Ed Taylor: the brewing wizard behind Square Root Soda

***Rachel Khoo would like to thank all the inspiring people who helped make the Khoollect studio a hive of creativity. Although the Khoollect studio’s doors have now closed, you can keep up with Rachel’s newest adventures on RachelKhoo.com and on Rachel’s Instagram and Facebook pages – and, continue to enjoy the Khoollect website’s stories and recipes, which will remain available.***

In an unsuspecting corner of Hackney Central, East London, there’s a busy non-alcoholic soda brewery named Square Root London. From the street, all you can spy are a few empty crates and a large standalone chiller, but when granted access inside it’s a veritable Charlie’s Chocolate Factory of activity. Cases and cases of fresh fruit are strewn about the place, large cauldrons and vats are bubbling away with brightly coloured juice concoctions, and a smallish gaggle of staff enthusiastically discuss ideas for their next obscure soda flavour.

The man behind all of this is Ed Taylor. He tells us the whys and hows behind his busy venture, and what he loves most about London.

A Day in the Life of Ed Taylor

How was Square Root London born?

My partner Robyn and I started Square Root London at our local farmers market in Harringay back in 2012. In the early days it wasn’t just sodas we sold drinks, baked goods, and craft products, all tied together using seasonal and local ingredients. When we got our 1920s delivery tricycle ‘Elsie’, the sodas really started to fly. That’s when we decided to focus just on drinks… and here we are today!

What’s the philosophy behind your sodas?

From the very beginning we wanted to focus on using fresh and seasonal produce. It’s easy to lose touch with seasonality when most fruit and veg is available year round from your local supermarket. So, we really wanted to get people thinking about when produce is at its best and what else might be in season when your favourite summer berries have finished. Buying from UK farmers when they have the produce available is the best thing to do, and it keep things simple.

Square Root Soda

What’s your most popular flavour? 

Rhubarb Soda has been very popular indeed. I think it’s unusual enough to pique people’s curiosity, but familiar enough to not be scary. When Rhubarb is out of season, I’d say live a little – try the Bergamot Soda and see where that takes you.

Have you made any flavours that just didn’t fly?

For sure. Root Beer and Cola were slow sellers in the beginning. The beauty of making all of our drinks ourselves, is that you can just bottle more or less to ensure whatever you’re selling is fresh. We used to make really small batches of Root Beer in the beginning, but once the burger lovers of London caught on to it, it really started to fly out the door! I think it’s about finding the right market for each flavour. We have a diverse range which matches our broad range of different customers.

Are you surprised by the success of your company in the short time it’s been running?

It’s been amazing to think how far we’ve come in such a small time. Pictures from last year show our team growing from just four, to slightly larger (as in a bit of a squeeze to fit everyone round the lunch table), to nine people at our Christmas party. The support for local, different products is so massive – people must be keen for a change from the usual!

Best Kept Secrets

Where do you call home?

A little one-bed flat above a takeaway shop in Hackney, East London where I live with my partner Robyn and two whippets – Cornetto and Calippo. Our bedroom looks onto the railway lines, and a slow leak of ooze coming from the ducting of the restaurant below. Our electrician described it as ‘hardcore’. I like to think of it as ‘Urban Chic’.

How did you get into your line of work?

By accident really. I came to London to study and after graduating I was short of work. I picked up a one-day a week job washing casks for Redemption Brewery in Tottenham. That one day eventually became full time and I ended up brewing the beer as well as cleaning the floors. I left to help start Howling Hops brewery in Hackney, before escaping the pub basement to make Square Root the full time bottling machine that it is now with my partner Robyn.

Tell us about a day in the life of?

Whatever happens I’ll get up early. We have two dogs so they demand quite a lot of attention in the morning. We’ll run them on Hackney Downs until they’re tired enough to sleep in the office. Then we’ll head to the unit. I never really know what a typical day is any more – something always happens to throw a spanner in the works, as it were. Whatever happens though, I’ll always make time to share lunch with the team and catch up with all of them.

Square Root Bottles

What do you love most about your job?

The variety of the work really. Being part of a small business means you always have more pies than fingers to put them in.

What’s your biggest achievement to date?

Square Root winning the BBC Food and Farming awards for ‘Best Drinks Producer’ last year. It was an amazing moment in our lives and a real achievement as no other soft drinks company has ever even made it in to the final, let alone won the award!

What do you think has been the key to your success in your line of work?

We really care about what we do and how we do it. Be it the produce we buy, the people we hire or the drinks we release. We are fastidious about the quality of our products. Plus they taste really good.

Is collaboration important in your line of work?

Incredibly – Hackney is an amazing borough to work in. There are so many incredible small businesses in the area. Mark at 58 Gin is always popping in to grab a lemon or two, we routinely steal bits of stainless steel equipment from The Five Points Brewing Co – if we need help, all we do is pick up the phone, or hop on the bike to visit a neighbour. Whether it’s tea and chat with Pressure Drop Brewing, a coffee from Dark Arts Coffee, or nabbing some pickles from Vadasz Deli and bread from E5 Bakehouse, we couldn’t be better placed for working with other like-minded small businesses!

Any tips for making sodas at home?

Use good fresh ingredients – don’t faff about with them too much. All of the kit is really pricy, so start by making up cordials and just dilute with soda water. Old school!

Bergamots from Square Root Soda

Best Kept Secrets

I khoollect a few …

Weird old bits of kitchen equipment such as my antique meat mincer, my malloreddus pasta machine given to me by a lovely lady in Sardinia, and my vintage soda syphon I picked up in a charity shop.

What’s your favourite item in your khoollection? 

Probably my Spaetzle Hobel from Vienna. If you don’t have Spaetzle in your life you are missing out.

A life lesson that you’d tell your younger self?

Stop faffing. Just do it.

What’s your secret ingredient or top tip in the kitchen? 

Savoy cabbage. Every time.

Favourite corner of the Internet? 

I’ve lurked on Reddit for many years but never quite plucked up the courage to post.

Urban Favourites

Best place to get fresh produce?

Ridley Road Market is the closest to us. Check out Pete’s Fruit and Veg in the middle, or Matt on the corner by Dalston Kingsland Station. Pete always has amazing deals on the most random things. These traders are at New Spitalfields Market every day and sell an enormous amounts of fresh produce. Support them!

Ed Taylor of Square Root Soda

Top three spots to hang out in London?

Best way to spend a Sunday morning?

On the Hackney Marshes with a thermos and two mad whippet dogs running around (wellies a necessity).

Favourite place for coffee?

Fingers Crossed Café has got it – the coffee is amazing, the food is fantastic and the chat is spot on!

Favourite places to eat?

Anywhere Kerb goes, I go – I’m a huge fan of street food, it’s where we stared! Any of the Polpo venues are great, although my favourite so far is Ape and Bird at Cambridge Circus.

Donostia Social Club at Pop Brixton does amazing Catalonian style tapas from a shipping container. It is worth the trip.

Want to try some delicious zingy recipes using Square Root’s fresh seasonal sodas? How about a Bergamot ‘Nojito’  or ‘Dark and not so stormy’ – both make a delicious non-alcoholic option for guests.

Photos by Khoollect photographer Lara Messer

What are your favourite mocktails to make your friends? Tell us below.

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