department, the tech support in pubs and the brand’s frontman. He has help with the accounts, has a guy on deliveries, and has a sales guy, plus his housemates, but otherwise it’s him. And he does it all with insane energy, skateboarding between bars, always dressed in Forest Road gear.
As of September 2016, Forest Road has a new HQ in Hackney, taking over a railway arch next to Netil Market. It’s going to be beer storage, offices and a tap room, which is open weekends pouring WORK and favourite guest beer, including some from the brewery where he makes his beer in Belgium.
Pete’s also looking at potential spaces between Shoreditch and Stratford to build a full brewery, with a 40 hectolitre brewhouse already costed up. He’s making it happen. He’s gone from brewing in his garden to making ‘London’s fastest-growing pale ale.’ That might be self-professed but the amount he’s making and selling could certainly claim that with authority.
We’re still right at the beginning of Forest Road’s story. There’s a lot more WORK to come. And a lot more fun.