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It's a Wild Card world in Walthamstow: An interview with Andrew Birkby



This Saturday we’ll be riding to Wild Card Brewery in Walthamstow from our base in Wimbledon. Ahead of that ride, we caught up with Andrew Birkby, founder and director of Wild Card.


Wild Card do a fantastic selection of beers in a variety of styles across their core and seasonal range. They’re easy to spot in supermarkets and bottle shops, due to their distinctive can artwork and are some of our go to beers. In fact, we first heard of Wild Card Brewery a few years ago when we celebrated reaching the top of Scafell Pike with a (slightly warm) can (picture below).



Below Andrew tells us a bit about how everything started in a pub basement, how he once delivered a ~51kg cask on his bike (wow) and how they’re beer needs to be for more than just hipsters and CAMRA members.


Q: Hey Andrew, thanks for your time today. To kick things off could you tell us a bit about what Wild Card do and how you got started?


A: We were home brewers and wanted to have a go at working for ourselves. The brewery was started on a shoestring in the basement of the Warrant Officer pub. We were cuckoo brewing out in Essex and organising beer festivals and music events at the pub in return for cheap rent.



As we grew, we gained a strong following from local residents who were impressed by what we were doing. We were able to organise peer-to-peer loans to help us get our first brew plant. We got a lease and installed the brew plant in Ravenswood Industrial Estate off Walthamstow Village.


At the time the estate was somewhat on the down with several vacant units. We opened a tap bar on site and re-opened an access gate to the estate which had been closed for years.


We were cuckoo brewing out in Essex and organising beer festivals and music events at the pub in return for cheap rent

Other businesses followed taking on some of the other empty units and the estate sprang back into life. It's now a really nice location in Walthamstow to visit.


We outgrew the size of the unit and needed to move to a larger production premises. That Ravenswood site is now used for barrel aging and opens at the weekend as a bar and pizza kitchen.


Q: Wow, you’ve been on quite the journey, tell us a bit more about your new space?


A: Backed by one of Crowdcube's fastest ever crowdfunding campaigns, we raised the funding we needed to move to a larger premise at Lockwood Way off Blackhorse Lane.


It's a great location, right next to one of the entrances to the Walthamstow Wetlands. We open as a bar at the weekend so you can visit and see our setup. From here we produce an ever evolving range of beers which we package into cans on site.


Q: The brewing industry has been hit pretty hard by the closure of pubs due to Covid-19, could you tell us how Wild Card has reacted to the challenging situation in the UK?


A: We were very nervous about the impact when the crisis first hit.



Suddenly it went from lots of our beer flying out to pubs, to pubs asking us to take beer back and telling us they wouldn't be able to pay invoices.


But we acted very quickly. We diverted all our beer into cans and opened our web store on the same day the lockdown was announced. And it has really thrived.


The business looks very different to how we had planned this year to go, but all things considered we're really pleased with how we have navigated the last three months. Everyone is eager to get back in the pubs. So once it's permitted and we can do so safely, we are very excited to start serving pints again.


We're really grateful for how everyone in the local community has responded to the crisis. In Walthamstow everyone has made a real effort to support local companies like us by ordering directly. It's really made a difference.

Q: You mentioned already that the local community in Walthamstow really embraced what you’ve been doing, how have you engaged that community during the last few months?


A: Delivering directly to people's doorstep has meant we've been able to continue interacting directly with customers throughout the crisis which is great.


We're really grateful for how everyone in the local community has responded to the crisis. In Walthamstow everyone has made a real effort to support local companies like us by ordering directly. It's really made a difference.


Some of our local supporters have even pre-paid for bar tab to use once the bars re-open to help us through the rough patch.


Q: That’s brilliant. When the bars do re-open, imagine someone visits you for the first time, which beer should be top of their list?


A: I always point people to our NEIPA. It's really soft, lush and bursting with mango and citrus flavours.



Q: What does the future hold for Wild Card Brewery?


A: Our values are inclusion, hard work and experimentation. And going forward it'll be more of the same.


We will work hard to organically grow the company and make sure our offering includes everyone (not just for hipsters or CAMRA members, but reaching out to everyone).


We make sure that every single week without fail, one day is devoted to an experimental home brew scale beer.

The brew team are constantly bringing in new ideas and ways of tweaking and improving our existing beers. That's something we encourage - in fact we make sure that every single week without fail, one day is devoted to an experimental home brew scale beer.


Q: Thanks Andrew, to wrap things up, imagine you’re on a long ride, what bike are you riding and what beer are you having when you finish?


A: Almost the whole Wild Card team commutes in by bike, which is great.


I do pretty much every journey I make on bike or foot. But my bike is entirely practical and not in any way noteworthy or trendy I'm afraid.


I have a bottom of the range Boardman Hybrid bike and that's what I use for everything. It's a real workhorse though. Several beer deliveries were made with a trailer attached to the back in the early days.


Once I even delivered a cask of beer (~51kgs!) with it.


And in terms of beer, it has to be our Table Beer. It is light on ABV (2.7%), with a full body and packed full of flavour. It won a Champion beer award at SIBA South East's Keg Beer Competition this year.



I've learned my lesson about going straight for the stronger beers after a long bike ride. They go down way too quickly when you're thirsty.



Thanks for the interview Andrew. Wild Card brewery brew some fantastic beers in a variety of styles across both their core and seasonal range. We highly recommend heading over to their web-shop and ordering yourself some.


Alternatively, if you are London based and would like to join our ride on 27th June 2020 please contact us here or join our TDH Cycle Club WhatsApp group.


Here at Tour de Hops we run small group cycles to independent London breweries and post about it every other week. Each write-up includes ride highlights, beer reviews and snippets from an interview with each brewery.


We spoke to Andrew ahead of our Tour de Hops cycle club brewery ride to Wild Card Brewery on Saturday 27th June 2020. Keep an eye on the blog next week for the full write up..

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