Explore: North London and the Lucky Saint

The Lucky Saint pub sits in the heart of the Big Smoke, right by the central London cycling hotbed of Regent’s Park. It’s everything you want in a place for a post-ride beverage, but this is an establishment with a difference. Rouleur explores North London and gets to know the people behind one of the most innovative beers on the market

This article was produced in associated with Lucky Saint

The Lucky Saint sits prominently on the corner of Devonshire Street and Hallam Street in Marylebone, deep in the heart of London’s West End. A red-brick facade, vibrant green plants cascading from hanging baskets and beer barrels on the street serving as bar tables all give the Lucky Saint a traditional look.

Surrounded by the bustle of the city and the rush of commuters, the pub has the vibe of a familiar British boozer. It looks like a relaxing spot for an after-work drink or somewhere where one could sit for hours on end, pint in hand, putting the world to rights. But while its aesthetic might give off the vibe of an orthodox pub, the Lucky Saint is actually a quiet trailblazer.

It was opened earlier this year by Lucky Saint, purveyors of some of the finest alcohol-free beer. Though the pub itself serves both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, it is, at its heart, created to be an inclusive place where people can drink whatever they want, be that alcohol-free or not, without feeling like they don’t fit in.

On the floors above the bar (where, naturally, Lucky Saint beer sits on tap front and centre) are the Lucky Saint of- fices. On a blustery Tuesday afternoon, as the traffic of the city passes by outside the window and the sun creeps through  the glass panes, Luke Boase, the founder of Lucky Saint, sits opposite me, hand  placed around a gold, glistening pint of his eponymous brew. Eyes bright with enthusiasm, he begins to tell me the story of Lucky Saint, and how they are changing the face of alcohol-free beverages forever.

“It was 2016. I wanted to start something I believed in,” says Boase. “Back  then, alcohol-free beer was still a category that people were embarrassed to drink. The quality of the products wasn’t very good. As a consumer, I wasn’t even drinking alcohol-free beer because there wasn’t a beer that was good enough to bring me into the category, and there wasn’t a brand that made me feel positive about that choice. We’ve all apologised for not drinking, but I just think that’s something no one should have to apologise for. That was the start point, that was the idea.”  

An idea is one thing, but to bring Boase’s vision to fruition, a long road of hard work lay ahead. The process had to start at the very core of the Lucky Saint brand: the product itself. Boase talks of visiting breweries all over the UK and Europe, pitching his idea of an alcohol-free beer – sometimes to deflating responses from industry experts.

“I got a call with the CEO of a pretty decent sized brewer,” he says. “I put so much expectation on this call and the guy literally just killed the idea dead on the spot. He said, ‘You can’t make a decent alcohol-free beer, I think you’d be better off making fizzy drinks.’”

It was an email to a 400-year-old brewery in Bavaria, Germany, that Boase describes as the breakthrough moment. “I’d been at it for about 18 months at that point, and I remember crafting an email to this brewer and leaning on the emotive side explaining my idea. I got a response in two minutes saying could I come to chat with them in Germany. I had to scurry to get time off work but I was so excited about it.”

The German brewery, where Lucky Saint is still produced today, adheres to traditional beer-making processes, something that Boase argues is integral to the Lucky Saint’s authentic taste. He explains that Lucky Saint is made with the four ingredients of lager allowed in the German Purity Law, malted barley, hops, water and yeast, and that there are no flavourings and no additives. The brewing process takes six weeks: two weeks of fermentation then four weeks of lagering, in which the beer is conditioned at one or two degrees.

“Over the years, as big brewers have made economies and made their processes more streamlined, the biggest sacrifice is generally the time that it takes to condition the beer, which is, in our opinion, where so much of the magic happens. So we stick to this very traditional process of brewing beer and then we leave it unfiltered,” says Boase, “That means it retains more flavour. I love the fact it’s all linked back to the original Pilsner recipes, the original golden lager. Lucky Saint is brewed in the exact same way.”

Once Boase had the product he had been searching for – an alcohol-free beer with a taste that could match, or even better, the traditional beers on the market – Lucky Saint was born. He says that the ‘Saint’ part of the name comes from the virtuous feeling that drinking alcohol-free beer can give consumers, while the ‘Lucky’ part is an ode to the good fortune that Boase thinks is needed to bring a startup model to success. The ladybird emblem that decorates much of the Lucky Saint branding and packaging reflects this too.

As the beer went on sale, Lucky Saint amassed retail listings in major supermarkets and restaurants. With that, consumer reviews came flooding in, serving as an affirmation of the laborious brewing process and time taken in perfecting it.

“When we first launched in 2018, we didn’t really know what the response would be. But after all the different pieces of feedback from journalists, from chefs, from beer reviewers on Instagram, it was really cool to have validation for all that effort. It was the response from the trade, as well. We were selling into bars, pubs and restaurants. That was a big focus and the response from them was amazing from the word go. People stocking Lucky Saint behind their bars was a big thing.”

The impact that Lucky Saint has had goes further than product sales for Boase and his team, too. He talks about the work that the brand does to try to have a positive impact on people’s mental health, with some customers explaining that their entry point to Lucky Saint comes as a result of alcohol being a negative coping mechanism.

“People have said that Lucky Saint is a game-changer because it means they can still do all of the social things, but without some of the downsides,” says Boase.

Having Lucky Saint on draught in bars has been crucial to placing the beer on par with some of its alcoholic competitors – it gives entirely the same feeling as drinking a traditional pint. Alcohol-free drinks also, naturally, go hand-in-hand with active and healthy lifestyle choices, a key reason Lucky Saint has found a home in the cycling community since its inception.

Boase explains that he is a keen cyclist, and opening the Lucky Saint pub just a stone’s throw from Regents Park – one of the city’s cycling hotspots – has made it a prime location for those who want to finish their rides with social drinks.

“We’ve since discovered that this pub was the founding place of the West London Cycling Club around 100 years ago,” says Boase with a smile. “We’ve had all of these lovely links to the cycling community. We don’t have a stated ambition of what our pub needs to be, but we want it to be somewhere that brings communities together and the cycling community is one of our most loved communities, especially with the park on our doorstep.”

As we talk about the hidden cycling gems that London has to offer and Lucky Saint being based so close to many of these, the sun begins to creep out from behind the grey clouds that sit heavy on the London skyline. A bike ride is calling. Half an hour later, we’re kitted up and ready to explore the area that the Lucky Saint pub calls home.

We skirt through Regents Park, nodding to other riders as we make laps of the inner circle around Queen Mary’s Rose Garden. In a few hours, these roads will be flooded with cyclists getting in some evening miles. From there, it’s a spin over to the brightly coloured, picturesque houses of Notting Hill. As we climb up into the steep hills of North London, the cityscape expands out beneath us.

We admire the views and point out landmarks, breathing heavily from the steep  gradients. The cityscape is alive with the bustle of an urban metropolis. Our final stop is Alexandra Palace. We climb towards the iconic building as the sun goes down behind us. London is certainly a city dominated by motorists, but it has a special, magical quality when exploring on two wheels. There’s something about being in the thick of the diversity, the culture and the history, but also being removed from it, always moving, seeing more than you could on foot, but experiencing the tastes, sounds and smells that you could never get inside a car.  

After zooming down the hairpins back towards Wood Green – perhaps not quite Alpe d’Huez, but as close as you might get in London – we end the ride back at the Lucky Saint pub. The glowing orange light and burnt wood panels greet us like a warm hug, an escape from the biting winds outside.

It’s evening and the room has begun to fill with people. We sip a pint of Lucky Saint and reflect on the day’s riding. Boase orders a bag of Scampi Fries from the bar, and as the sharp, salty flavour explodes in my mouth, he tells a story about them, one that perhaps sums up the very ethos of Lucky Saint as a brand.

He talks about an article written in the Times by Giles Coren when the pub was opened. It was titled “Saints Alive! This pub is so boring I might try it.” In summary, Coren writes in the piece that the Lucky Saint will never be a traditional British boozer, how it will never have the smell or atmosphere of an old-school establishment and it certainly won’t offer the tasty nibbles and mainstay of the British pub, Scampi Fries. Boase recounts the article with admirable humour, explaining that he responded by doing a bulk order of Scampi Fries for the pub the very next day. The pub also serves some of the finest-tasting homemade pickled eggs, another traditional pub snack.

The important point is that Lucky Saint, both with its pub and its product, is certainly not trying to change or reject the tradition of beer and pubs that are a central pillar of British culture and history. They’re simply trying to make these things better by making them more inclusive. It’s not about preaching about the benefits of alcohol-free beer, but instead, giving those who want to drink it an opportunity to do so, where they don’t feel judged or embarrassed.

“One of our mantras is to break rules and honour traditions,” says Boase. “Our  pub is trying to take all of the amazing traditions of the greatest British institution  and capture all of the amazing stuff around that, but then put the Lucky Saint twist on it and make it more modern. We always want to be respectful to the industry that we work in. We love the pub and have a team of people that are absolutely obsessed by it. I don’t believe you should have to go somewhere different if you aren’t drinking, it’s about having an offering that is more reflective of where the  world is.”

As conversations get louder inside the walls of the Lucky Saint, people smile over their drinks and exchange stories. Pies and crisps are served and the smell of warm food wafts through the air, while the bar staff pull pints which leave white rings on lips as people sip them over the bar. It’s a bubble of lively, sociable happiness, the atmosphere that people expect and hope for as they choose to step off the busy street and in through the doors of the Lucky Saint pub.  

“With cycling, it is as much about social connection as it is around riding the  bike,” says Boase. “Our belief as a brand is that the greatest reward of drinking is the social connection, not the alcohol. When we apply that in cycling, it opens up this opportunity to tap into the social elements of cycling, it’s a natural place for us to make friends and build our communities. And above all, it’s fun.”

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