Category Archives: English Beer

Lovibonds Brewery on the brink

Establishing, operating and – with time – growing a brewery is a tough task, with unforeseen problems rearing their head at will. Irrespective of whether the recent boom in craft beer is sustainable or not, the everyday pressures of running a small business can leave some producers skating on thin ice through no fault of their own. As us consumers get caught up in the excitement of new sours and barrel-aged releases, the men and women who work all hours to create these beers sometimes have the rug pulled from under them. And that is exactly what could be about to happen to one producer in the south-east.

Lovibonds – a brewery with a hundred-year association with Henley on Thames – is set to close through one of the more unexpected threats to breweries – conversion into flats. Yes, the problem that has taken account of hundreds of pubs the length and breadth of the country isn’t often one faced by the people who supply those pubs with beer, but Jeff Rosenmeier and his team are facing the prospect of being evicted by their landlord, who has lodged a planning application to turn the Lovibonds tasting room and barrel cellar into seven luxury flats.

So rather than the shakeout of the modern craft brewing industry, or some lawyered-up trademark dispute crunching through the funds, all of a sudden one of the best small craft breweries in the UK looks set to be punted out of their buildings for the benefit of a landlord and just over half a dozen people. Even though it’s a long way from Scotland, I unashamedly love what Jeff and the guys do (I visited him in March 2015 for a piece I put together for BrewDog), and it would be a crying shame for the brewery to be kicked to the curb in this way.

Timing is never good for a notification such as this to appear on your doormat, but Lovibonds for years brewed at Luxters five miles from their taproom, transporting everything between the two sites. Now with a set up closer to home and the recent milestone of their 600th brew (the same as their 1st; Henley Gold) it’s a massive kick in the balls for Jeff to have to overcome. Urban renewal – appearing exactly when and where you don’t want it. But, do Lovibonds have a way out of this?

That parallel to pub conversions is more than an easy analogy as, like many of them, Lovibonds is the centre of the community in Henley. A town best known for its Regatta has much more going for it and many of that emanates (or is focused around) the brewery taproom. With talks, tastings, live music, charity events and even the recent fresh hop brewday, Lovibonds deserves better than being pushed aside for a few flats. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but let’s hop Lovibonds can hold on to the community hub aspect that sometimes stays the hands of developers looking at old pubs.

If you’d like to oppose the planning application, it can be done so by visiting this page and leaving a comment. Local fans of the brewery have set up a Save Lovibonds FaceBook group, too. Let’s hope the needs of the many in the town are recognised and Lovibonds can stay in existence, keeping the developers at bay.

So Carlsberg had eyes on…the London Fields Brewery?

A couple of months ago the Morning Advertiser revealed that Carlsberg UK had plans to buyout a British craft brewery to bolster their beery credentials, helping their portfolio make the leap from fickle lagerboys to dedicated followers of the one true beer faith. At the time, it caused a fair bit of mildly fevered speculation as to which schooner-loving beardies it might be. Were Carlsberg waving chequebooks at Cloudwater? Would it be Innis & Gunn receiving a Danish delegation into their Glasgow Edinburgh Perth offices? Was Logan Plant going to be the one pulling on a green t-shirt and smiling for the camera? Well, no – not as it happened. Yesterday the Morning Advertiser neatly bookended their scoop by revealing the answer – Carlsberg UK are to buy the London Fields Brewery in Hackney. And the response from the beer industry? Errr….what?

Terms of the deal have not been announced, other than the fact that Carlsberg and the Brooklyn Brewery are going to take on London Fields as a joint venture (The Danes having purchased UK distribution rights for Brooklyn last year). The Evening Standard stated that the deal was rumoured to be ‘worth an estimated £4m’ although having read that London Fields were for sale for around a quarter of that amount a while back, I’m not sure if the lager concern would have to fork out quite that much, but you never know. But even if they did pay £4m for London Fields, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the (also estimated) £85m that AB-InBev laid out for Camden Town a few days shy of Christmas 2015. (“Put the turkey back in the freezer Jasper, it’s goose this year!”). But London Fields are not Camden Town. Oh my goodness, they are not even close.

Way back in the day I was actually the first beer writer to visit London Fields, a few weeks after they started brewing and just following the London riots of 2011. I remember been shown around the Hackney archway by co-founders Jules de Vere Whiteway-Wilkinson and Ian Burgess and sampling a few beers, being pretty impressed with what they had put together – and even more impressed with the story of how they created Love Not War – a brown ale brewed with the shutters down whilst the riots were actually taking place outside. Another thing I remember is Jules telling me he came into brewing from a gardening business, and very much not telling me (understandably) that he had in fact done a twelve year stretch at Her Majesty’s pleasure for cocaine trafficking.

But, you know, second chances and all that. Except in 2014 the brewery was raided by HMRC who discovered that Jules had allegedly not paid any tax or beer duty for three years and pocketed national insurance and student loan contributions taken from their employees. The court case – scheduled to begin last January but put on hold for reasons of jury selection – is, rather ironically, set to begin again on Monday according to the Guardian.* The actual brewery itself is currently owned on paper by Jules’s father, although you’d expect the Crown to take a rather large interest in what is going down there at the moment. And the beers themselves? Well in March 2015 the brewery staff were made redundant and brewing contracted out to another producer in Lincolnshire.

Anyhow, when the Morning Advertiser first broached the rumours that Carlsberg UK were looking to take over a British craft brewery, I posted about who it might be – full disclosure, I emphatically did not mention London Fields – but also aside from the clickbait pushed a few suggestions as to what the Danes would be looking for in a future ‘partner’. Let’s go back and review those to see exactly how it all shook out. To summarise, at the time the Carlsberg UK CEO Julian Momen stated that the brewery purchased would need to have the right location, a UK craft brand and one that fits with Carlsberg’s existing portfolio.

Well, I did at least say that they wanted something in a major city to push the urban cool bracket. And with that in mind, I was right on the money. From their Hackney base – to which Carlsberg have already been quoted as saying brewing operations will return (which if nothing else is good to see), the Danes will have a London-centric brand to push across the country and beyond. And the fact that it has the city name in the brewery title is an added bonus. The rest of it is less straightforward. London Fields don’t have a standout brand in their lineup (Hackney Hopstar? Shoreditch Triangle?) although again it all dials back to the identity of the east of the capital. There’s no I-must-have-this-IPA in their repertoire.

The other thing that should be discussed, the elephant in the room, is their reputation. Looking at some of the tweets from beer industry people – particularly those based in London – was an almighty WTF moment. Of all the brands to acquire, why pick one with so little public recognition and so much industry resentment? The continual attitude and actions of the founders have blackened the name of London Fields within the beer community – but, as we’ve all seen since time began, the big lager boys don’t really care for that anyway. It’s the bottom line that matters, and in their eyes, picking up London Fields for even £4m is peanuts compared with what they would have to fork out for other alternatives.

Plus they can knock everything down and build it back up from the ground. If they bought Brew By Numbers, say, you’d have the goodwill of the people to get over, the staff to placate, co-founders Dave and Tom to drop off at the nearest Lambourghini dealership and all sorts of other things to consider. The fact that they have bought out the most controversial London brewery is surely because they can have a fire sale and quickly re-shape London Fields into something they want. Look for a quick re-brand, some name changes and a whole new outlook. And to be honest, for everyone associated with London Fields – that can only be a good thing.

* UPDATE 28/07/2017

The jury at Wood Green crown court found Mr. Whiteway-Wilkinson not guilty and cleared him of all charges.

Breweries to watch out for in 2017

Here we are, staring bleary-eyed at another year having rolled around. 2016 saw lean times on the BeerCast in terms of writing, but there was more than ever going on in the world of brewing in the UK. As this is now the tenth year I have been writing about beer, that is more than reason to fire up the presses once again.

Time to kick things off in the traditional manner by taking a look ahead at some producers in England and Scotland to keep an eye on throughout the course of 2017. I’ve done this every year since 2012 and you can have a look at previous predictions here; 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

As ever, these are a few breweries who have interesting stories to keep an eye on and see how they progress – I’ll post a follow-up midway through the year to chart their progress…



SCOTLAND

Williams Bros – My overall pick to watch for Scotland would be the Brotherhood from Alloa. Williams Bros announced yesterday morning a planned expansion that’s short on concrete detail but includes a scaling up described as ‘radical’ and an overall aim of providing a bespoke packaging service for small-scale brewers looking to begin exporting. Williams Bros embraced canning last year, and waters thus tested they could carve themselves another niche pairing other can-curious breweries with exporters such as the Craft Beer Clan of Scotland (with whom they have an existing barrel-ageing programme). It’s barely two years since WB last expanded (to the tune of £1m); the fact that they are looking to re-up in 2017 is fascinating.

 

 

Bellfield Brewery – One of the increasing trends to follow over the course of the year could be ‘specialist’ breweries. The way the market is going, having a point of difference that works can boost producers into public consciousness way above (and irrespective of) the size of their business. Take Bellfield – Scotland’s first exclusively gluten-free brewery. The end of last year saw the Edinburgh producers secure their first UK-wide listing, charting a rapid increase in scope that their planned bespoke brewhouse will be able to supply. If this comes online and more beers are added to the portfolio (of existing Pils and US IPA) then look for both co-founders to use their media backgrounds to truly make Bellfield known up and down the country.

 

 

Fierce Beer – You may well have heard of Fierce Beer, but if you haven’t then chances are 2017 is the year in which you will. They blew onto the scene last year in a way not seen for a while – since the first brew in May, ex-oilworker homebrewers Dave Grant and David McHardy ratcheted everything up almost immediately. Within three months they had secured investment to expand into a brewhouse in Dyce, created a core line-up of ten different beers and launched into London by taking over the Rake in Borough Market. One of the great things about the industry at the moment is that brewers can create ranges with peanut/raspberry/habanero and it is in no way a gimmick. Fierce by name, Fierce by nature – look out, 2017.

 

 

Fyne Ales – One nugget that slipped out unnoticed towards the end of last year was the fact that the champions of Argyll had started a programme of spontaneous fermentation. Having obtained seven French wine casks a very special beer was encased within and is apparently going to remain there for at least two years. But instead of adding Fyne Ales to the 2019 brewers to watch list, they probably deserve keeping tabs on much sooner than that – their barrel-ageing programme is set to reveal all kinds of treasures (if you like Imperial Stouts, for instance) and when coupled with the fact that 2017 is the fifteenth anniversary of their first full year of brewing, expect one of the best breweries in the UK to get even better.

 

 

Dead End Brew Machine – Speaking of Fyne Ales, their sponsorship of the 2012 IBD Scottish Homebrew Competition resulted in Zombier, a porter created by Jake Griffin and Chris Lewis. Both now have microbreweries of their own, and to be honest either could be in this list. Jake’s Up Front had an amazing year last year – I can only hope that Chris’s concern has a similarly breakout twelve months. From debuting a passion fruit IPA (Dead One) in March, Chris brewed at a series of different places with every single result being outstanding. Glasgow has seen a surge of brewing talent arrive over the last year or so, which is fantastic to see. If Chris gets more brewdays in the bank over the next few months, be sure and track down anything he comes up with.





ENGLAND/WALES

Harbour – Moving into England, we start with Harbour Brewing Company. This time last year Eddie Lofthouse and his team were brewing on a 10BBL kit and pondering a few changes. That resulted in a new 30BBL kit, a new canning line and a new head brewer in Stuart Howe. A year of consolidation is far from on the cards however as they are soon to rip out that canning line for a larger one (a sure sign that aluminium is back and here to stay) and are planning on building an entirely new warehouse to free space for an enlarged brewery. Their second expansion in two years will see Harbour replacing almost their entire core line-up and refreshing the packaging to boot. So no signs of slowing down in Cornwall…
 

 

Camden Town – It’s just over a year since AB-InBev wrote the biggest cheque to be seen in British brewing for quite a while – the around £85m to buy Camden Town Brewery. Since then the packaging has been tweaked, fellow subsumers Elysian flew over for a collab (their shared AB-InBev parentage not making this ‘did you know?’ blog post), and new beers were released. Oh, and a colossal new brewery constructed in Enfield. Come the spring, the facility will be open and from then on it will be fascinating to see where Camden Town (and their beers) end up, both figuratively and literally. Only time will tell – but a lot of eyes will be turned to North London in the meantime…

 

 

Elusive – Andy Parker was on this list last year, and he’s going on it again. Back then it was down to the strength of his collaborations and the prospect of the upcoming brewery build in Finchampstead. Now, it’s because his brewery is complete and he has started production. Like Chris Lewis, I’m not quite sure Andy knows just how brilliant he is as a brewer (even with the homebrewing awards) – although a glance at a few Golden Pints roundups from across the beer writing world would make that immediately obvious. Andy is now advertising for a part-time brewer to join the team, and with more new beers hitting the shelves than ever, I’m genuinely excited to see where the next year is going to take him.

 

 

Lines Brew Co – Moving into Wales, the sudden demise of Celt Experience under Tom Newman was a real shame – but thankfully he bounced back pretty quickly with a new brewery specialising in Farmhouse Ales and with no beer brewed more than once. All of these things make Lines Brew Co worth watching, and their base in Caerphilly will undoubtedly be home to all manner of fascinating experiments in brewing, ageing and harnessing of the mighty yeast. With beers already out, expect word to similarly escape in 2017 about this particular Welsh brewery – certainly if the standard of beers they brought to IndyMan back in October are anything to go by…

 

 

Cloudwater – Finally, we have Cloudwater. They were the number 1 English brewery to watch on this list last year, and (although an easy pick) certainly came through to justify it. I wasn’t going to include them for 2017 – they are off on that upward curve already – but a few days ago the announcement was made that they are ceasing cask production and will be focusing on keg and bottle/can, with cans then taking a higher percentage of their beer. This is going to be one of the stories of the year to follow, as evidenced by the staggering outpouring of beer blogs that resulted. Have a read of the best of them here, here and here and then make a mental note to check back a few months from now to see if Cloudwater’s decision was a positive or negative for the industry.



And the place you can check back is right here, around June/July when I’ll be revisiting all of these stories to see how each of the ten breweries are faring. Let me know in the comments below if there are any other breweries who will have breakout years in 2017 or will have stories to follow!

Mondo Brewing Company, and the Joy of Taprooms

Mondo1

Brewery taprooms. I have, it seems, become slightly obsessed by them. Drinking beer at source, yards from where it was made. I like them not just because the beer is about as fresh as you can get, and therefore presumably exactly as the brewer intended. It is also because they give you an opportunity to take in (for want of a better phrase) the ‘atmosphere’ of a brewery. By this, I mean alongside the sights and smells of the brewing process, taprooms give you an instant indication of what the brewery ethos is about as soon as you walk through the door and plonk yourself onto a barstool. Does the beermaker revel in loud and brash modern industrial, old-time sense of place historic, or a classy respectful subtlety? Downlights or neon? Bricks or steel? Bach or Sebastian Bach?

There’s one specific root cause of this recent addiction; social media. When you follow more than a handful of beer people you invariably end up with a regular stream of taproom flight photos (most of them from Mark Dredge), which is totally understandable. You’re in a brewery far from home with only half a dozen small beers for company – of course it’s going on Twitter (ahem). Feel free to comment if I’m wrong, but the semi-recent adoption of the taproom seems to me to be an American thing – aside from the dusty majesty of places such as Cantillon and other Belgian breweries, of course.

When it comes to British breweries, these kinds of taprooms are harder to find. Maybe there’s a hint of the ‘Why would you want to come out to the brewery? That’s where we make the beer!’ about it – but they do exist over here for those who want to root them out. We have thousands of pubs too, tied and free, which could be why some breweries here don’t feel the need to serve on-site – their beer going directly to the on-trade instead. But for me there’s just something fascinating about the ‘this is where it all happens’ vibe that you get from turning up at an industrial unit. If you can find them first, of course, which is often a problem in itself.

Mondo3

So what do you want from the perfect taproom? A spur of the moment visit to one in south London summed that up perfectly for me. Mondo Brewing Company are based in Battersea, and on a recent Wednesday night opening their taproom door was rewarded with a completely empty room and the entire Mondo staff at the other end, suddenly looking up in unison from behind the bar. Fifteen taps, a copper bar, loads of seating and free popcorn – what more could you want? The guys at Mondo are nothing less than enormously friendly and welcoming, and we were soon dialling up a couple of flights of their core beer line-up.

As a brewery, Mondo have only been going for about nine months, having been founded by two extremely affable Americans, Tom and Todd, after both left another London brewery to strike out on their own. Named after their global outlook and overseas experience as a collective, Mondo have a tough test on paper, breaking into the super-charged craft beer scene in the city. But starting with an Altbier is a really interesting tactic, and their range of beers really embraces that world-spanning ethos, including a blackberry Berliner Weisse (above, with Todd in the background), an imperial steam lager and a smoked coconut porter (to name but three).

The best beers I had on the night however were the lagers, with the All Caps Pilsner a fantastic find, and the chance to try their upcoming schwarzbier straight from the tank too good an opportunity to pass up. As brewer and co-founder Todd kindly showed us round their custom-built (and seriously high-tech) 6BBL Hungarian brewing kit, the passion for great beer and quality was completely evident. Mondo Brewing Company are very definitely ones to watch – hitting each part of the trifecta – friendly people producing well made beer across a range of styles.

Well, maybe there should be a fourth part (a quadfecta?) as their taproom is also one of the best around too. Like all the great examples, when you walk in the whole brewery is waiting for you (literally, in our case). And with taprooms, this is exacly the way it should be. What’s the best brewery taproom you’ve pulled up a barstool at?

Breweries to watch out for in 2016

So the final ‘best of last year/look out for this year’ post has rolled around again – stretching the whole thing out into February. It’s the annual list of 10 Scottish and English beermakers who are going to have breakout years, or will otherwise be interesting to watch, to see how they get on. This is the fifth time I’ve done this, although it really doesn’t feel like it (you can check out previous years’ predictions here; 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012).

Whilst everyone has seemingly gone craft beer crazy (either with a positive or negative reaction), the skill, commitment and imagination of the men and women that make our beer hasn’t changed – whatever polarising term is used to describe it. So here is the list of Scottish and English breweries who will move to that next level over the course of this coming year, or who have interesting stories to watch (with apologies as ever to producers in other parts of the UK, who’s scenes I know less well)…



SCOTLAND

Swannay1

Swannay Brewery – My overall pick to have a breakout year won’t be a surprise to many people north of the border – but that’s kind of the point. The ex-Highland Brewing Company are a near-household name in beery circles here, but I have a feeling that more and more people will discover just how brilliant their beers are in 2016. Rob Hill is the best brewer in Scotland, and with son Lewis adding new offerings to their supremely consistent cask series, Swannay have a one-two punch to rival any other. With a new identity, and online sales finally available, this could be the year Highland Swannay will become more lowland and everyone can enjoy the fruit of their considerable Orcadian labours.

 

 

EBF

Edinburgh Beer Factory – Few new breweries hire an entire art gallery to launch their wares, and fewer still open up with just a single beer (and a lager at that). EBF arrived on the scene last Autumn with a big-budget launch of their Eduardo Paolozzi-inspired lager at the Dean Gallery of Modern Art. That is a serious statement of intent – but one that isn’t a huge surprise given the brewery is a venture of the Dunsmore family (John Dunsmore being the ex-Chief Executive of the Tennents/Magners owning C&C Group). Look for a swift escalation of their presence in 2016, and Paolozzi doing for lager what Innis & Gunn did for barrel-aged beers.

 

 

SixNorth

six°north – Another producer on the rise, albeit at less stratospheric rate than the EBF, are S°N. And not before time, either – the self-styled (and entirely accurate) ‘Belgian Brewers of Scotland’ have come a long way since the days of their small site near the seafront in Stonehaven, with a larger production brewery and two dedicated bars – and a third to open in the centre of Edinburgh shortly. They may brew six degrees north of their spiritual homeland, but the beers produced are as faithful a representation of those beers as any you could wish for – and now with more of their own bars than ever, plus increasing distribution deals, look out for six°north as this could very much be their year.

 

 

fallen-brewing-logo

Fallen Brewing Co – One of the joys of the Craft Beer Revolution (or whatever else you want to call it) is the choice we now have, from breweries ever more local to us. Nigh-on perfect Belgian beer from Stonehaven? Sure! Habanero, date and cacao Imperial Porter from rural Stirlingshire? Why not! That’s the latest upcoming release from Paul Fallen, and it reflects the recent inventive upturn from his Kippen brewery. Paul’s beers have always been brilliantly well made, but you get the sense that he is only now revelling in the joy that owning your own production brewery can truly yield. Keep an eye on other outgoings from the old railway station brewery over the course of this year.

 

 

ElixirLogo

Elixir – Ok, so this might be more of a personal plea than anything else, but the brewing world is a far less creative place when the West Coast Whirlwind isn’t firing on all cylinders. Elixir Brew Co’s Benjamin Bullen has been all too intermittent of late in his beermaking, and that is a huge shame for anyone who loves beers a little out of the usual. Let’s hope 2016 means a regular return to the brewery frontline for Elixir, as it has been fairly quiet since the launch of Benjii’s Imperial Scotch Ale ‘Benedictine Groove II: Enter the Flagon’ at the end of August. There isn’t a single beermaker in the country with as much creative force when he gets going – here’s hoping more of that Aussie Chutzpah is rolled out as soon as possible.





ENGLAND

Cloudwater

Cloudwater – I’m not sure if there was an English brewery who generated more of a steadily-rising buzz amongst the beer community last year than Cloudwater. Right from the off – way before that, in fact – people got on board with the messages emanating from the Manchester brewery created by Paul Jones and his Northern dream team. And so far, all of that has proved well-founded. The broad span of styles, dispense methods, and the rotation of Cloudwater’s core lineup every four months – there really is something for everybody. And over the course of the year ahead, as they continue to key in those beers, they are going to be the brewery to keep an eye on to see how their beers, and company, develop.

 

 

WildBeerCo

The Wild Beer Co – Another fairly obvious – but no less welcome – choice for a brewery to have an amazing year are Somerset’s finest; the Wild Beer Co. Is there a brewery right at this moment with a better range of well-made, inventive beers? An easy pick for a breakout year, but with the recent arrival of their first bar and restaurant (Jessop House, in Cheltenham) they are setting their sights ever higher. And there are few other breweries who I think could make a better go of it than the Wild Beer Co. Look for them to expand as they continue to become the next big player in the UK craft scene.

 

 

Lost and Grounded

Lost & Grounded – Social media has many pros and cons, but one of its greatest uses is watching something come together as it happens – and this also holds true for new breweries. Cloudwater certainly used this to their advantage – and this next pick are similarly one to watch as their brewery just begins to take shape. Ex-Camden Town brewing director Alex Troncoso and his partner Annie are starting up a production facility in Bristol called Lost & Grounded, and with their skill and reputation it is already being talked about as one of the breweries to watch in 2016. Still at the exciting/terrifying stage of ordering equipment and advertising for staff, the beers are a while away – but keep an eye on their progress as they will be worth it.

 

 

Mondo

Mondo Brewing Co – A lot of these predictions are based on reputations, as breweries who have been solid for years (or extremely good for less long) look like they are due for making the leap. This particular pick is all down to my recent personal experience. A visit last week to Mondo Brewing Company in Battersea was rewarded with a series of excellent beers and a mightily impressive kit and group of people. Look out for a blog post on that visit soon, when I get a chance, but these days to make a scene in London is only going to get harder for breweries due to the increasingly ultra-competitive market – but from first-hand experience, Mondo are going to make it with room to spare.

 

 

Elusive

Elusive Brewing – Finally, we end this lightning-tour of premonitions in the Royal County of Berkshire, and with yet another hugely exciting prospect. Multi award-winning homebrewer Andy Parker is a hugely talented beermaker, and the chance to saddle up and head out into the wide world of brewing is a deserved next step. Up to this point, Elusive Brewing’s beers have been released as collaborations (peaking with 2014’s BOTY candidate Lord Nelson), and the time has finally come for steel to be ordered and drainage channels cut, in Andy’s own brewery in Finchampstead. From this Spring, if all goes to plan, Elusive Brewing’s beers will be a lot easier to track down, and that can’t come soon enough.



So, what do you think? Any breweries out there who you think will have breakout years in 2016, or have stories that you really want to follow? Let me know in the comments. As ever, I’ll be checking back with these breweries at the mid-way point of the year, to see how they have been getting on…

Cloudwater – ‘We don’t have a message. We have human beings’

CloudwaterTour1

It would have to be meditative, the music playing over the sound system at the Cloudwater Brewery in Manchester. Even the doorbell sounds like a jazz clarinet, but the ambience inside the brewing facility on the Piccadilly Trading Estate is made harmonious and mellow by the choice of tunes leaking softly from the PA system. It’s tough to state definitively, given how everyone approaches things from different angles, but Cloudwater have quickly become (in my mind) one of the most talked about new producers in the UK over the last few months – and as part of this the fact that the choice of music playing was Tibetan-style and melodic didn’t really come as a surprise; Cloudwater having taken their name from a literal translation of the Zen Buddhist term unsui, taken from a Chinese poem “To drift like clouds and flow like water.”

There’s a sense that Cloudwater founder Paul Jones has set out to try and do things differently to the norm, and not just in terms of the brewery sound system. One of the most-discussed of these is that they do not have a core lineup – the entire beer range changes every three months with the season. So their Spring IPA will be very different to their Autumn IPA, for instance – and entirely new styles will be subbed in depending on ingredients and what the brewteam decide could be utilised. On a recent Saturday morning visit to the brewery, Paul (above) talked about some of the other things that he believes could be done differently to the standard model of opening a brewery – and one that he kept returning to was how to record the process on social media.

Ever since picking up the keys to what used to be an advertising hoarding company (at the start of October last year), Paul set out to document exactly how the brewery would come together, deciding that he would move away from big messages and proclamations about the future of Cloudwater and instead focus on things that he would have wanted to see, had he been following a new brewery grow on social media. So, things like intricate photos of the installation and the new flooring. “It’s what interests me,” says Paul, pointing behind him to the brewkit. “Although I did wonder how many people would respond – until about a month and a half in when guy did, saying ‘for fuck’s sake you’ve got me liking pictures of pipes on Sunday morning’, and I thought ‘Yesss!'”

CloudwaterTour2

“So during the fit out there were lots of things that we were getting to see that very few people would ever get to see,” he continues. “I thought if I don’t have something of a record of this, I am really going to regret it. So just because I’m super-enthusiastic about that, I mean – some of the contractors we used totally thought I was stark raving mad. They said why are you fascinated that I’m on my knees hand trowelling this resin floor? But I didn’t know that guys had to get down on their knees to do massive warehouses – Coca Cola gets the same treatment, by hand, and the craft in their work is unbelievable. I mean, this entire floor was laid by a guy with a long piece of wood. They dump all of the resin containing sand and cement composite mix and to finish he hand-tamps it down into the angle that we need it to be. He takes initial measurements and then everything else is done from his skill and his eye. It’s mind-blowing.”

Taking delight in the small things is something I can appreciate, certainly – and Paul backs up his assertion by stating that if it gets him excited then chances are there’s someone else out there who also takes more than a passing interest in what they are doing as well. And that, for him, is reason enough. He carries on, waving his arm around the brewery. “In that way, it’s an anti-strategy, because I don’t think about how it is accepted. I just think if I resonate with something; I’m a human being, there are other human beings out there and that’s enough. I don’t want people to like our message. We don’t have a message, we have human beings and we have stuff that’s interesting and people will hopefully respond to that.”

Just at the point where you start to think he’s a unremitting Scrapbooker intent on capturing and regurgitating everything the brewery is up to, he underlines exactly what it is that makes him tick. “I guess the only way that I did strategise is because I knew that I wouldn’t talk about stuff that is happening in the future. And I still really try hard to not do that. I hate to – I don’t think you’ll ever find me taking a picture of my beer every week and saying, like, ‘here it is!’ or ‘Cheers!’ or something like that, that isn’t quite me, I’d rather find those details of things that we are working on, and geek out about those and share those instead. Unfortunately, I get so little time to do that these days. I’d like to do more – there are always lots of things going on, or new processes, new beers we are brewing, new things that I see – I just don’t get time to capture it these days. I hope to work on that, though…

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No time is easy to imagine – despite the fact that Cloudwater produce five brews a week (two double brews and one single) it seems like everyone there is working constantly, at high pace. Partly this is down to still being a new brewery of course – having just passed their first anniversary, but other parts are down to the simple fact of operating their facility. Located a few minute’s walk from Piccadilly Station, the brewery shares a water supply with the colossal 338-room Macdonald Manchester Hotel and Spa. The result is the flow they get is ‘pathetic’ – but any alternative would mean the opposite at the other end. “The hotel would have fountains for toilets, otherwise” Paul says, ruefully. “We can’t even do a tenth of what we want to do here – but at least we can have some visitors. The alternative would be out at Trafford Park or by the airport.”

Plans for something to add to this have fallen back a little, but are still going to happen. An archway on Sheffield Street with space for 250 barrels will be turned into a fermentation bar, serving sour beers and natural wines, plus Bretted ciders and fermented food plates. It sounds like a fascinating idea, and one that will again set Cloudwater apart from the others. As they continue to solve the problems all small breweries face – yet in their own unique way – Cloudwater will surely remain one of the beermakers to watch in the UK for some time to come.



Thanks to Paul Jones and the Cloudwater team for allowing us to head along and bombard them with questions. This article originally stated the barrel-store contained 250 barrels – Paul has confirmed that’s the capacity overall and the current number is around 100. Too much frantic note-taking!