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The Crate leadership:  (from left) founders Tom Seaton, Jess Seaton and Neil Hinchley

FEATURE: Crate Brewery at home in London E9

Step out of Hackney Wick station and you’re in gentrification’s waiting room, a land of concrete and graffiti that people just seem to be hurriedly passing through, a corner of London in transition between slum and bohemia.

Turn sharp left and you’ve found Crate Brewery, occupying two sides of a small industrial estate that encircles a car park. The beer is made, stored and packaged down the long left-hand side and at the back, beside the canal, is what they call the White Building, housing the tap room and offices.

This is where much of the £1 million Crate Brewery has crowdfunded this year through the businessagent.com platform will be going. In September Brighton restaurant Silo will be moving in upstairs and a new microbrewery will later be installed alongside the bar downstairs, creating what promises to be a compelling new destination for the capital.

Crate was born seven years ago. Tom and Jess Seaton, who are brother and sister, ran a café in Hackney before a third partner, Neil Hinchley, joined them to launch a brewery and bar in the White Building, where tables spill out onto the canal-side and drinkers are able to relax in a surprisingly bucolic scene.

The formula clicked. The business is now turning over £5 million a year, employing more than 100 staff at peak times in the summer.

As demand for Crate beers grew beyond the tap room a 16-hectolitre brewery was installed across the car park. There are now three brews a day, nudging the brewery up against capacity.

Still, there is space at weekends to clear out the distribution area and convert it into a popular music venue.

This year’s development follows on from a decision made two years ago that Hackney Wick would remain Crate’s permanent home.

“Until then we were on short-term five-year leases but we wanted to make it last,” explained Seaton. “We don’t want to leave here so we secured a 20-year lease with the intention of building a sustainable business that would be a benefit to the community. 

“So we asked ourselves the question, what would that look like?”

The first element of the plan is a five hectolitre brewhouse and six fermenters, to be supplied by Hungary’s Zip Tech, which will replace Crate’s original kit, still hidden away under the stairs.

On view from the bar, it’s twice the capacity and is sophisticated enough to enable Crate’s brewers to experiment and develop new styles.
“We want to make sours and things like that, and the new kit will give us more range on the bar here,” said Seaton. “We’ve only 10 lines now but we’ll have at least 20 after the refurbishment.”

While upstairs Crate will be partnering famed zero-waste restaurant Silo, in a joint venture sharing the profits and also ideas as Silo helps the brewery improve its environmental sustainability and brings rare ingredients to its beer innovation.

“We already have our first collaboration, a Douglas Fir-infused beer,” said Seaton. “It’s, er, quite unusual.

“Having Silo here will also make this place more of a destination,” he went on. “There is a creative, bohemian culture and new flats going up locally will bring thousands of people who will demand more sophisticated neighbourhood dining.

“It will make this a multi-faceted place that fits with the trend towards the experiential in eating and drinking out.”

Canning coming home

The prep kitchen that supplies the tap room’s Neapolitan pizza menu will be moved into the White House from its current home in the main brewery, making way for a canning line later this year.

Canning is currently contracted out to South East Bottling and Them That Can, fulfilling a large order from Tesco supermarkets.

“But we want control,” said Seaton. “Quality is a journey that never ends.”

Until now, the business has been funded by the three founders and from profits. Crowdfunding has been a big learning experience.

Seaton explained, “We’ve not had investors before, and because we’re community-oriented we don’t reach out a lot beyond that. I suppose we’re doers, not sayers. In the past we’ve found we could make stuff happen just by coming up with an idea and doing it.

“But now we’ve raised nearly £1m through shouting louder. We had to tell a story going back 10 years when I started the café here with Jess. We were forced to articulate what we’re doing so people would get behind it, and that’s been helpful to us.”

Indeed, more than 1,300 investors have been convinced enough to put their cash behind the development, amounting to about 7% of the equity. Among them is Lars Huser, co-founder of Meantime Brewery, who has chipped in £130,000.

“The campaign has had most traction with people who have been here and love what we do,” concluded Seaton. “If you’ve been in here and had a good experience there’s a connection with the beer. 

“People today want to get closer to the source of what they’re eating and drinking and having a home is crucial. That’s always been what’s led us. A sense of place, provenance. 

“You can’t fake fitting into a community, you’ve got to be a part of it.”

Phil Mellows 
23rd July 2019

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