First off the story starts with 2 friends. Myself (Tom) and Nick have known each other for as far back as we can remember. Our mums estimate 4 years old which sounds right but we can’t remember that far back so we count it as foreverish. We went to the same first school, and have always had pretty similar experiences growing up. Together we both played rugby and tennis at school and hung out loads as kids. We also both went bald young and that shit will bond you! Neither of us excelled at school, I never attempted university and Nick tried it and hated it. Just like loads of people who don’t take to formal education we both fell in to hospitality and are both glad we did.
I got my first real job at Boscanova cafe working for Joel. He comes up later as one of the heroes of Barefaced and we actually rent our current brewing space from him. Joel hired me as a kitchen porter and would agree that I should have been fired many many times whilst working at that amazing cafe. He slowly hammered a work ethic into me and opened my eyes to how amazing it can be working towards something which appears basic to most, serving people good food and drinks.
Boscanova is known for many things but excels as one of the best coffee destinations on the South Coast. For everyone involved in the process whether it’s the head chef or the lanky kitchen porter, drinking amazing coffee was one of the biggest perks of the job. The head barista at the time was Luke who has competed nationally as a barista and is still one of the best I know. Quickly after he joined I got me hooked on his espresso and an obsession for how to make coffee started. I tried to read and practice as much as I could to be as good as Luke.
Many would agree that there are huge similarities between brewing fantastic coffee and fantastic beer. Perfecting simple processes whilst trying to control and understand all the variables that affect the flavour of the finished drink is the core principle. This is the same philosophy that great chefs apply to food or cocktail barmen apply to alcohol. Trying to understand flavour and striving for greatness is a connection everyone in hospitality has.
Nick was living a similar life starting his career at the Olive Branch and getting bitten by the same bug. He learned as much as he could about all the different aspects of the business and rose over the course of his years there to running the bar and as the assistant general manager. Managing a large venue like that is not easy and comes with fresh challenges all the time with changing wine lists, food menus, cocktail menus, spirit lists, staff and a million other behind the curtain details.
Craft beer in 2012 in the UK was nowhere near what it is now and in Dorset it was non existent. The revolution for UK breweries hadn’t taken off and the odd beers that you’d see from the United States or Belgium were few and far between and viewed with suspicion. After years of drinking the regular fair of mass produced lager and cask ale available in Wimborne I didn’t enjoy beer at all. Like a lot of men I’d get a pint for appearances at events but not enjoy the taste at all. They were dry and left a horrible stale aftertaste in the mouth. I was trying to learn everything I could about flavour and the flavour in those beers didn’t add up to me.
Everyone I know in craft beer from bar tenders to head brewers remembers the first beer they had that changed their opinion on the potential of beer. For me it was leffe, the Belgian golden ale. The beer had a strong banana and clove flavour which I assumed came from a flavoured syrup or addition. Nick’s was Punk IPA which did the same thing for a huge number of people when BrewDog kicked off getting craft beer available to a huge market. Citrus fruits and quality ingredients instead of bland rice lager is a game changer.
At around the same age both of us left Dorset to travel. We left on separate trips but between us visited Australia, Canada, Thailand, America, Scotland, Vietnam and more countries drinking and eating as much as we could. At the last estimate Nick and I have tried approximately 5,000 different beers from different breweries, countries and levels of beer from around the world and it was of course all for market research.
We get asked pretty frequently what the best way is to learn about craft beer and how to get into the industry. Should I read this book or this book? Is this a good podcast to listen to? Does this guy know his stuff or is he a plank? The best way to learn is to drink. Sure if you want to know what an IBU is what the influence of mash temperature on final flavour is you’ll end up diving in to theory but if you don’t have a reference of flavour to apply it to then the theory is pointless. Knowing the difference between a porter and a black IPA or a wee heavy and a barley wine can only really come from drinking a bunch of them and seeing what you think. You could call that step 1 of the whole journey. It is the most fun step and can not be skipped. Breweries have been set up by people that skip step 1 but they don’t last long.
Our careers eventually led to similar places. Nick was working at the famous All Hands Ale House in Sydney, an amazing craft brew pub located in Darling Harbour, smack bang in the centre of the city turning out small batch beer made from scratch on site. He spent his days off helping the brewers when he could and getting practical experience working on their big brew kit and getting to grips with the techniques in a brewery taught by seriously talented brewers. He quickly fell in love with the job and found he had a serious talent for it. I ended up working at BrewDog Edinburgh with the best team of people that bar has probably ever seen. We were all big old nerds drinking and learning as much about beer as we could. With BrewDog I was trained in beer sommelier courses, learned about the business of craft beer and met a tonne of brewers and other professionals in the industry.
So at this point, even though we were in separate countries with different areas of interest Nick and I had both decided to focus our careers in craft beer. If you asked both of us at that time we also shared a desire to build our own business but the thought of our own brewery was still a pipe dream. I eventually moved back to Wimborne with no real plans and still no idea that Nick was brewing in Sydney. The next few weeks were spent very slowly fleshing out an idea of a brewery in my favourite stool at the Butchers Dog with the extremely patient and helpful Laura and Dean. From naming the brewery to getting our licences those guys have helped out at every stage and are the true godparents to Barefaced.
Everyone I caught up with pushed me to pursue my dream, but I had no money, business plan or real brewing expertise so fell back in to running a bar in town. Barefaced was still a concept drunkenly discussed with friends in the many corners of Wimborne and after a month or so I bumped into Nicks mum, Yvonne. After finding out he was brewing we sent back and forth a few messages congratulating each other and talking about all the great beers we’d tried and what we’d learned from our travels. We left it friendly and hopeful to catch up in 6 months when Nick would be back. He walked into my bar 2 weeks later out of the blue.
Let’s do this!