Let Loose, Go Wild!
What better way to celebrate the end of Dry January...
A trio who met in the Midlands have created an oasis of cask beer in the sunny corner of east London Phannatiq hails from - Walthamstow, an east London ‘hood with a long history of welcoming creatives. It’s been home to everyone from William Morris to Grayson Perry, from East 17 to Lethal Bizzle.
Walthamstow’s urban landscape is changing fast. Among the pioneers transforming it are William Harris, Andrew Birkby and Jaega Wise – the three amigos behind Wild Card brewery. It sits in a scrappy industrial estate alongside railway lines, a garage, metalworkers and a spray-painting workshop. It also has fellow innovator neighbours: neon emporium God’s Own Junkyard, party venue The Blitz Factory and Mother’s Ruin gin palace.
By day it’s soundtracked by barrels being shifted, the whine of tools and the garage radio. By night these are replaced with the sound of laughter and the occasional low-key gig. We caught up with the trio by day to find out how it all started.
William and Andrew met stacking shelves in a Boots store in Nottingham, bonded over a love of beer and got into homebrew as a way of driving down costs to a student-loan-friendly 16p a pint. Jaega brought an expert eye thanks to her degree in chemical engineering. “When we were home brewing, it was so small-scale it was more like cooking,” says William. “She treated it with condescending amusement. Even now, our brewery is by far the tiniest piece of plant she’s ever operated.”
They moved down south and started Wild Card in 2012, a time when the Olympics brought an “anything is possible” vibe to the entire country but east London in particular.
The name Wild Card comes from their years of experimental brewing. Even now, the beers are labelled with a playing card. Our favourite is Jack of Clubs, a 4.5 percent ABV ruby ale.
“We’d have thousands of bottles of beer all over the house,” says William. “Good record-keeping is crucial, to improve on the recipes. So we labelled them with playing cards. Plus we liked the idea of being non-qualified entrants. Between us we had about 8 months of industry experience... and that was just washing stuff. It was the London Olympics and we were the Wild Card.”
They borrowed £4,000 on their credit cards and made a single batch of beer on equipment hired for the day. Sold it, made a bit of money, then did it again. Only later did they get the funding to set up their own brewery and bar.
And what a bar! Great beer, happy staff, thanks in no small part to Wild Card’s commitment to paying everyone a London Living Wage, and a stunning space. It’s industrial, utilitarian without pretention, but creative. A local artist has made a totem of decorated beer barrels. The space is big but intimate. In the winter it’s warmed by a woodburner. In the summer the yard outside is filled with merriment as customers spill out onto long picnic benches.
“We’re not hipsters,” says Andrew. “We just want to make good beer.”
Wild Card Brewery, Unit 7, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street E17 9HQ