How did you start working in the beer industry?
Nick Trower: I come from a wine trade/restaurant background but have always been a keen beer drinker. I was struggling to get a good selection of small producer beers for the drinks list at the Dock Kitchen where I was GM and oversaw the wine and beverage list. It seemed crazy to have all these wonderful small producer wines and be stuck with generic mass produced lager for the beer offering. About a year and a half ago I took a trip to Bavaria and the Czech Republic with my wife and ended up in Bamberg; Germany's famous beer town. I was lucky to meet Stephan Michel the owner of Mahrs, one of the city's original (and best) breweries. We got on well and I told him about my plans to set up a beer distribution business back in London. He said he didn't have a UK importer and was happy for me to be the first. That was the initial starting point for setting up Biercraft.
Lisa Wadlow: I have been a beer drinker for many years but decided to train as a beer sommelier in 2012 after meeting a woman who was one at the Canterbury Food and Drink Festival.
Ben Freeman: I decided on a total career change and started contacting breweries in London offering myself as a general lackey, with the idea that I would get to know people in the industry and more broadly understand how beer is made. Soon I met Graham at this brewery doing the same thing as me. We would chat about beer over lunch and it was soon clear that we were looking to do the same thing. So we started brewing beer in his garden shed with the aim of opening our own brewery. A few months later and with Sam on board too, we started Pressure Drop Brewing. The rest has been a blur!
Emma Cole: My first beery role was at the then newly opened Jolly Butchers in Stoke Newington. I had decided on a career change going from shoes to booze. I had been working in retail management for years and was a bit of a beer geek so switched over to working with something I really love - beer!
Doreen Barber: I started out working in a café back in Orlando that had an excellent beer range, as well as making friends who worked at a local craft beer pub called Redlight Redlight. Later on, I found myself working in a pub for 8 months, which helped me later when I worked for a beer distribution company. That experience, combined with my Master's in Anthropology of Food and my active social media presence plus my food & drink blog, developed the skills I need to do now for The Five Points.
Tell me a bit about what you do now?
BF: Our days consist of a lot of lifting malt sacks and boxes of beer to scrubbing, washing, capping and labelling thousands of bottles for several hours. It’s often exhausting and a bit full-on but ultimately really rewarding to make a beer from start to finish and see that beer heading off to our customers.
LW: I am currently launching a Beer School based at a Micro Pub called One Inn The Wood. The aim of this is to introduce both beer drinkers and non-converts to the huge range of beers available and the idea of beer and food pairing. I also write for CAMRA publications and websites as well as my own blog in which I report on beer festivals, pubs and events in the world of beer - but beer and food pairing is my passion and I cover this wherever possible.
EC: I am an area manager for BrewDog. I look after the bars ‘Oop Norf’ but south of Newcastle. My role involved finding and developing the best possible people for our bar teams and ensuring they have the right support available to make our bars some of the best places to drink craft beer and (and hang out with their friends) in the UK.
DB: My job is constantly evolving, and I find myself wearing different hats every day. I've got the marketing, PR and social side that sees me go to venues in Leeds and Liverpool as well as here in London to do Meet the Brewer events and represent The Five Points at beer festivals. I also look after a lot of the admin, forwarding invoices and overseeing orders. Additionally, I've got a sales hat on as well, answering sales questions and developing partnerships with other businesses in and out of the beer world.
It's a lot to juggle, but at the end of the day, I'm with a great team of people and we're making some excellent beer.
Nick Trower, founder of Biercraft
NT: In some ways its very similar to the job I had at Liberty Wine selling to restaurants and the independent off-trade. However it’s definitely a smaller affair and I am also in charge of buying, credit control, marketing and shipping as opposed to pure sales. I spend lots of time with my customers and producers making sure I'm working with the best breweries in the market and that the places selling their wares have a good idea of the love and care that goes into making the particular beer, cider or mead.
How do you think the beer scene has changed over the last few years?
EC: Wowzers. Absolutely loads. When I started at the Jolly Butchers there were only a handful of breweries and bars that served craft beer in London. The whole scene has gone boom. London had become a real beery destination and we are truly spoilt with world-class innovators in beer across the UK brewing scene.
LW: Beer is definitely being drunk by more people - especially younger people and is therefore losing its associations with old men. I think also people are more interested in the origins of food and drink with an emphasis on locally sourced items - hence the popularity of microbreweries.
DB: I think people are finally starting to get that beer doesn't have to taste like fizzy tin. In the US, it's very common now to go into a supermarket and have a huge selection of different styles from several different microbreweries. I can see this happening here in the UK soon - it's starting small with some microbreweries now being on the shelves of Sainsbury's or Waitrose, but I think those shelves will expand in a few years.
It's kind of like the Slow Food movement in a beery context: Who made it? Where do the ingredients come from? Where is the brewery based? What different beers do they brew?
Do you feel that the recent success of the craft beer scene has changed public perceptions about beer?
NT: I think people are much more willing to try different types of beer and not default to continental lager; not that there is anything wrong with great European lagers (e.g. Mahrs Brau). I think there is also a move away from drinking beer by the pint. All the breweries I work with have great branding and drinking in 330ml bottles shows the labels off. Talking to my customers it seems like quite a lot of orders come from people seeing the beers on other customers' tables or in the fridge who then order as they are intrigued by the packaging.
EC: Craft beer has put flavour, craftsmanship, quality ingredients, brewing techniques and knowledge at the top of the agenda. It has certainly opened people’s eyes to a hugely varied spectrum of flavours and turned people on to try something that they might not have before. It has always been the best part of working in this industry when you someone who ‘doesn’t like beer’ tries something you have recommended and loves it.
LW: It certainly changed our perception of beer. We often talk in the brewery about those beer epiphany moments. For Graham it was a pint of RockStar, an American Brown Ale he stumbled on in the Jolly Butchers one night, and for me a bottle of Kernel Pale Ale from a friend. That moment when you realise beer is almost limitless in possibility and you don't have to drink a bland lager in the pub any more is a glorious one! But to the question of public perception, I guess it has. It wasn't so long ago that you'd be asked to leave a pub if you ordered a half pint at the bar, now people are comfortable asking for tasters, and sipping on a 12% bourbon barrel aged double black IPA discussing the roasty chocolate notes with a friend. Great times to be alive!
Do you think that beer is catching up with wine as a partner for food?
DB: Look at Belgium! They know all about pairing their beers with food! I think there are murmurs, as our beer and other great beers are starting to be found in places I didn't think they would be a few years ago. I think folks are starting to come around to the idea that, if you're going to great care to prepare a fine meal at home or enjoy a dish at a nice restaurant, you'll need good beer as well as good wine to go along with it.
NT: I think beer (also cider and mead) are fantastically versatile and sometimes work better than wine as a food pairing. Beer has a refreshing quality that wine doesn't and with certain foods this avoids the palate becoming cloyed.
LW: The work been done by beer sommeliers such as myself to promote beer as an alternative to wine is slowly but surely making headway. More and more beer labels have food pairing ideas and restaurants are starting to offer good if limited beer lists. But there's a way to go yet!
BF: It is catching up for sure. I think it’s going to take a long time for that almost unconscious food/wine link to be broken. We're just too used to grabbing a red or white for dinner and certainly more confident ordering wine from a menu at the table. Beer with food is more complicated to do correctly. The huge range of flavours it’s possible to conjure when making a beer means it’s often better suited to food than wine, but also harder to get right. Lets have more TV chefs and national press explaining the virtues of beer and food!
Emma Cole is ‘Oop North’ area manager for Brewdog, one of the fastest growing and most innovative breweries in the UK. She has years of experience as a pub manager, and knows the trade inside out. Find her on twitter @EmmaJCole
Lisa Wadlow is a certified beer sommelier, runs her own Beer School in Kent and last year brewed her own Milk Stout. Her musings on all things beer can be found on her blog and on CAMRA's website.
Nick Trower set up Biercraft in 2013, which operates much as a ‘boutique wine merchant’, only for beer, cider and mead. He has been rooting out the world’s best small craft brewers ever since, bringing his discoveries to some of London’s best restaurants.
Doreen Barber is a prolific beer enthusiast and food blogger. She works for Five Points, based in Hackney Downs, who are winning hearts with their range of beautifully executed beers. Read her food blog here - http://tastyfever.com
Ben Freeman is a co-founder of Pressure Drop brewery, based in Hackney. They have fast become a favourite in the beer world with beers such as Pale Fire and Wu Gang Chops the Tree.