A freshness, even in mid-winter, is created by the plants which trail gracefully round the bar, and a ‘United Kingdom of Beer’ manual is propped open to a page heralding the brewery's lager, Eko Gold.
Husband and wife duo Anthony and Helena Adedipe founded Eko Brewery in 2018 – blending the artistry of craft beer with African tradition. But the taproom only opened last October. When I visit, punk music reverberates through from a recording studio next door. But in opening hours, afro jazz climbs to an energetic mix of amapiano and afrobeats as the night progresses.
“We want to grow with the community,” Anthony makes clear. And already the south-east London venue has hosted an eclectic string of events from drinks launches to wine tastings, to birthday bashes and Christmas dos. We’re upstairs in the taproom’s Gallery Bar. It’s aptly named: the walls are splashed with a dazzling array of portraits provided by Nigerian-born, London based artist Caroline Chinakwe.
With a host of closures rocking the sector, it might seem a surprising time to open a taproom. Seven Bro7hers announced its closure just last week as Manchester-based Squawk Brewing declared it would wind down operations, both citing inflation and cost pressures. Does this scare the Eko founders? They’d be lying if they didn’t think about it, but Anthony looks on the bright side: “It’s not all doom and gloom,” he says. “You have to take some of it with a pinch of salt. They might all close with different reasons, but it just happens quite a few of them have closed.”
Eko Brewery is “very clear on what it wants to achieve”, he continues. “We were trying to grow organically, we’re not try to grow at a rapid rate.” Helena adds: “Our ethos doesn’t necessarily reflect the way some other breweries work, and that’s okay. We should do things we have capacity to do, as opposed to following things we feel work for other breweries.”
An engineer by trade, Anthony’s interest in brewing was piqued when travelling the world for work. He recalls a trip to Japan’s iconic Sapporo brewery: “I fell in love”. Brewing is very much a science-led process. “It reminded me of engineering to some degree because you’re moving fluid from one tank to the other,” says Anthony. “I love the brewing process, especially because you end up with beer at the end.”
But it was in America where the pair’s passion for craft beer took off. Helena would jet out to visit Anthony who was working in Philadelphia. She looks back: “When I thought of craft beer, it was just people brewing batches at home. But when we got there, they had micropubs, pop-ups and craft beer gardens. America is quite segregated in a lot of aspects, even now. But back then, definitely in Philly, we saw a lot more people mixing who basically came together because of their love and interest in beer.”
Next, they bought a home brewing kit, and the idea for Eko Brewery was born. After an initial batch of homebrew, well-received by friends and family, things “snowballed”. Eko takes its name from the original name for Lagos, Nigeria, the most populous city in Africa. This is also where Anthony’s family are from. “Both of us being African, we decided to add a bit of that culture into whatever we brew,” explains Helena, who’s family are from Congo.
Take their first beer for example: the Eko Black Case porter. Traditional African beer is brewed without hops, meaning there’s none of that bitterness. While Anthony & Helena kept in the hops (“it still needs to recognisable as beer”), chocolate malt is used to add a sweetness to the drink’s smoky flavour.
From then on, they got more creative, experimenting with yams, cassava and South African hops. The duo even used coconut palm sugar in beer to create Eko Gold, a lager inspired by the popular African celebratory drink, palm wine. “People try it and haven’t tasted anything like that style of beer. It’s a new experience for them taste-wise,” says Anthony. The New England IPA, Eko Haze, also includes coconut palm sugar. It’s a different colour to a traditional IPA but has all the “amazing aromas” as well as a fruity, juicy mouthfeel.
BIG NEWS— Eko Brewery (@ekobrewery) January 22, 2024
We're launching our FIRST ever CROWDFUND!
We've always said, ONE DAY, we will build a brewery in London. We self-funded the business to date & the opening of our first tap room in Peckham. pic.twitter.com/ReCbNjoDgM
“When you look at African countries, they don’t really have a culture of pubs where people will go and sit at a bar and drink without necessarily having food, there’s always some kind of food that can accompany it,” Helena continues. “We thought, ‘how can we merge the two together?’ So we decided to make beers that went really well with food.”
Eko’s beers are brewed with lower levels of bitterness and gas to make sure the food is always “the star of the show”. Restaurants are the brewery’s biggest customers, including a range of pan-African and Japanese venues. Honest Burger even stocked its beer for a period.
Onwards & upwards
This naturally presented challenges during the pandemic when restaurants shut their doors. But it’s also led to one of Eko’s biggest achievements: “The first restaurant to take us was a Michelin star restaurant,” says Helena. “We pitched to them and were like, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ But they loved it, and it’s been on their menus since.”
Opening the taproom, of course, is a huge stamp of success, for what is one of just a handful of black-owned breweries operating in the UK. So far, trade’s been good, and locals welcoming. The owners are currently fundraising to start brewing on site, but importantly, they just want to spread the word about the space.
“Because we’re putting so much of our heritage and culture into what we’re doing, hopefully people come and enjoy that and feel and enjoy it and start to appreciate the things we grew up with and love"
“It is an extension of who we are because we are incorporating our culture and history into what we’re doing. So ultimately it will be different as no one else has done it from that demographic,” says Anthony.
The pair are excited for the weather to get warmer, and it is easy to see why. It's exciting to imagine a sun-drenched courtyard flooded with punters while light beams into the taproom. Anthony continues: “We can have people outside, and people can enjoy not just the beer, but the food, music and art with the beer, because all of these things are part of our culture that we’ll try to incorporate into what we do.
“Because we’re putting so much of our heritage and culture into what we’re doing, hopefully people come and enjoy that and feel and enjoy it and start to appreciate the things we grew up with and love. Ultimately, we’re in hospitality so that people can come and enjoy a beverage and have a good time.”
But the duo are also relishing the moment. Helena says: “People always ask what’s in store, and for so long, it’s been having our own physical site. And now we’re here it’s like ‘woah’. It’s just great to be able to achieve this milestone. Whatever happens next, I’m really happy we’re able to do this.”