After we’d decided to go for it with the brewery me and Nick were full of energy and excitement and pretty quickly began fantasising about our yachts and summers on a beach retired at 40. It’s natural to get pumped with any new project or exciting venture and we both had a shared dream to commit all our energy to which is invigorating at the start but if you stepped on to our yachts now you’d drown. The most important part of a brewery is the beer, seems obvious right? Underneath all the marketing gimmicks and bullshit has to be an amazing product or you’re stuffed from the start.
I couldn't find an accurate figure but there are over 2,000 breweries in the UK as of writing this. It’s the highest number on record and is a terrifying number if you’re getting in to the industry. A large number of people at the start delighted in pointing this out with choice words such as ‘over subscribed industry’ and ‘bubble’ being dropped in to conversation. The solution to this from my business knowledge is you can set yourself apart by being super innovative - USP, finding a niche in the market or having a shit tonne of cash to throw at the issue. Unfortunately cash was out the window, bar managers don’t get paid particularly well. Targeting a niche market is automatic in craft beer, even BrewDog valued in the billions is a thousandth the size of the top beer industry producer in literage produced. It fell to having a uniquely barefaced approach other than our name.
At first the grand idea was to focus on doing events and bespoke beers for people and businesses in small batches so everyone can design their own beer. We’ve done this for a few people since and still enjoy working with people to design beers or work out issues with recipes but there are too many cons to the business model which made it near impossible for us to focus on. It takes about 6 hours to brew a beer and if it’s for the equivalent of 1 keg at say £100 your wages aren’t great. Ideas of doing solely gluten free beer or the weirdest recipes imaginable were also considered and rejected. We ended up thinking that the most unique thing about us is that we’re not brewers by trade. It sounds counter-intuitive but both us have spent the last few years trying as much different beer as possible whilst listening to people talk about that beer without a bias. We’ve amassed a kind of massive database of different flavours and the public's opinion of them just by fortune of working where we have. But could we come up with a drinkable recipe?
Any beer seems simple but most start life as an idea for what you want in the glass and what you would like to drink, “ I want to make a juicy citrusy pale with undertones of guava” for example. Underneath that hope are about 50 variables that need to be very tightly controlled and monitored to get a consistent and quality beer. You need to understand the effect that each variable has on all aspects of flavour before you start or those lessons become expensive. Like most breweries we would have to do test batches of our first recipes and get honest feedback to change them and refine them to a saleable product. A lot of breweries have small home brew style set ups that they’ll test new recipes on a few times before they get released to the public. We decided the best start we could make would be to invest in one of these kits.
Home-brew kits are hugely varied in every way imaginable and one the best parts of home brew is how much you can tailor your kit to what you want to brew and how you want to brew. We went for an all grain kit using the RIMS model (recirculating infusion mash system). The most important principles of brewing other than the recipe are cleanliness and temperature control so we decided to invest as much as we could in these. Temperature controlled fermenters run in the thousands or you have to put more things in contact with the beer which is a no no. Imagine you have 50 litres of sugary liquid you’re trying to ferment and you hold it at a perfect temperature for microbiology to kick start. There is significant risk of other bacteria or as we say infection developing as they also have the perfect set of parameters to grow. In the picture below you can see our setup which had great temp control during brewing. We were forced to ferment in plastic which isn’t great but invested in the pro grade cleaning chemicals to try and mitigate the effects. The room was temperature controlled using Ink Bird Thermostats which are still on of our favourite bits of kit. Fermentation is exothermic though so our ferment temp wasn’t as stable as we would have liked but we’d hit budget with the kit we had.
Over the spring of 2017 we cleared a room in the garage at my mums house of all of the garden kit and cobwebs and converted it into the tiny version of a production brewery. The plan going in was to build a small version of what we’d brew on eventually and make 50 litre batches of our favourite recipes, keg them and serve them at parties in the summer to friends and family. We thought if we threw free parties with food, music and beer with the only proviso being honest feedback on each beer. We’d change the recipes based on the feedback, brew them again and so on. I will say a massive thank you now to anyone who showed up to those parties, they were super helpful and probably resulted with some rough home-brew hangovers. It was seeing people enjoy the beer we’d made that fuelled us and I will say there’s an all encompassing satisfaction in seeing someone enjoy something you’ve made.
This next bit is for brewers and is quite dull, fair warning
One of the main reasons we even started a blog was to get as much information out about how we started from scratch from the boring side of things. There are companies out there you can pay to complete all your paperwork and get you up and running legally and courses you can go on to learn the business side of brewing or how to use kit and hey, if you’ve got the capital all power to you, we don’t judge and if anything we’re jealous. But for those who don’t there is no guide out there and as nice as the community of brewers are few have the time to go over this stuff and even fewer probably remember. I still remember vividly the frustration of trawling through the internet and getting no solid info so for anyone who was in the same boat I hope this helps in some way and we will always try and answer any questions that people have about our experiences
We started out with months and months of research from books, blogs and websites that we’ve listed at the bottom of this post to make sure we had a good grasp on every aspect of brewing. You can have the most obscure question that you think no one in the world will know and I guarantee there will be 10 homebrew forums discussing the subject at length. We eventually got to a basic framework we use for all our beers for recording recipes. The spreadsheet pictured below is the same tool we use to this day for designing beers in conjunction with online software to determine the parameters of each beer and price them up. We have a template in google drive and for a new beer we copy the template, check with the software and calculators and have a new recipe figured out and fully costed up in around 20 minutes. Everything from duty to the number of labels is calculated for us without the need for accountants or hours of arithmetic. We’ve linked this sheet through to brew logs, duty logs, cost breakdowns of the beers, product range sheets we send to clients and a whole bunch of stuff that all works automatically.
Each recipe sheet links through to a database we have of all the prices from our main suppliers for every product we could possibly buy. This took a long time to build but has every hop price from every year available to us in the uk and same for malts, yeast, adjuncts, chemicals, regular equipment, kegs, casks, bottles etc. Everything we use in the brewery is stored in that sheet so when prices change quarterly we can update our prices easily. Then with a combination of import ranges and if statements each new recipe sheet has the up to date prices filtered in automatically. This is also handy as when the prices do change we can see the effect immediately in our margins and change our prices accordingly. We then also have specific reasons for the increase in case anyone moans.
If anyone would like a run down of any of these tools message us and we can share them. Other tools we have and you will need even if not from us are;
Keg and cask tracker
Duty log with calculator and gyle (batch) tracker
Brew logs with recipe changes
Sales record sheets
Stock control sheet
Beer cost analysis
Product range for clients
Brewers Friend - Online brewing software
BJCP Style Guidelines - Good for reference
DIY Dog - Brewdog’s open source recipe list
HarryBrew69 - Amazing youtube channel for brewhouse hacks and entertainment, Harry is hilarious
Duty Guide - Something you will really have to get your head round and is essential knowledge
Grain Substitutes - Has come in handy for us a few times
Water Calculators - There are loads of these online but they all differ slightly. Tis works for our kit.
Designing great beer - Ray Daniels
Water - J Palmer
Hops - Stan Hieronymus
Yeast - Chris White and Jamil Zainasheff
Malt - John Mallett
Mastering Home Brew - Randy Mosher
The World Guide to Beer - Michael Jackson
Radical Brewing - Randy Mosher
Angel Home Brew
Home Brew Shop
Home Brew Builder
UK Pump Suppliers