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Brewheadz Brewery, Fired up Donkey

Gianni Rotunno moved to London to study over ten years ago. When he first arrived in the UK he did the only thing you can do if you want to quickly immerse yourself in British culture. He headed to the pub.

The Wenlock Arms is a cracking little boozer on the Hackney and Islington border. It was within spitting distance of his new digs so it seemed as good a place as any to start. It was certainly very different to any drinking establishments in his hometown of Formia, halfway between Rome and Naples on the west coast of Italy. First and foremost the Wenlock Arms presented an opportunity to make new friends, but a decent byproduct would become what he learned about beer.

“I was just drinking lager, but the locals, who were a lot older than I was, started teaching me about cask beer and I loved how much of it was local and delivered the day you would be drinking it. One of the guys from the pub took me to the Great British Beer Festival. I still couldn’t speak much English, but I was just running around Earls Court asking for hops, hops, hops!” Gianni laughs.

Gianni was so enamoured with British beer that a few years later he signed up to do a Masters in Brewing & Distilling at Herriot Watt University in Scotland. On his return to London his home-brewing hobby started getting out of hand.

Any of his friends who visited from Italy were offered free accommodation on the condition they would help him make beer. It was here, in Gianni’s small flat, that Brewheadz first three recipes were born. An American pale ale called Electrobeat (5.4% ABV), Kitchen Porter (5.2% ABV) and this week’s beer; Fired Up Donkey.

A Rye IPA done well is a wonderful thing to behold and this is one of those. The hops are upfront and in your face, offering up loads of tropical fruit aromas and flavours, with a rasping bitterness to boot. But then the rye starts to works it’s magic, particularly as the beer warms a bit, providing a peppery spiciness and depth that gives this beer a whole other dimension. It’s big, boozy and complex... but also ridiculously drinkable.

You’ll see the ‘bottled on’ and ‘best before’ dates handwritten on the label. We winced at the thought of the poor soul who had that job for our four-thousand-plus bottle order. But that’s just one of many small sacrifices these four young Italians are making on this incredible journey of theirs. To buy the brewing kit and fermenters for their new Tottenham Hale site in North London they cobbled together every last penny they had and ended up sharing a one bedroom flat, taking it in turns to sleep on the floor.

This is still only their first year in business, so anything can happen. But with that kind of commitment and passion, it’s hard to see Brewheadz being anything except an enormous success story.

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