Build it and they will come
A brief look back and broad look ahead…
Not sure how to open our summary as a ‘brewery in planning’ – with no brewery built – and with only nine months history according to Companies House. There’s not enough history, technically speaking, to do a year summary but it has been a busy year nonetheless and as we’ve decided to be vocal about our journey, here it is.
This is a blog to share what we have done to reach this point and what plans we have to build a new wild ale and mixed fermentation true farmhouse brewery in Norfolk for 2018.
We found our perfect site…
In April, after looking for some time in both Bristol and Norwich, we settled on a farm site near Kings Lynn in Norfolk to place our farmhouse brewery. Helped by introductions from friends in both areas and many late night internet searches, West Acre was the fourth ‘serious’ contender we visited. We had rejected this site when the landlord first showed us a few potentials, deeming it inappropriate for having ‘too much red tape’.
We got the permissions…
However, we took a chance and decided to play the long game for our ‘everything site’ even though we could have been up and operational a lot sooner on the other options. In September this year the gamble paid off – we had planning permission approved for developing a 16th-century derelict barn on Abbey Farm – a site deemed a scheduled monument by English Heritage. The farm sits on one of the Nar Valley’s five celebrated priory sites in the sleepy village of West Acre home to under 300 residents. It sits majestically in nature with a babbling chalk river, established hardwood and ruins as far as the eye can see.
The main points we wanted in a site were:
- A sense of history and heritage
- Good rates on square footage – space for growth
- Remote and in nature but close enough for national distribution
- Hardwood trees and established flora
- A natural water source
- Good agricultural potential
We designed the brewhouse and wood division…
In this 16th century barn we will be installing a 20HL brew house, which we will name The River, several conditioning tanks and a canning line. In time a tap room. Most tanks will be able to hold two brews from the brew house – but there is the head height to install triple brew FV’s (fermentation vessels); a few will be single fillers. We’ve also got a 19th-century side barn; which we have been calling The Ruin for our wood barreling division. The Ruin will start life as a koelschip, a couple of 35HL foudres and 24 oak barrels. These two buildings (320m2 + 125m2) should be enough to get started and if we hit our first-year target we will make 2,200 hL (220,000 litres) or half a million 440ml cans of beer! The tap room element we will do once we’re rolling and if there is enough demand. We’re pretty remote.
We worked every room…
Throughout the past year we went and bothered, heckled and introduced ourselves to anyone in the industry who would listen, talk and show us round their breweries. We asked how others had set up and what they would do differently if starting over. We asked drinkers and bloggers what seems relevant in the UK beer scene. We attended lots and lots of beer events and we spammed every festival we could reach with stickers and coasters. We contacted bottle shops, bars and pubs and quizzed distribution firms and suppliers.
Our head brewer Bates did a few brews at Fonta Flora in North Carolina, and Scratch in Illinois. He got some good hangs in with Jester King, Trillium and Birds Fly South. We also worked the room in London Craft Beer Festival, Bristol Craft Beer Festival and had some amazing beers at some of the Lost & Grounded summer sessions.
We got our idea funded…
While seeking investment (separate blog How We Financed Our Brewery out in February), we were pitching and meeting investors so we weren’t making beer – a period of a lot of spreadsheets and dinners. Bates left Brew By Numbers on London’s Bermondsey Beer Mile a year ago to the day today – with just a few remaining examples of his work in the cellar – to go full time on planning the brewery with his business partner, me! At our pitches we relied on beer from Brixton Brewery’s – Atlantic APA, Five Points Brewery – XPA, and a few BA numbers from BBNo to share. We attribute much of the success at our pitches to sharing many of the UK’s great breweries beer and of course having Cloudwater‘s Paul Jones in the house helped greatly. He gave a keynote speech on his journey and what the future of UK beer lacks.
We started making beers in collaboration…
By August at Norwich Craft Beer Week we had our first beer under our Duration banner to bring to the festival thanks to Paul at Cloudwater débutanting us!
Our launch of our gooseberry saison ‘Fool For You‘ at The Reindeer Pub & Kitchen in Norwich was a wonderful introduction to the great and the good of the Norfolk brewing and bar scene and many new friends were made. The same beer made it out to Mash, a new beer festival Barcelona. Since that first beer we have made five more in collaboration and launched them at various bars. Particular shout-outs go to The Plasterers Arms, King & Co, Douglas Fir and Mason & Co East for hosting us with great launches with spectacular tap lists and food.
Here’s the list of 6 beers we made:
Fool For You – Gooseberry Saison with Cloudwater
Nuclear Dawn – Botanical Sour with Brixton
Strategic Partnership – IPA with Left Handed Giant
Ain’t My First Rodeo – Oatmeal Coffee Porter with Deya
Barnstormer – Saison with Cherry Wood with Gipsy Hill
If We Must – Double IPA with Grape Juice with Verdant
We got social..
For those that know us personally, you will understand how exuberant (Miranda) and reserved (Bates) are as a pair. The ‘opposites attract’ combination of a city girl and a country boy works for us. Getting on social media to promote your goals was something I had done both by nature and in my work for Snehalaya UK a Women’s Charity I founded in 2014. Bates is more of a face to face person, a slow warmer to social media for whom ‘self-promotion’ should be judged by others in his beers. But when someone like Paul Jones who personally controls the entirety of Cloudwater’s social media tells you to be honest, share out, people will get behind you – you have to listen! Bates agreed to ‘go-public’ and on July 14 (the day we brewed Fool For You as Cloudwater in Manchester) our social presence was born on fb and instagram. It took a week more to win Bates round to a twitter account. Making a few promo videos along the way has really helped us to interact with the people interested in hearing about our journey too.
We got press…
Other then our own marketing material on social and our videos, we have received a surprising amount of coverage. All of the press we have received has been organic and none of it has been solicited, in fact, we told journalists to hold off until we have planning permission secured. When we got it, Eastern Press Daily approached us so we worked on a piece with them. A PDF of our press folder to date is available here.
We weighed up being in it ‘together’…
Becoming co-founders of a family brewing company when you are married and parents together is a big decision to make. We are already well versed in working together from our other business (an airbnb in London we’ve been running for 6 years) but this is a passion project and it meant we really had to align our views and differences, what we collectively wanted from the project. We have negotiated the sometimes perilous route of being married AND business partners and while it seems entirely natural and logical to do this together, we decided to set out very distinct and different roles for ourselves and agreed a clear process on how decisions would be reached. We are relying on our complimentary skills to bring the perfect push and pull we need for our team with Bates over Production and our Brewing Direction and me over Operations and Sales and Marketing.
We felt so much love and feel incredibly grateful…
We have been blown away by all the amazing breweries that took a punt and let Bates loose on their brewers and brew kits, behind these are dozens more reaching out and offering the same. Bates likes to bend the norm to get maximum taste into his brews, so there were a few raised eyebrows but mostly a lot of love. Thanks to everyone for welcoming us into the fold, we will certainly be welcoming everyone back to brew when we are up and running. Cloudwater, Brixton, Left Handed Giant, Deya, Gipsy Hill, Verdant are all making different beers in progressive ways and all met us with open arms and minds. Thanks is due to, not only the breweries, but also the drinkers and the vendors, the marketers and our friends and family who have all come out to try our beers and while we don’t want to PTE (peak to early) we think looking back collabs were a good idea for us – something tangible at least.
We talked with beer peers and defined our own stance..
This year we joined the growing tide of people being vocal about equality and the need for standards and with Camra and SIBA both taking note we hope to see behind every brewery a strong action to support #womeninbeer. We can’t believe we still have to campaign this shit, but knowing what you ‘can’t accept’ helps you understand your principles.
At our core..
For us we would like to see more consistent quality and standardisation across the board and feel this will come and have a blog planned on it. Our two core principles are to be as EFFICIENT and EQUAL as possible (look out for our blog on Efficiency By Design in March). We plan to reduce waste in order to be one of the most efficient and least impactful UK breweries to date, starting with water consumption and striving to put back more than we take out environmentally speaking. We want to cultivate crops and our flora to ensure we are harmonious with and celebratory of our surroundings and not a blot on our beautiful landscape.
By equal we intend to be fair to our employees – Norfolk has sparse employment so we want to offer apprenticeships and education in beer to help industry growth in this region. We will support the regions local nurseries and other small producers through collaborative practices too. We’ll join the likes of Five Points, Lost & Grounded and Brixton Brewery and many others in being a TRUE living wage brewery – with a dedicated staff incentive scheme. Yes, we want to give shares in the company to our staff. We will encourage equality in our practices and beginning with a 50:50 split of female and male employees is a good starting point.
2018 in a nutshell…
Across the coming year, we hope to continue to develop our branding, refining it and improving our website and communicating on social and in our blog. We will continue to make and offer collaborative beers, and bring in the arranged finance and actually build the damn thing. We will do this all the while continuing to learn from our peers, listen to the growing demands of the consumer and the environment and keeping a firm eye on our own goals.
We have some collabs and away days planned..
We’re looking ahead to a big year for Duration, chiefly in our build out a seven-month project, which will be fully detailed by the end of February to start building in March. Bates might just go mad without being welly deep in a mash tun so we’ve also planned a string of collabs and some stints away to play on other brewers’ kits.
Kicking off the year with a three-way collab brew for a new London blendery, then it’s over to Oslo to make a beer with Amundsen, before heading back to Brew By Numbers – where Bates was former Head Brewer for a bretted IPA. In April we are going to play on Lost & Grounded’s kit and some in the States just before hitting CBC Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville in May. We will do a blog on our full collab plans when we have them – as we are more in discussions right now.
With a name like Duration you’d hope we’ve plan ahead..
We have planned some pretty clear routes to market, employment growth charts and production forecasts in our business plan – it would be foolhardy not to cover these bases with a fine tooth comb in today’s market. All of these we will be sharing in our monthly blogs kicking off in the new year. Ultimately, we want to set up a production facility and distribute beer with a regional and UK focus for both on and off-site sales.
We will also invite people to come and collaborate with us and get out and about in East Anglia and beyond, attending a few festivals and encouraging pubs and bars to reach new audiences through educational events. We hope to be consistent with our core beers and differentiate ourselves as The Ruin develops and adds to our offering over time. We feel, as in any industry, it’s important to be open and transparent.
Life can move pretty fast (or so Ferris Bueller said) so lets just say we have a plan, an approach, and an agenda. However much the devil is in the detail we also intend to remain fluid and learn from what works and what doesn’t. We may deviate or adjust our plan if it’s not working, but our core values will be our bedrock – to make progressive modern and revivalist beers using modern science and measured efficiencies to reduce waste. In essence, reviving old practices, making farmhouse ales and beers that belong to the land on which they are conceived.
We want to build a brewery in harmony with nature, while also being an honest and fair company that looks after its own company culture. We will be conscious of our impact on others as well as the environment on which we operate. We will strive to do all of this while remaining relevant, innovative and profitable.
Open for Business in 2018..
We certainly hope so. It will be late summer at the earliest. The build-out can officially commence once we hear back on our grant application. It’s 15% of our start up budget so we need it to make the last piece in the financial jigsaw to get the metaphorical diggers in (no actual digging can go on as it’s an archaeological site). The site will need a good six months to turn from being ‘a big pigeon coop’ into a ‘state-of-the-art’ brew house. That’s about how long the lead is on our bespoke brew house so it will be about six months from day one until we are operational; seven months till we have some sweet ambrosia to sling around. We’re planning an opening party and everyone will be welcome. We’ll even point you to some good accommodation, but we’ll get up and running first.
A month by month summary..
(Subject to variations in timing):
- Finalising all legal documentations, service agreements and contracts in preparation for signing in our shareholders
- Going over returned tenders and working with our design teams at detail design level
- Bates will spent time at back in the brewhouse (undisclosed brewery)
- 1st collab brew day of 2018
- Bringing in the finances into the company: a combination of debt, equity and grant
- Grant determination is on 28th Feb + 1 week – keep everything crossed or it’s back to the drawing board big time
- 1st collab beer launches
- 2nd and 3rd collab brew day of 2018
- Etymologist will conduct a bat roosting survey – please let there be NO BATS
- Appointment of our main contractor and specialist subcontractors to start renovating our site
- Down payment on bespoke brewing equipment placed
- Lease signed with a rent free period to build the project, the clock starts in earnest with debt repayments to make and contracts in place
- 2nd and 3rd collab beers launch
- Bates will spend time back in the brewhouse (undisclosed brewery) perhaps some brewing friends in the States
- 4th collab brew day of 2018
- 4th collab beer launches
- 5th collab brew day of 2018 in the USA
- Attending Craft Beer Conference in Nashville Tennessee
- 5th collab beer launches – in USA
- 6th and 7th collab brew day of 2018
- 6th and 7th collab beers launch
- Trip to our brew kit supplier to play on their test kit
- Brewery-specific work commences on site.
- We will move from London to Norfolk once our daughter finishes school
- This is the month we will be going hell for leather and at site every single day. We will share a time lapse of this period
- May escape and come play at London Craft Beer Festival
- Month 1 of being an operational brewery
- Beavertown Extravaganza – a little escapade
- Hoping to have stock for sale this month
- Month 2 of being an operational brewery
- May escape and come play at Bristol Craft Beer Festival
- First koel schip brew happens
- Month 3 of being an operational brewery
- Brewery opening party dates announced
- Month 4 of being an operational brewery
That’s the plan anyway.
See you on the flip side…
We’d like to say thank you to everyone who has brewed, purchased, drank and enjoyed our beers across 2017. Everyone who has come along to our launches or just hung out and shared their knowledge and time with us. And to the small but amazing team of people who have come to be our awesome team of doers; the money-where-their-mouth is supporters who have helped us dream, shape and build the plan – all of you combined are what is make Duration Brewing possible.
See you on the other side and we hope 2018 is the year all our dreams become reality!
Miranda Hudson, Derek Bates
& Team Duration