There’s a lot been said about the decline of that great institution, the British pub. But craft brewery Late Knights has flown in the face of drinker apathy and piqued a renewed interest in sinking a few down at the local. Welcome to their hoppy London empire…
Penge craft brewery Late Knights brewed its first pint (an easy-drinking pale ale called Crack of Dawn, swiftly followed by their popular Worm Catcher IPA – see what they did there?) in April 2013. The same week they opened a three-month pop-up on Gipsy Hill. In a short space of time they’ve stormed the South London beer scene, notching up bijoux hostelries at Peckham and Brockley, switching to a permanent site in Gipsy Hill and spreading to Islington, Crouch Hill, Brighton and Ramsgate. By the end of 2015 they hope to have added Sydenham, Carshalton Beeches and Penge to the list of locations of their friendly ale houses.
The brewery’s founder, Steve Keegan, looks as surprised as anyone as he surveys the piles of brewing paraphernalia that surround him in the backstreet Penge brewery, a former slaughterhouse that’s an ongoing renovation project. Or maybe it’s just exhaustion. Among the many new openings and side projects are several local collaborations – most recently with Herne Hill’s Bullfinch Brewery and local blogger Deserter – and sponsorship of local football team Dulwich Hamlet (an honour they won in a raffle), not to mention producing around 100 casks of damn fine ale a week.
‘We may look like a ramshackle company,’ says Steve, ‘but in the last year or so, we’ve got ourselves really bloody organised.’ Don’t be fooled, though. This is no bunch of amateurs who’ve jacked in City careers to pursue a dream. Steve has been working in pubs since he was 14, and the rest of his team come with similar levels of expertise. ‘The reason we’re called Late Knights is because it was my night job. I’d finish work on Friday, drive up to Middlesbrough and brew with a friend of mine who’s got his own brewery.
‘It was serendipity that a guy called Graham Lawrence who owns Mr Lawrence Wine Bar in Brockley offered us the use of this place, just round the corner from my house. We took some old milking equipment and turned it into brewing equipment. I brewed in the daytime and me and my girlfriend served in the Gipsy Hill pub at night.’
In a city swimming in craft breweries, Late Knights stands out for its bare-bones interiors and unpretentious community appeal. ‘I grew up in pubs in Middlesbrough and Newcastle,’ says Steve, ‘and for all their downfalls, there’s also a sense of belonging. So many customers are trying to find that. When you get a 75-year-old bloke and kids with beards and skinny jeans drinking in the same place, that’s wicked.’
The London Beer Dispensary, 389 Brockley Road SE4, lateknightsbrewery.co.uk
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Photo: Sam Christmas