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Fear not, Toby and Mark will only demand you raise your hands with a glass of good beer in them

BBB interviews Toby Smallpiece and Mark Berry, friends and founders of the bucolic brewery at Gun Hill, whose eye-catching logo has infiltrated many a Brighton pub.

We get some backstory, find out why they brew what they do, learn where all those great beer names come from, and hear some exciting plans for the future…

Who are the founders of Gun Brewery, and what’s the backstory?

Mark: We are friends who were home brewing, and we were looking for a new project to do together. Everything just came together.

Toby: I live on a farm and the Geological Society advised that we could be on ground that has spring water – apparently that’s the case across quite a lot of the Downs – so then it’s  question of whether it is commercially accessible or too deep to get at.

We got an old fashioned dowser in. He walked around for a while, found a spot and told us: “50 metres down you’ll have a flow of 20 litres a second.” Sure enough, we put in a borehole and 50 metres down hit water. Finding that spring was really what spurred us on to create the brewery.

We started brewing with test kits and went on a tour of loads of breweries around the country. Brewers tend to be a nice and supportive lot, and they gave us advice and explained their own challenges when starting up.

We commissioned a kit from a UK manufacturer and then began accumulating tanks and second-hand equipment, slowly putting the brewery together ourselves.

Now we operate the brewery with a nine-strong team.

Where did the hobo symbol logo idea come from?

Toby: A friend of ours called Scot Wotherspoon is a designer in Lewes and we were just talking to him about plans for the brewery. He suddenly said “I’ve got some ideas; let me go away and think about this.” We didn’t really even commission him, but he came back with the idea of the hobo sign. It was perfect! It feeds into the location, it says a lot about what we felt about the brand, and its visuals are so striking.

Mark: When we looked into the general hobo code it was fascinating. The first rule of the hobo code is live your own life and don’t let another man run or rule you. It felt very Sussex in a “We wun’t be druv” way, and keyed into that feeling of independence that we have as well.

The fact that you source your own water from a spring and then treat it naturally seems niche to Gun beers. Can you take us through what’s involved, and how important it is to the flavour?

Toby: It’s not totally unique, there are a few breweries around that have their own spring water, but it does give us a naturally inherited, particular character or profile that can be great for certain beers. You can do a lot to treat the water to get the profile you want, but I feel this gives us a sense of ownership of the entire product and of crafting the whole thing.

Mark: Generally the natural water profile is good for hoppy pale ales. We discovered that through trial and error really, but the brewers have since endorsed that through the science of the brewing process.

We noticed that your core range is quite pale ale focused, suggesting you’re a brewer concentrating on modern tastes.
Where do you think you sit in the market?

Toby: From the get-go we wanted to be a modern brewer, and really admired beers like Hop Head from Darkstar, beers from The Kernel Brewery in London and Mark Tranter at Burning Sky…

Mark: …and Wiper and True in Bristol.

We all cut our teeth on Harvey’s Best, so we’ll definitely have a go at traditional styles. But we always saw ourselves as a modern craft brewery rather than a traditional brewery, and moved very quickly into keg and can formats.

Toby: We consciously make quite a lot of beers below 5% because we want to make them sessionable. We’ve focused on getting good flavour into lower abv beers that are really drinkable all night.

The names of your brews are pretty random. How do you come up with them? Is there a process?

Mark: We tend to brainstorm them together. There are a few gun-related ones along the theme; for instance ‘Project Babylon’ was Saddam Hussein’s crazy supergun project. ‘Zanzama’ is a massive cannon located outside the National Museum in Lahore, which Kipling wrote about. ‘Parabellum’ is a German handgun. ‘Scaramanga’ is Ian Fleming’s Man with the Golden Gun, and ‘Spin Drift’ is the natural drift of a sniper’s bullet.

Then there are other names such as ‘How’s the Serenity’, taken from a very cult Aussie film called The Castle, in which a character says the phrase. ‘Numb Angel’ is taken from the Born Slippy track by Underworld which just reminds us of our late 90s raving days.
‘Chummy Bluster’ is probably the most misquoted beer name in the range; it’s taken from John Humphrys’ phrase in reference to politicians talking “chummy bluster”.

We’ve had a couple of disagreements over names but we always get there, sometimes after a team vote.

Your beers seem pretty prominent in Brighton pubs. What are the challenges for brewers to be stocked in pubs, and what do you put down your success to?

Toby: The core of our business has been our cask ales, and the Brighton pubs have a really good cask following. It’s easier to be stocked in pubs with cask as pubs are more likely to rotate their pumps, and there’s a well-oiled distribution network into pubs for the smaller breweries.

Mark: You can find dedicated Gun keg or cask lines in a few Brighton pubs, such as Craft Beer Co., Duke of Wellington, The Walrus and the Lion and Lobster.

You win many awards and list them proudly on your website. Is Gun a competitive brewery?

Mark: I don’t think we’re necessarily winning more than other brewers, and we’re not particularly competitive, I think the reason we list them is because we’re just proud of them, rather than competitive about it.

What are your favourite beers, core or special, and why?

Mark: Spin Drift IPA, a good 5%er.

Toby: My favourite beer seems to change every year. Parabellum has been my favourite, Vermont Pale at one time and Scaramanga light pale as well.

Is that because the flavour of your beers has changed over time?

Toby: We have allowed the flavours of beers to shift over time, but very subtly – not in a way that people should even notice.

What are your future plans for the brewery?

Toby: We’re building a larger, bespoke building on the farm, to expand the brewery and allow us to open a shop and tap room.

People know our beers but it will be nice for people to be able to come to the brewery here, have a tour and try the beers on site. We’re working towards opening in late 2020 or early 2021.

Mark: Also lockdown has seen lots more people coming onto the website, and we are hoping to continue that trend on home delivery.

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Fear not, Toby and Mark will only demand you raise your hands with a glass of good beer in them

BBB interviews Toby Smallpiece and Mark Berry, friends and founders of the bucolic brewery at Gun Hill, whose eye catching logo has infiltrated many a Brighton pub.

We get some backstory, find out why they brew what they do, learn where all those great beer names come from, and hear some exciting plans for the future…

Who are the founders of Gun Brewery, and what’s the backstory?

Mark: We are friends who were home brewing, and we were looking for a new project to do together. Everything just came together.

Toby: I live on a farm and the Geological Society advised that we could be on ground that has spring water – apparently that’s the case across quite a lot of the Downs – so then it’s  question of whether it is commercially accessible or too deep to get at.

We got an old fashioned dowser in. He walked around for a while, found a spot and told us: “50 metres down you’ll have a flow of 20 litres a second.” Sure enough, we put in a borehole and 50 metres down hit water. Finding that spring was really what spurred us on to create the brewery.

We started brewing with test kits and went on a tour of loads of breweries around the country. Brewers tend to be a nice and supportive lot, and they gave us advice and explained their own challenges when starting up.

We commissioned a kit from a UK manufacturer and then began accumulating tanks and second-hand equipment, slowly putting the brewery together ourselves.

Now we operate the brewery with a nine-strong team.

Where did the hobo symbol logo idea come from?

Toby: A friend of ours called Scot Wotherspoon is a designer in Lewes and we were just talking to him about plans for the brewery. He suddenly said “I’ve got some ideas; let me go away and think about this.” We didn’t really even commission him, but he came back with the idea of the hobo sign. It was perfect! It feeds into the location, it says a lot about what we felt about the brand, and its visuals are so striking.

Mark: When we looked into the general hobo code it was fascinating. The first rule of the hobo code is live your own life and don’t let another man run or rule you. It felt very Sussex in a “We wun’t be druv” way, and keyed into that feeling of independence that we have as well.

The fact that you source your own water from a spring and then treat it naturally seems niche to Gun beers. Can you take us through what’s involved, and how important it is to the flavour?

Toby: It’s not totally unique, there are a few breweries around that have their own spring water, but it does give us a naturally inherited, particular character or profile that can be great for certain beers. You can do a lot to treat the water to get the profile you want, but I feel this gives us a sense of ownership of the entire product and of crafting the whole thing.

Mark: Generally the natural water profile is good for hoppy pale ales. We discovered that through trial and error really, but the brewers have since endorsed that through the science of the brewing process.

We noticed that your core range is quite pale ale focused, suggesting you’re a brewer concentrating on modern tastes.
Where do you think you sit in the market?

Toby: From the get-go we wanted to be a modern brewer, and really admired beers like Hop Head from Darkstar, beers from The Kernel Brewery in London and Mark Tranter at Burning Sky…

Mark: …and Wiper and True in Bristol.

We all cut our teeth on Harvey’s Best, so we’ll definitely have a go at traditional styles. But we always saw ourselves as a modern craft brewery rather than a traditional brewery, and moved very quickly into keg and can formats.

Toby: We consciously make quite a lot of beers below 5% because we want to make them sessionable. We’ve focused on getting good flavour into lower abv beers that are really drinkable all night.

The names of your brews are pretty random. How do you come up with them? Is there a process?

Mark: We tend to brainstorm them together. There are a few gun-related ones along the theme; for instance ‘Project Babylon’ was Saddam Hussein’s crazy supergun project. ‘Zanzama’ is a massive cannon located outside the National Museum in Lahore, which Kipling wrote about. ‘Parabellum’ is a German handgun. ‘Scaramanga’ is Ian Fleming’s Man with the Golden Gun, and ‘Spin Drift’ is the natural drift of a sniper’s bullet.

Then there are other names such as ‘How’s the Serenity’, taken from a very cult Aussie film called The Castle, in which a character says the phrase. ‘Numb Angel’ is taken from the Born Slippy track by Underworld which just reminds us of our late 90s raving days.
‘Chummy Bluster’ is probably the most misquoted beer name in the range; it’s taken from John Humphrys’ phrase in reference to politicians talking “chummy bluster”.

We’ve had a couple of disagreements over names but we always get there, sometimes after a team vote.

Your beers seem pretty prominent in Brighton pubs. What are the challenges for brewers to be stocked in pubs, and what do you put down your success to?

Toby: The core of our business has been our cask ales, and the Brighton pubs have a really good cask following. It’s easier to be stocked in pubs with cask as pubs are more likely to rotate their pumps, and there’s a well-oiled distribution network into pubs for the smaller breweries.

Mark: You can find dedicated Gun keg or cask lines in a few Brighton pubs, such as Craft Beer Co., Duke of Wellington, The Walrus and the Lion and Lobster.

You win many awards and list them proudly on your website. Is Gun a competitive brewery?

Mark: I don’t think we’re necessarily winning more than other brewers, and we’re not particularly competitive, I think the reason we list them is because we’re just proud of them, rather than competitive about it.

What are your favourite beers, core or special, and why?

Mark: Spin Drift IPA, a good 5%er.

Toby: My favourite beer seems to change every year. Parabellum has been my favourite, Vermont Pale at one time and Scaramanga light pale as well.

Is that because the flavour of your beers has changed over time?

Toby: We have allowed the flavours of beers to shift over time, but very subtly – not in a way that people should even notice.

What are your future plans for the brewery?

Toby: We’re building a larger, bespoke building on the farm, to expand the brewery and allow us to open a shop and tap room.

People know our beers but it will be nice for people to be able to come to the brewery here, have a tour and try the beers on site. We’re working towards opening in late 2020 or early 2021.

Mark: Also lockdown has seen lots more people coming onto the website, and we are hoping to continue that trend on home delivery.

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Gun Brewery

Gun Brewery

Brewing clean-tasting sessionable beers, with honest flavour, in an environmentally mindful way