Orbit Beers - The Vinyl King of Brewing
Posted on July 01 2020
Meet the Vinyl King of Brewing – Orbit Beers
Take a peek at the Orbit Beers logo. You might get an inkling to the other driving passion of founder Robert Middleton. You’ve got it … vinyl records. Since childhood, yes really, Robert has had a fascination for vinyl and been a lifelong fan of Indie music.
Beer, however, is a newer passion for him. Until 2014 he was more of a drink-it-cold Stella man – he didn’t give much thought to what was going down. Maybe that was from working in the City, in the pensions industry, for 26 years – a lifetime almost – it had numbed his senses. Anyway, he decided 26 years was more than enough and in 2012, threw it in. He embarked on a road trip in his beloved VW campervan, Brian, touring his native Scotland.
A road trip with Brian … the VW camper
The road trip – 2012-2013 – was for the purpose of writing a book. But he was keen to give it more shape than that. Chatting early on in the tour to someone in a bar, they suggested he visit all the breweries north of the border. Beer in a land of whisky – perfect! That was it – he had a plan. And indeed, he visited every one of them … from the most northerly isle of the Shetlands to the Outer Hebrides, down to those close to the border.
The upshot was a book about the trip – The Tea Leaf Paradox – and a passion to set up a brewery. His Stella-drinking habits had totally gone out the window and been replaced by Craft. Robert says it’s all down to the many people he met at breweries on his journey and their passion for beer and its components … they are the true inspiration. There’s no history of it in his family. He’d never run his own business and was naive to the business of brewing … but hey, you only live once.
So, in 2014, he seized the opportunity of renting two empty railway arches (now expanded into three), just off the Walworth Road, SE London. And spent the next five months converting them from a car mechanics into a small brewery … a new floor, better electrics and water supply, drainage … all the basics for a smooth-running craft brewer. He had terrific support from the brewing community of that area – indeed, he says “I love the beer scene of southeast London.” We’ve heard about that community spirit in the trade before, for sure – supporting and encouraging each other, rather than regarding each other as competition.
A strong team with a shared passion
In 2014 he hired their first head brewer, Mario; the talented Paul Spraget is the second. Then Robbie, assistant brewer, joined a bit later that year in October. Today they are a team of six – a strongly bonded team, all with a similar taste in beer … that is firmly rooted in the European style with their own modern twist. And that, says Robert, is what makes them stand out in the crowded London market. Where many breweries today are big on the New World, shout-it-loud, New World hops, Orbit’s focus is on Europe … German beers, from Dusseldorf and Cologne to the bierkellers of Franconia, the complexity of Belgian yeasts and the subtle spice of European hops. That’s not to say they turn their backs on the New World … they also use those from New Zealand and the US, but they are far less prominent.
Then there’s the stand-out connection with vinyl records!
Yes, the logo is the first hit – modelled on the spindle adaptors, the inner circle, of the 7-inch 45 rpm records that Robert’s sisters used to stack high on their record player when he was growing up … one of his earliest memories, he says.
Then, of course, the tagline – Hi-fidelity brewing. And therein lies the truth … just as you get richer sound and texture from vinyl records versus the compression of streaming, so you do flavour in handcrafted beer.
The music theme runs deep
Look at the website and each member of the team has a ‘theme tune’ of their own. The range of beers echoes music too. Take the names of their Core range: Nico as in the Velvet Underground singer, Peel as in the late John Peel, Ivo as in record producer Ivo Watts Russell, and Dead Wax – that was a new one for us, the leftover material when pressing a record!
Plus, their White Label range. These are like the White label record – the experimentals sent to DJs to try out on their radio audience, or, in this case, experimental beers to try out on their beer fans. Musical references run thoughout … as they say, they are “inspired by the ethos of their favourite record labels, who hold music and art above all else”!
A hub in the community … usually
Every Saturday in summer, though this summer has, of course, been a little different(!), their tap room is open – it’s part of the SE London beer buzz. It’s a community hub and once a month, they make it a bigger event, bringing in a food van and playing … guess what! Vinyl from Rat Records of Camberwell.
Robert is proud of their collaborations too. That’s how breweries learn – from each other. He was worked with Brick in south London, Boxcar in north London, Fyne Ales from Scotland. And biggest excitement of all, in 2016, they were asked to create a one-off beer for Greenwich Exhibition by art director Vaughan Oliver, designer of the Pixie’s album covers. Robert is a Pixie fan through and through. Even better, on the opening night of the exhibition, lead singer Black Francis turned up unexpectedly and they have a picture of them all drinking the special beer with him.
Robert knew then that Orbit Brewery had arrived!
Watch our interview with Robert here, and let him tell you all about his brewery in his own words: