The malt teasers LAUREN WILLIS AND LEE GENTRY RECENTLY CELEBRATED TWO YEARS OF THEIR NUNHEAD MICROPUB THE BEER SHOP LONDON. They explain why they wanted the bar to feel like an extension of their living room WORDS HELEN GRAVES
Lauren Willis and Lee Gentry are telling me how they came to launch their popular micropub The Beer Shop London on Nunhead Green. “Lee’s mum lives down in Broadstairs in Kent,” Lauren says as we sit in the light, bright space. “About six or seven years ago loads of tiny little micropubs were starting to open up down there and we thought, ‘That would really work in London, why isn’t there one of those near us?’ “Lee had been running pubs for years, but we’d talked for ages about starting our own business, doing something together. We began looking at little units and trying to see whether it would work. “We came across this place in 2012 and just fell in love with it. We wanted to do something for ourselves but also we wanted a business that was really rooted in the place where we lived.” From the outset the couple were keen to put their own stamp on the micropub trend. “There’s a micropub association which says they should be this, this and this – no music, no phones, all that kind of stuff,” Lauren says. “We thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that.’” “We wanted to create a modern, younger version of that,” adds Lee. “Micropubs are a great model and lots of people are doing them – we’ve been to some fantastic ones, especially in Kent. “If you don’t want to go for a full-on pub, the micropub is a happy medium. It’s as nice in here 24 / THE PECKHAM PECULIAR
on a Saturday lunchtime as it is on a Sunday night, it’s just different vibes.” Together Lee and Lauren have created a modern interior that is warm and welcoming. There are beer mats on the walls, sure, but they’re broken up by contemporary artwork, created specially for the shop. They thought hard about the atmosphere they wanted to create. “I was keen to run a space that wasn’t intimidating,” Lauren says. “There are a lot of places I wouldn’t want to go into by myself, but somewhere like this, it feels a bit more like a café. “We wanted it to be an extension of our living room, where we would get to know our customers, they’d feel comfortable and come and hang out, sit there on their laptops or just sit and read a book or whatever, come in by themselves or in a group.” “People have been really responsive”, Lee continues. “There are local people who use us day in day out, which is great – they might pop in for a half on the way home from work, or celebrate their birthday here, or bring the kids in on a Saturday afternoon.” The menu at Beer Shop changes every two or three days. “Cask beer has always been my thing,” Lee says. “When I worked in pubs, I was always the guy who looked after the cask ales – they need a little bit more TLC than just plugging a keg in. “We started with four casks, and we’ve got 70 or
so bottles in the fridge. We’ve added some keg taps as well, as that seems to be where the beer scene is going, more towards the keg and the bottle. “Profit margins aren’t the same with cask, and also there’s the problem that people just don’t know how to look after it. So, hopefully, that’s where we shine a little bit more. Apart from the keg we do it all to take away as well.” Lauren points out some plastic cartons, which look like milk Tetra Paks. “People come in on their way home from work for a two pint carry-out to take home,” she says. The couple cater for non-beer drinkers too. “We have a range of slightly higher end spirits – we do a Portobello Road gin, a Sipsmith vodka. We wanted to sell slightly better spirits than other places. “We do some nice organic, biodynamic wine, just one red and one white to keep it simple. Then there’s a small range of ciders and lots of soft drinks.” The shop serves snacks too, including pork pies, Scotch eggs and “proper pub snacks like crisps, nuts, that kind of thing”. Occasionally they’ll have a street food van pull up outside as well. They also hold regular events with a beer and food focus. “We do a ‘meet the brewer’ every first Thursday of the month, which is free to attend. It’s a really informal event, but people can come along, try the beer and learn what it’s all about.
“We do beer and food pairing nights too – our first one was with a guy who makes bread in his basement. We did one with cured sausages and we’ve done two cheese and beer nights with Neal’s Yard Dairy.” So what’s their biggest selling product? They both laugh before saying in unison: “Gamma Ray!” Lee adds: “People love Beavertown Brewery. We do sell a lot of Brick [from Peckham] as well. “Anything local is really popular, so yeah, Brick Brewery, Gypsy Hill Brewery, and actually some of the new guys have been selling really well, like Old Kent Road Brewery. “For January we bought a batch of kegs off them and that’s the first time we’ve had one beer on consistently for the month. We sold six kegs in three weeks, which for one beer, in January, is ridiculous. “Then we’ve got the really new guys called Villages, who have just opened in Deptford. Their red ale has been really popular, it’s just flown out. They’ve had some experience and it’s nice to see guys from other breweries peeling off to set up on their own. They’ve done the hard graft and now they want to do their own thing. “That’s kind of how we started, so it’s about seeing that evolution of people who want to do things their own way, for themselves. We wish people like that all the best really.” February/March 2017