When Owen Daniel accidentally locked himself out of his Stroud Green flat one day after work, he did what many of us would do while waiting for help—enjoyed a few cold pints at a pub. The problem, however, was that he couldn’t help noticing that this new local boozer at which he chose to kill some time wasn’t quite right.
Managed by now-defunct Late Knights Brewery, The Hopsmiths never really found its footing before its eventual closure. When I visited (or tried to visit) on a few occasions myself, I saw a range of staff-related issues, inconsistent hours, and sporadic food service, among other problems. Good idea, decent location, poor execution. “I decided it should have been a beer shop,” Daniel says. “It only had [Late Knights] beers on tap, with just a few guests in the fridge, which felt self-indulgent. Nobody wants to go to a craft beer pub just to have one brewery’s beer.”
That night, the BofA business management executive stayed up late with his wife, Clare, a market researcher, scribbling notes and ideas for what would two years later materialize as indiebeer, the couple’s specialty beer shop located on Holloway Road in North London. Officially opened in September 2017, indiebeer stocks upwards of 250 craft beers in bottles and cans, with a particular focus on UK breweries. There are a few taps, too; more on the shop itself in a minute.
There are some fantastic London beer shops, but what makes indiebeer particularly newsworthy is its location. For a long time, craft beer was scarce along scruffy Holloway. One could find proper beers at The Lamb, Piebury Corner, and even at Wetherspoon’s The Coronet (a refurbished vintage cinema that’s lovely on the outside and depressing on the inside), but that was about it. Things have changed over the past year or two—and along with House of Hammerton, indiebeer is the exclamation mark on craft beer’s arrival here; see also Provisions and The General Store.
Holloway Road is well off the map for most visitors, who aside from perhaps spending a day at Emirates Stadium for an Arsenal match rarely step foot on it (or for that matter venture much further north than Pentonville Road). The oversight is understandable. Some might say London is a rather large city, after all, and residential areas don’t make too many sightseeing itineraries.
It took me many visits over many years to get there myself, but since I did, I’ve spent more and more time there. To be clear, this is not an area that necessarily leaves a positive first impression.
I clearly remember the first gloomy jetlagged morning I ever spent in Holloway, sitting in the Nag’s Head shopping center courtyard with my wife, miserably eating day-old Morrisons sandwiches as sweatpants-clad locals shuffled past—it seemed like everybody was sick, or had a limp, or was drunk—wondering why, exactly, we’d spent a pretty penny to rent an Archway flat for the next two-plus months. By the time we left, however, we’d pinpointed the specific streets on which we’d buy a flat if we could ever afford one. (Like most humans in London, we cannot.)
“There’s no reason not to like Holloway—just don’t sit still and try to watch it. Just keep moving along and do your thing,” Daniel says with a laugh. “There’s something for everyone. It’s a proper High Street. It’s got all the bare essentials that you need, plus the nice stuff. You just have to know where you’re going.”
If it’s good beer you’re after here, indiebeer is certainly one of the venues worth knowing. Sandwiched between a hair salon and tech retailer, the shop has a cozy seating area next to its line of beer fridges, a feature the Daniels felt was essential to their vision. “I just like the whole idea of being able to wander around, have a drink, sit down, have another beer, and then stare at the fridges while you have your beer to find the next one,” says Owen.
Beers are displayed by style, not brewery, which plays into indiebeer’s overall focus on beer education. There’s plenty to appeal to dedicated beer enthusiasts—indiebeer doesn’t sell anything that’s also available in the craft beer sections at Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, or other supermarkets, for instance—but Daniel is for now careful to not go too far into the “deep end” of craft, so to speak. “For a place like Hop Burns & Black or somewhere that has a cult-like following, they can have £10 bottles of stout in their fridge, and they will sell,” he says. “On Holloway Road, it takes awhile for people to get past £4 or £5 [for a beer].”
Indeed, Daniel says that curious locals new to craft—and perhaps skeptical about some of its prices—pop in all the time.
“I tell them we’re an independent retailer trying to promote the growth of the UK beer business by only selling independent brands. I tell them that this is a place where you can come in, sit down, relax, and enjoy a beer,” Daniel says. “I’ll be happy to sit down and chat, and we’ve got some books over there, too—you can come here and learn about beer if you’re interested, not just feel like you have to drink it.”
indiebeer is located at 322 Holloway Road in London. +44 02 07607 4760. Open Monday 5pm – 9pm, Tuesday to Saturday 12pm – 9pm, Sunday 12pm – 6pm.