Interview: Jake Griffin from Up Front Brewing on Banksy and Beer

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While lots of people want to do things their own way and on their own terms most never get the opportunity. Up Front Brewing, however, is run exactly that way. The brainchild of Glasgow craft brewer Jake Griffin, an award winning beer-maker and Neuroscience PhD, he’s managed to launch Up Front Brewing in an unusual way and due to some rather fortuitous internet purchases.

Way back in early 2004 Jake found himself with a slight surplus of cash. Not wanting to waste it, he decided to buy some artwork from a site called Pictures on Walls. The artwork he’d invested in turned out to be by the mysterious and illusive street-artist Banksy.

Not wishing to sell them, he was offered the option of pawning them by his friend and Scottish craft beer legend Scott Williams, of Williams Bros Brewery. By accepting this offer Jake has taken control of his own destiny and Up Front’s future. Not only that, Jake is also something of a lesson to us all as he often just asks people for things he needs, and quite often he gets them.

Glasgowist spoke to him about his journey, his background and where the future might lead.

You work for Drygate but also ‘gypsy brew’ within their space in the east end to make your Ishmael IPA and Ahab Stout for Up Front Brewing. How did you start out and what exactly is ‘gypsy brewing’ anyway?

I first got into brewing in my kitchen at university, and later took a job as a pro-brewer, first at Fyne Ales in Argyll then later at Drygate Brewery, where I started Up Front Brewing in my spare time.

Gypsy brewing is a way of getting your beer made without having to build a brewery. Most breweries operate with excess capacity, which can be rented out to gypsy brewers, like me, who are in the process of acquiring the funds to build their own breweries.

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You have a background in Neuroscience. Has that helped you in any way as a brewer?

My background has certainly helped with understanding the chemistry which is brewing, and my analytical training definitely helps in troubleshooting technical problems around the brewery and in designing protocols for beer production.

You bought some artwork by the street-artist Banksy way back in the early 2000’s that you’ve used as collateral to get Up Front Brewing off the ground. How did that come about?

I’ve always been a fan of art, especially street art, and stumbled upon Banksy through a website called picturesofwalls.com, then later, picturesonwalls.com. I loved the political satire in much of his work. As a student I had more money than I was used to so decided to buy some to decorate my flat.

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What do you love about craft beer and the craft beer movement?

For me, the best thing about the craft beer scene is the creative people that it attracts. We all know that beer brings people together, but craft beer seems to attract a different kind of drinker, people who seem to be a bit more open to new ideas and who are prepared to try new things. I also love that the craft brewing scene, the people behind the movement, are a close knit, vibrant and incredibly creative community, where everyone lends a hand to help each other out.

You’ve also managed to get some artwork for your canned beers from long-time Radiohead art collaborator, Stanley Donwood. How on earth did you managed to get him on board?

I had read a book of short stories he had written years ago, and wrote him a late night, beer fueled and particularly humorous email explaining who I am, what I’m doing, and how I hoped he might help. It worked, and he got back in touch to say that he was up for it. That’s when I Googled him and nearly fell off my seat! Not only is he really famous, he’s also a truly brilliant artist and a really nice guy as well!

Where do you see the industry moving next?

I think we’re going to see the homebrew and craft brewing movements continuing to grow exponentially. As a result, we’re going to see a lot more micro-, nano- and pico-brewing operations springing up in the near future as the movement expands further, and more and more people take the leap of faith. I also think that over the next few years we’re going to see a lot more craft beer in casks and cans, a lot more ‘proper’ sour beers, and a plethora of old and long forgotten styles being brought kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

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