What is craft beer? Craft beer is a term that encompasses modern micro-breweries that are independently owned that focuses on traditional brewing methods and with quality and flavour being paramount.
Here’s something you already knew, the UK loves it’s beer. And here’s something you didn’t, according to The Guardian, the UK now boasts more breweries per head of the population than any other country in the world. Apparently we ‘reaaallly’ like beer.
The Good Beer Guide 2015, published by the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) reports that there are now 1,285 breweries operating in Britain – one for every 50,000 people and the largest number since the 1930s and 1940s. Over the past 12 months, 170 new breweries have opened in the UK, continuing an annual growth rate of over 10% per year.
The Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA’s) Mike Benner said, “British independent craft brewers are seizing the global demand for their flavoursome, unique beers with both hands and exporting in higher numbers than ever before. The sessions being run by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) at BeerX (SIBA’s annual conference) are designed to create a platform for SIBA’s members looking to begin exporting, or increase the markets they already sell to, to speak directly with international buyers.”
Stephen Noblett, an international trade advisor and food and drink sector specialist at UKTI Yorkshire and the Humber who organised the fully-booked export sessions at BeerX, said: “This is the largest delegation of overseas buyers that UKTI Yorkshire and the Humber has ever attracted to BeerX.”
“The record breaking attendance reflects recent research by UKTI which showed about 75 per cent of food and drink exporters expected overseas sales to increase over the next quarter.”
To get a stronger understanding about the craft beer movement and its impact on Brighton, the Journal met up with Ollie Fisher, the Director at Brighton Bier, to talk about the origins of this movement for interesting beer and Brighton Bier’s goals.
What inspired you to start up an independent brewery and how did you do it? Well my business partner, Gary Sillence, went to BrewLab to be trained in brewing and then went on to do lots of work experience around the UK. He approached the Hand in Hand pub in Kemptown, which had become historically one of the first brew-pubs in the early 1980’s, but it had fallen into disrepair.
Gary went in and reopened the Kemptown brewery for them on their behalf, and rebuilt their kit, on the basis that he could also ‘Gypsie’ brew (Brewery using another breweries capacity to brew their own bier) Brighton Bier.
Around that time me and Stephen Whitehurst had met and left our respectful jobs, so we could start our own craft beer wholesaler. The two of us met Gary by coincidence in the Hand in Hand pub, and soon realised we had very similar feelings about beer in the UK market. Therefore, we decided to join forces and make Brighton Bier a proper thing.
Back in 2012, we would have produced 16 casks of real ale a month, whereas we now do about 7,500 litres a week. So we’ve grown quite substantially since that time. So much so that we’re now brewing at our sites capacity. We were hoping the site we are at now would last 3-5 years, but we’re around 3 and a half years ahead of plan. We’re already in a situation where we’re looking for a bigger premises.
That’s a good problem to have I suppose?! Yes it is! We’re staunchly proud of the integrity and the brand – we’re a Brighton brewery and we’re in Brighton and that will never change. The challenge is we pay a premium to be here, so we must find a site that is substantial enough where we can grow over the next ten years but be affordable!
How and why do you think independent brewers are having more success than ever before? I suppose going back 10-15 years, mainstream breweries realised that people were starting to branch out. They’re going out less often, but when they went out they expected more from the experience than they have traditionally had.
I think people started to become interested in food and wine and eventually what was happening with beer in the U.S. Slowly those interests started to come to the U.K. Around that same time, CAMRA had been pushing for more interesting beer since the 80’s and it’s mingled into a perfect storm where these things have come together.
SIBA at this time was also pushing for independent brewers to have sales relationships with bigger pub chains, so people weren’t being tied down with what they could drink anymore.
Since we started back in 2012, there were 30 breweries in Sussex, there is now 60. Whether that is the tale wagging the dog, or the other way round, I don’t know. It seems as though the more providers there are, the more interesting the beer is, and it all gathers momentum and helps us all.
We all strive to be better than our competitors, if no one is pushing, then it’s easy to be complacent.
One thing I will add is that this whole idea of craft beer is a bit of a misnomer. Me and Gary often laugh about it, but what we stand for is a declassification of craft beer. It’s really easy for people to label something as craft, and equally for people to be very despondent about big breweries or family breweries, like Fullers or Harveys, who we have a huge amount of respect for. It’s almost like ‘big means bad’ and ‘small means good’ and we don’t believe that to be true at all. There is only good beer and bad beer. If people could lose the craft thing, and focus on what is good and what is not, then I think that would be a much more interesting discussion in the U.K.
Do you think it’s possible that social media and peoples ease of access to it has opened up new customers to you? Totally. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. A great example, last week we had sent some beer to BeerBods, which is a really cool subscription based website where after signing up, you receive one beer a week, then on a set time and date, they do an organised tasting where everyone tastes the beer at the same time.
Last Thursday (21/04), Brighton Bier was being tasted at 9pm. Our twitter exploded where we had people drinking Brighton Bier in Newcastle, Newport, London and more, all talking about it whilst they drunk it.
We recently did a collaboration with a brewery in Japan, and you’ve got people drinking Brighton Bier in Japan at the same time that we have sent beer to Northumberland!
On a global level, people are getting to experience things in a different way, but most importantly, they’re getting to share their experiences with one and other. It’s breaking down any form of regionality that used to exist.
I saw that Brighton Bier was present at the recent ‘Tap Takeover’ Festival and the Brighton Marathon, how much fun is it getting involved with the community?Massively! Being as Stephen is a huge runner and actually ran in the marathon, we felt it would be a missed opportunity to not be in amongst it.
We’ve got really strong, close links with Whitehawk F.C. In a way, sponsoring is quite dull, and what I mean by that, is just signing up to something and putting your name to something, to try and gain awareness is a little bit false if you don’t believe in it. For us, we felt that Whitehawk F.C was a brilliant expression of what makes Brighton so great.
You’ve got a football club that is vehemently about equality, anti-racism and anti-homophobia. There is no swearing at the ground, it’s just a real family atmosphere. It’s about expressing individuality but as a collective, which is something we have always felt separates Brighton from the U.K. It’s such a huge collection of different people in Brighton and yet we all seem to get along and we’re all incredibly proud to call ourselves ‘Brightonians’.
Is Brighton and the people the perfect breeding ground for an independent brewery? Absolutely, it’s part of our fabric, and it’s what makes us Brighton Bier and not a Sussex brewery on the rolling downs. It’s about a celebration of individuality, but it’s also about bringing people together with the common love of beer.
Something that sums up what makes beer so brilliant and fascinating, is the community it engenders, and that is the case for our involvement in the Brighton Beer Dispensary. When I was last in there for a delivery, a retired chemistry professor from London was in there and he comes down every other week just to catch up with people, because he loves the chat and the talk.
He is sitting next to a street cleaner who works in Kemptown, alongside a 20-year-old barista, and they’re all talking to each other on a completely equal footing, and talking passionately about what is in the glass, there are no barriers, and that’s what makes Brighton, Brighton.
We don’t consider ourselves to be part of the Sussex brewery set, we’re not a traditional Sussex brewery set in the downs, we’re a Brighton brewery and thats quite different. Our competitor set are probably people like, Tiny Rebel (Newport), Thornbridge (Derbyshire) and Marble in Manchester.
This is a stacked question, but Brighton Bier has a large list of Cask ales and I’m curious which one you are most proud of? We’ve been on a real journey, in that we always felt in the beginning that Gary, our brewer, has an exceptional ability to design the beer from the ground up, and nail it first time out the gates. Gary is a highly scientific technical brewer, and because that was a strength of ours, we felt that we had to be constantly creating new beers, and demonstrating that skill.
What we found as we have gone more and more into keg beers, and canned beers, doing more different formats, and new beers as part of those formats, it’s meant that we’ve been able to produce less cask on our list due to brewing pressure.
What we found is that the two that we first started the company with, West Pier and South Coast, have really remained strong, and they’re great beers in their own right. South Coast recently won beer of the festival at CAMRA as well, and I think as it’s our most prevalent beer, people forget just how good it is.
The EU referendum is coming up. If the UK was to leave, would that affect the costs of ingredients you import from abroad or possibly exporting your product? I don’t think anyone knows specifically what the impact will be, my personal view is it can’t be a good thing. We export to Europe, and as far as we are concerned, we are a part of Europe. I think the idea of separating ourselves, and having to renegotiate trade deals and structures on an individual basis, can do nothing but harm in short-term.
Tying it back to why Brighton is great, we’re really open to different cultures, different people and we’re very inclusive. I don’t like the idea of separating ourselves from the rest of Europe and not being a part of something, it sounds a little terrifying!
I’ll finish off with something light! What is one of the first memories you have of drinking a really great beer? I think beer is really contextual and experiential, it’s a really tough one to answer! I can remember as an example, drinking an Argentinian lager in Argentina and thinking it was the best thing ever. It was the entire experience that made it that great.
Drinking Adnams in Suffolk I think was the first time I realised beer could be more than the lager I was drinking previously. From the first time drinking real ales, I was amazed at the flavours that was in them. I remember drinking Fuller’s London Pride in London, as I was growing up in South-East London, and thinking ‘wow this is big’.
Thank you for giving the Journal your time today, it’s been incredibly interesting learning about independent brewing. Sorry for rambling on! It’s been a pleasure.