Craft Metropolis is a craft beer bottle shop and taproom based in South East London. Like many bars, breweries and bottleshops across the UK, they’ve had to navigate their way through a crazy time thanks to lockdown over the last 12 months. Founder, Oli Meade was kind enough to take some time to tell us about how the pandemic has affected them.
For those who haven’t heard of Craft Metropolis, can you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your back story?
Hi! I’m Oli and I love beer! I set up a website in 2015 because I was mad about exploring new beers and walked into the pub and instantly felt bored, like I was just just ordering units of alcohol rather than something I wanted to enjoy and drink. It all changed when I tried a Sierra Nevada pale ale and I was hooked on hops.
Previously I was a real ale drinker and dabbled in rums but found the condition and quality of the beer selections all a bit below par in the main. I sat around a BBQ one day and figured it was very rare in life that you could catch a wave of something you were so interested in so early. Craft beer was nothing like it is now so I went for it!
From scratch I started to create a website to turn a passion into a profession. The early days the site was focused on a system unique to the industry – a subscription club where you could pick your own too!
We were also a London specialist predominantly as I felt the other websites at the time really lacked that sense of geography, history and storytelling behind the breweries and beer and that London was under appreciated.
Lots of things have changed since then and we have released the shackles as we have grown and no longer run the subscription – just one off boxes now – and take beers from all over the world.
What’s it like trying to operate during a pandemic?!
Pretty scary to be honest but we have always been nimble and adapted to change the best we can. About 6 months in, chaos became the norm, we had to just get on with it and the team attacked that challenge with gusto.
Our customers have been amazing as well and we are just a small team (of 3) but we’ve dug in and made the most of a bad situation when many – both in and outside of the industry – have not been so fortunate.
We’re in the lucky position of providing a bit of fun and light relief for people sending them beer in all this mess, which is great.
Will online sales be a continued focus or will we back in the Taproom once lockdown ends?
Yeah, both really, we were online for years before the taproom and before lockdown but being diverse and having a multi-faceted business has proved our saviour. Being able to diversify and move elements of the business has been key so this will continue.
We also have a big new taproom/warehouse/shop we are about to get the keys to so watch this space!
Can you give us an idea of what the most popular beers have been during lockdown? Are we all at home drinking imperial stouts to get through it? (Or is that just us?)
Haha, me too! Just us then? No, it was an interesting mix. People were going “showbiz” early and it was all about DIPAs and TIPAs being king.
After a while it became a bit more “OK this weirdness is not going away and we can’t do this every night” and the shift went to session beers and more 4-5% stuff.
It was also so interesting as we saw breweries revert to more “pub” styles and nostalgia brews like milds and bitters during this time as people really wanted the feel-good or the familiarity of those beers – they sold really well for us.
What’ve been some of your own favourite beers recently?
It’s hard with such variety each week, sometimes we have 100 new beers a week to keep up with!
Vault City‘s Blood Orange Session sour was a belter and we have a couple of kegs ready to go on as soon as we can.
Do you have an all-time favourite?
The Brew by Numbers 55 DIPA series will always have a place in my heart. It’s pretty good now but around 2016 when DIPAs weren’t really a big thing they really pushed the style with some beers that were all so interesting, diverse and experimental they blew me a way a bit. I’ll always look out for the new 55 series beer with rose tinted glasses.
The Oat Cream IPA ? ? ? Truly a favourite style of ours (Charlie), this Oat Cream Breakfast Smoothie DIPA is already guaranteed to be our first tipple tonight! You’ll find us and the beer at the shop until 20:00 this evening ? pic.twitter.com/xUL5z4y7vY
— Craft Metropolis (@CraftMetropolis) April 1, 2021
Is it difficult selling beer in a world where people are forever looking for something new? How do you know what to stock?
We go with our instinct a lot – we’re beer fans first and foremost. We also listen to our customers.
It swings… I find the beer ticking a bit tiresome some days but I also get excited by new beers every week and rarely drink the same beer twice and suddenly it’s all exciting again. It’s innovation that’s driving the industry and is more fun so most of the time we embrace it as much as possible.
Are there any small breweries – maybe local to you – that we might not know about yet that we should keep an eye out for?
Gipsy Hill are just up the road from us and you don’t see them about as much as maybe they deserve to be but they’re doing pretty well so I’m sure that will change.
Three Hills have just opened up in Bermondsey and I’d say they should be ones to watch too.
The freshest drop from @gipsyhillbrew has just hit the shop. DOUBLE HEPCAT, Ekuanot & Galaxy NEIPA and the first two Squashed Sours!!! Business as usual today… open till 20:00. pic.twitter.com/HOVbFeKyqW
— Craft Metropolis (@CraftMetropolis) March 31, 2021
What’s in the future for Craft Metropolis – both short term and long term?
Short term – keep trading, haha! We thank our lucky stars every week we have ridden the storm so far.
Longer term we want to get the taproom open again and are expanding to a second site in London that will hopefully work as storage/bar/shop; it will make things better logistically and mean we can increase the range even more.
It’s a privilege and a joy to make a living in an industry that’s also your hobby so I just want to keep that going.