There might be 1,300-plus breweries now operating in the UK but the number that manage to gain regular column inches in the media is tiny.
The reason is simply that they are not sufficiently cutting-edge. They maybe don’t have a renowned head brewer, they don’t use esoteric ingredients, they don’t push any boundaries as such, they don’t do keg beers, and they are not based in a railway arch in East London.
The reality is that most of the breweries in that 1,300-strong list fail to ever hit the headlines and win any meaningful awards because of the above reasons. This is not to say they are not any good – far from it. They plough a furrow that caters more to their local customer base and the lifestyles of their owners/founders than to the whims of the media and craft beer aficionados looking for the next smoked saison or hopped weissbier.
Placed firmly in this camp is Haresfoot Brewery in Berkhamsted. It is owned by eight directors who two years ago collectively decided they wanted to start a brewery. With corporate backgrounds in surveying, outplacement, and IT consultancy they simply wanted to get their creative juices flowing rather than change the brewing world. And they were not looking to make their fortunes.
Nick Heath, one of the directors, says: “We’re not trying to feed our families from this. We’d be in trouble if we were. We’re simply investing in the business to facilitate its expansion.”
Included in the grouping is the head brewery Scott Carter who comes from the school of home-brewing and has stepped up to brew on Haresfoot’s 12-barrel plant in an industrial shed near the Grand Union canal. Rather than churn out myriad beers on a constant production line – that all beer writers and craft beer bars would undoubtedly lap up – they’ve sought to build a strong stable of six to eight regular beers.
And there has been nothing outlandish in the mix so far. They are firmly in modest ABV territory. Heath tells me that in his part of the world landlords demand beers with an ABV of less than 4%. “It is country pubs that we’re supplying and people drive to them and so want to be able to drink two sub-4% pints,” he says.
The strongest brew to date is a 5% Christmas ale that wouldn’t scare your grandmother but that’s immaterial as it’s about servicing the demands of local customers than worrying old women. As well as supplying the local pubs the brewery also sells bottles to Wine Rack and Majestic. This forms part of Haresfoot’s retail sales that account for 20% of total revenues. This includes quite a lot of retail activity at the brewery itself.
Where this business looks to have really come into its own is with its on-site initiatives. As well as brewery tours, a take-out shop, and a bar (open Thurs to Sat evenings) there are also various events held on the premises. These include live music and the ability to book out the brewery and have food brought in – think Indian cuisine following a brewery tour and a tasting for a group booking. In the summer months captains of passing narrow boats can’t help stopping off for a few pints and having a bit of take-out too Heath tells me.
None of this will pique the interest of the beer media but what it does do is deliver a lot of fun for the eight directors and for the locals who now have a credible local brewery to enjoy and support. Haresfoot and other breweries of its ilk are as important a part of the current UK beer revolution as the most outlandish craft beer producer throwing out daily weird and wonderful brews. It’s all grist to the increasingly glorious British brewing mill.
Glynn Davis, editor of Beer Insider