Why? A no-frills sliver of a boozer, it was one of the first of the capital’s current breed to strip its decor right back, take no credit cards, play vinyl only, and serve a rotating selection of small-batch beers and ciders, along with hog roast baps. This was all in the late noughties – and it’s still going strong.
The pioneering pub was such a hit – in fact, subsequently winning nearly every award going – that the owners have expanded their “portfolio” (is that the right word?) recently. Snapping up the cash cow that is Joe’s Bar on Chalk Farm Road, bang opposite the Roundhouse, they then moved their sights east to Hackney, opening the Cock Tavern on Mare Street, in a similar vein to the Southampton.
Except with one difference: they began to brew over 100 different beers in its basement. And so Howling Hops was born. “And yet trying to keep up with demand in the tiny underground ‘brew cave’ was never going to last, however,” sighs head honcho Ash.
What did the team do to resolve the situation? Only scout about for a bit – and bag themselves a whopping new brewery in an old brick warehouse in Hackney Wick. What’s more, it’s right next to Crate, the destination on the waterfront that’s long ruled the area’s scene.
“The new brewery offers around twenty times more brewing capacity.” Ash says. “There’s space to bottle and a licensed tank bar so the beer can be enjoyed at source.”
Calling it the UK’s first dedicated tank bar means that rather than serving cask, keg or bottle, the juice comes directly from the brewery. In this case, ten tanks serve ten different beers, from smoked porter to riding ale, behind a ten-metre long bar (it really is all the tens). We tasted a couple – and the pale ale particularly was right up our alley.So why Hackney Wick? “It’s a vibrant area with a great local community,” he says. “And quite unique architecturally and creatively from most other areas of London. We’d been looking for a space for a while, and then someone phoned up and said they had the perfect place in Hackney Wick but it would need a bit of work. Almost a year later we finally brewed our first beer.”
They’re not shouting about it yet, partly because “we’re still finding our feet and getting the beers the way we want them, but also because we love the idea of people just discovering it by chance”.
So there you go: we’re not shouting about it either – but thought you might like to know it exists. That is, if you’re not already regulars. Hic.