What a crazy 12 months this has been, but one we wouldn’t change for the world (well, apart from a few things…!).
In this blog, I would like to take the opportunity to tell you about what has been going on in our little world this year.
To begin with, let me take you back to this time last year from myself and Dan’s personal perspective…
Myself, and now wife Jo, were in our old flat in London packing boxes, as the decision was made we needed to relocate back to the west-country to be nearer the brewery, and Dan, along with his wife Rhi, were getting to grips with parenthood (and absolutely nailing it) as their son Bodhi was born in October 2016.
Jo had given up her job in London and, more importantly, moved away from her best mates, whilst Rhi was on maternity leave having to look after Bodhi for long periods of time while Dan was busy building and brewing! On top of that, we all decided to get married, with Dan and Rhi doing so in March, and Jo and I in June.
These are big challenges on their own, let alone starting a business at the same time! Luckily, Jo and Rhi have both been absolutely incredible sources of support and as sounding boards for Dan and I, and we certainly wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for them.
So, that’s the personal stuff out the way, now on to the beer and business side of things…
Our first brew took place on January 7th, and it only took the 21 hours to complete! A lot went wrong, but we managed to produce a beer… we learnt a lot from it. But the pain we went through changed to pure pleasure when we got to pull the first pint off in our local pub!
We continued to make amendments over the coming weeks in order to make the kit work how we wanted it too, but it soon became apparent that our business model wasn’t going to work with this size of brew house. At the same time, we didn’t have the budget to get a new kit. Although we had the 5bbl brew house set-up, we had already purchased second hand 10bbl FV’s, and we soon learnt that if it was the two of us doing everything, then we needed to double capacity in order to make it efficient and sustainable.
We had to think outside the box; after receiving quotes for new brew houses (which were out of our range), we found what essentially can be described as a stainless steel graveyard in Bury, just outside Manchester. So in mid-February, Dan and I hired a flatbed truck for the day and went up to see if we could find some tanks suitable to become our Mash Tun and Copper. Thankfully, we found them (at less than half the price of the new kit). We believe they were used as soft drink vessels in their past life. Luckily we have a pretty big space in the warehouse which is split into two rooms, one side became our workshop for our welder friend James to fabricate the new tanks before cladding, insulating, and painting them to create our new 2000L brew house. The finished kit was commissioned in May.
By this point we were producing mainly cask beer and had only dipped our toes into kegging. However, we were not happy enough with the results and decided to stick to cask as we knew more amendments were required until we release keg beers again. We were able to distribute cask beer in and around Bristol and Bath, as well as further afield in London, south coast and the midlands. This was great but we knew the beer needed to improve to meet the high standards we had set ourselves.
We have constantly been trying to improve everything we do in order to make the best beer we can. Fairly early on we invested in a brand new heat exchanger. This is a crucial part of the process used to cool the wort down after boiling before going into the fermentation vessel, and more recently we have installed a glycol cooling system with a control panel. This allows us to control all the temperatures during fermentation.
Things happen in 3’s…
This then brings us to the toughest few months since this whole journey began. It all started with the cooling system which was due to be installed in early September. After being advised it would take a week to complete the work, this actually took over 4 weeks and double the cost! Meaning no production took place and we had no beer to sell.
At the same time, we had also hired our first 2 members of staff, Robbie who is our part-time brewery assistant and a brewer. Unfortunately things didn’t work out with the brewer, so Dan and I had to get back in to the production side of things, with Robbie helping out with production as well as deliveries. Robbie has been a great asset so far and we are excited for his future. His aim is to get into brewing and we will help to get him there.
The cherry on the top arrived in October when we took the tough decision to recall our range of cans as we were not happy with the quality of the product. This of course had a cost implication associated with it, but in order for us to build credibility and integrity as a new brewery, with customers and consumers, we knew it was the right decision. There were some tough conversations, and there will continue to be challenges moving forwards as we start to release new packaged beers, but we made that call as we are here for the long game.
None of this was part of the plan however, like everything this year, we’ve rolled with the punches, rolled our sleeves up and cracked on!
Jo brought me the book ‘Business for Punks’ by James Watt (Founder of Brewdog) for Christmas 2015 and in that I remember him saying that, as an owner, you need to know every element of your business and that is exactly what Dan and I have done. We know the brewery inside out as we built it; we built the cold room, the bar, designed our cask washer, we run the accounting, deliver the beer, sell the beer and market it the best we can and much more!
In November, Dan and I had to re-evaluate where we were and work out what we were going to do. We knew we had to be in control of everything, evaluate our processes and get our heads down till Christmas. So, we have changed our conditioning process once the beer is packaged and we are now bottling in-house. This is more time consuming but it means that we know exactly what is going on with our beer from start to finish. From this amendment, we have seen huge improvements with the final product. Our score on the beer rating app ‘Untappd’ continues to increase and we have had our biggest month of sales to date.
As I just mentioned, we are here for the long game trying to build a brewery and brand. The aim is to give people a great experience when they come in to contact with either the product, the branding or us as humans! With that in mind, we hope to create more jobs as we look to grow next year, continue to reward our staff for their hard work and having lots of fun along the way.
Just this week, we have provided Gav (our designer) shares in the business as we see him as an integral part of what we do and what we want to become in the future. For us though, it isn’t just about having Gav on board because he is brilliant, but also because he understands what Dan and I are trying to do and our culture. This is something we are happy to do with any potential future employees, as and when the right people get involved in the business, and I am sure in 2018 our next step will be looking to hire another key person in a brewing capacity.
Part of our ethos is to give back where we can and in 2017 we have donated over £1,000 to Farm Africa with our Give A Cock A Home Project. This was made up of sales of product, as well as Dan completing Ride London. If you didn’t know, we donate £1 for every cask and keg, as well as 50p of every case of bottles we sell. Please see our Give A Cock A Home Page for more information.
We have brewed 8 different beers this year, created a core range of 4 and collaborated with pubs and breweries. Next year, we will be brewing even more styles of beer, whilst continuously improving our core range with recipe adaptions. We will continue to brew into cask, keg and bottle in-house and who knows if we will venture back to canning.
My apologies if I have waffled on a little, but there is so much to say (and plenty I haven’t) and it makes me really excited as we look ahead.
On wrapping this up I just wanted to add that we have never been under any illusion that starting a business was going to be easy, but it is amazing what you can achieve with a bit of hard work, some luck, customers that believe in you and one hell of a support network of family and friends. Thanks to everyone who has helped us this year! Merry Christmas and bring on 2018!