When four friends told people they were building the first craft-beer nightclub they received more than a few raised eyebrows. Will Hawkes caught up the guys from Five Miles to find out about the beers, beats and ballsy plans
More than £300,000 has been spent on Five Miles. Most of it on the dance floor and the room that surrounds it. Of that, £50,000 alone went on a state-of-the-art sound system imported from Vienna.
‘It’s a real audiophile experience,’ says Mark Hislop, one of the venue’s four founders. But, that’s not necessarily the most impressive thing about this place. That might be the bar, on which there’s something equally striking: 18 taps of high-quality beer. In an industry where expensive cans of industrial lager are the norm, it’s a genuinely revolutionary move.
That’s exactly what the four partners – Hislop, who has worked for Brewdog and Redchurch, Deano Jo, Mark Shaffer and Luke Smith – intended. ‘We wanted to make everything next level,’ says Hislop. ‘One thing I hate about clubs is paying £5 for a warm can of Red Stripe. We wanted to have really good drinks. If you’re going to do something, you should do something really special.’
It’s a fine sentiment, but does it work? Are the nightclub crowd interested in craft beer? ‘Well, The Kernel IPA was our third-biggest seller this last weekend, after the house pale ale and Bavo Pils,’ says Hislop. ‘If the kids are coming here listening to great music and drinking Kernel IPA then I think we’ve won. I thought we’d mostly sell vodka and lager … but the times when we had four or five Affinity beers on they always outsold everything.’ Most clubbers drink pints, he adds, a sensible choice when it’s three or four deep at the bar.
Affinity is the name of the brewery that used to inhabit the two shipping containers at the front of the venue. After six months building a reputation, Affinity has moved on to a bigger site in Bermondsey and Five Miles’ own brewery, Hale Brewing (and brewer Daniel Vane), has moved in. Brewing takes place on a two and a half-barrel brew-kit (about 720 pints per brew) inherited from Bermondsey’s Anspach & Hobday.
A coffee stout is currently fermenting, ready to join Hale Pale on the bar. Plenty of other beers are planned in the creative vein of one recent creation: a Lemon and Sumac Saison brewed in collaboration with Belgian Drum and Bass DJ Alix Perez, which went on the bar the night he played a sold-out show at Five Miles. ‘All these Drum and Bass kids were drinking this lovely delicate saison,’ says Hislop. ‘It was great to see.’
That collaboration reflects Five Mile’s desire to bring creative talent together. There are 26 recording studios around the venue; that’s the reason, Hislop says, that the bar is open during the day, with food provided by highly-rated Middle Eastern kitchen Torshi. ‘One of the attractions [of being here] was the fact that the rest of the warehouse was full of musicians,’ says Hislop. ‘People who listen to good music tend to like nice beer, good coffee, food, so it all works well together.’
Another key element in the Five Miles offering is that places to drink good beer after midnight are few and far between wherever you are in London. ‘It’s nice to have somewhere to drink decent beer until 4 in the morning,’ says Hislop. And you’ll generally find something interesting, too. ‘We could just stick to the same breweries that will sell well, but we want to showcase new talent. We always have two or three of the Tottenham breweries on. There’s no point doing what everyone else is doing.’
It’s hard to think of a venue like Five Miles anywhere, in the UK or abroad. ‘There must be something in Scandinavia,’ says Hislop. ‘Or maybe not. Maybe we’re the first craft-beer nightclub?’ It’s a reminder of how difficult smaller breweries have found it to break into the night-time market, outside of bars and pubs.
Things have moved a little bit faster in the world of music venues. Sam McGregor, founder of Signature Brew, a company created with the intention of getting better beer into music venues, says things are improving but not everywhere. ‘It’s getting easier, but it still blows my mind that the Academy [chain of venues] don’t even have a token pale ale on keg,’ he says.
Venues like The Dome in Tufnell Park, The Key Club in Leeds, The Hebden Bridge Trades Club, The Grayston Unity in Halifax and The Forum in Tunbridge Wells are leading the way, he says. Signature, meanwhile, is the official beer supplier to Independent Venue Week for a third year running this January.
‘Venues need to make their money from the bar, and they’re now learning that people spend more money if the beer quality is better,’ McGregor says. ‘They’ll stay longer; they won’t just hang out in the pub until a minute before the main band comes on. They’ll have a couple of beers rather than one begrudging Tuborg.’
Nightclub operators’ conservatism might be driven by how difficult it at the moment. While the hemorrhaging of music venues appears to have stalled or at least slowed, these are still very tough times for nightclubs. ‘Lots of people said we were absolutely crazy to be building a nightclub in London,’ Hislop says.
There is still plenty to do; Hislop says he has plans for the roof of the shipping container brewery. ‘We could put a little garden up there, use the heat from the brew for a little polytunnel, or even [put in] a concrete coolship; I bet we’d get some interesting wild yeast from the O’Donovan waste trucks!’ – but what he’s most excited about is what can be done with the brewery itself.
‘It’s easy to look at [the brewkit] being so small as a constraint, but it gives you loads of freedom,’ he says. ‘You can do something absolutely mental and if it’s terrible you’ve spent 300 or 400 quid and you can instantly dump it. You can split batches. There’s lots that can be done.’ He’s talking about brewing, but as a summation of the Five Miles philosophy – and a wake-up call to the conservative club scene – that is pretty hard to beat.