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The Beak Brewery: Reasons to be Chirpy

Sitting and chatting with Danny and Robin, founders of The Beak Brewery, you are struck by their happy-go-lucky, youthful optimism. And they have good reason.

Having launched their brewery and tap-room in an off-piste industrial unit during a pandemic, they have been enthusiastically embraced by a local and national community of modern beer lovers.

We get to know the boys behind the Beak…

Tell us a bit about yourself and the birth of the Beak Bewery.

Danny
I’m Daniel Tapper, founder of Beak Brewery. It was a nomadic operation for about three years – before that for more than a decade I was working as a food & drink writer for various newspapers. But my main loves have always been skateboarding and home brewing, and I turned home brewing into a commercial venture when I bought a nano-brewery.

So what did you learn from all the cuckoo brewing you did?

I was only making about three or four brews a year, because it was so expensive – it was just a hobby, it was like glorified home brewing really. The main thing it taught me was how important it was to have your own place, so you have full control of the final product.

I also learned the importance of meeting lots of people and becoming friends with folk in the industry. Not a day goes by that I’m not calling someone who I’ve met for help, and people are really willing. I remember my first beer festival, and not knowing anyone; a few years later and I know so many people.

Also it’s a really good way to test out a brand and see whether people dig that kind of beer. A lot of people start breweries – usually a bunch of guys – and invest in something like this, but with nothing to base it on. We were able to get quite a bit of investment just based on a few years of nomadic brewing and having a following…

…and getting your mistakes out of the way early on?

Yep, definitely some mistakes! (laughter)

(Robin then joins us, bringing with him three halves of ‘Locals’)

Perfect timing. Tell us a bit yourself as well.

Robin
Hi, I’m Robin, I’m the Head Brewer here at Beak Brewery. I’m from Edinburgh originally, but I moved down here about five years ago work at Burning Sky brewery, just down the road. I was there for about four years, and now I’ve been been on board with Beak since winter last year. I was involved with the build. We’ve been brewing here since August.

How did you both meet?

Danny
It was a Blind Date. (laughter)

Robin
A mutual friend from Beavertown introduced us. I used to work with Jonny Hamilton, who ran the Tempus project at Beavertown in London. He’s now one of the core people who set up Newbarns up in Edinburgh, another brewery mad enough to start up this year.

Danny
Yeah, so as I mentioned my operation was a nomadic brewery. I was doing a brew at Beavertown, and Jonny said, “Oh, you’re moving to Lewes, let me introduce you to Robin.” It’s quite a small town, so if you can meet someone else who’s really into beer it’s quite a big thing.

Robin
Yes, I was living in Brighton but always travelling through Lewes by train and thinking, that’s a nice place to live. So eventually my girlfriend and I just got a place here.

Ahh, so this pre-answers my next question about why you set up in Lewes. But how did you come to be here on the industrial estate?

Danny
We spent ages looking at beautiful farms all around thinking ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna do an amazing destination brewery,’ but the thing is that these farms just don’t have the utilities. No drain connections, don’t have the right electrics, and people have to drive miles to get there so there’s no community. Yes it’s an industrial estate, but actually we’ve got an amazing community of people who come here all the time. It’s got all the utilities, and actually as far as industrial estates go it’s a nice one.

Robin
Yeah, it’s pretty nice here.

Danny
For instance, we had an older couple call up yesterday just to ask when we’re running the These Hills Festival. They’d been down to the taproom six times in the last four months. They come from Guildford and stay in a B&B just to come and spend a couple of nights here.

So you’re a tourist destination as well?

Danny
Definitely. Lots of people from London and Brighton.

Robin
We are quite surprised in a way. When we thought of having a taproom on site we imagined four or five tables. Then the pandemic hit and we thought that idea might be out the window, but it’s been incredible.

Danny
That’s right. In the business plan we thought we’d just sell three kegs over a weekend – you know, half a dozen locals sat around a bar. Haha!

Robin
We just thought that people wouldn’t want to come this far out of the town centre. Your readers can’t see, but right now there’s 50 people sat behind us. Yeah the support has been amazing.

Danny
We’ve been getting 300 people down here every Saturday, fully booked up, which for an industrial estate in an old market town… we just didn’t expect it.
We can’t really make enough beer at the moment. We’ve just bought a new tank and we’re selling 80% direct, which was never in the business plan – the plan was always to do distributors. So we really do feel immensely fortunate.

All this is despite you launching during a pandemic. (laughter) How has this year shifted your business plans?

Robin
We were always going to be selling quite a lot in cans, just because the style of beer does quite well in that kind of presentation.

Danny
We wanted to get it far and wide. Keg is good for a local markets, but the history of the brewery as a nomadic project meant that it’s always had a really small but national following, especially in Leeds, Manchester and London. Breaking it down, not a lot of our beer is sold locally. Yes it’s a taproom near Brighton, but beyond that most of it goes out nationally and I think small pack lends itself to that.

Can people find you on tap regularly anywhere in Brighton and Hove?

Robin
We’re in a few pubs in town. The Evening Star, The Independent, The Well in Kemptown; we’ve been on at Bison, The Pond and at the Brighton Beer Dispensary. Often the problem is that people are asking for kegs and we just don’t have them because we’re selling so much through the taproom.

It seemed like there was quite a lot of hype and excitement around your launch. Why do you think it’s been so successful?

Danny
(Long intake of breath) God knows. (laughter)

Robin
I would like to think, as the brewer, that the beer speaks for itself; but also there’s really not anything like this in Lewes. Up to this point Lewes had a very traditional beer market.

Danny
But it’s more than a Lewes thing, we’ve had a really good national response.

Robin
I think that during lockdown it’s a case of people latching onto something new and exciting. We’ve tried to be quite positive about how we view what’s happened to us and the industry this year, so I think that’s been a big part of it.

Danny
It’s nice to have interest but the whole ‘hype’ word is quite scary, because with hype there’s always an inevitable drop when the excitement wears off. That always really scares me, because the same people that hype breweries are the same people that can turn against them. They can be quite fickle.

Robin
But I think we’re putting a lot of thought into long-term quality and sustainability in the types of beers that we’re doing. We are doing things that might create hype..

Danny
But only because we like those beers…

Robin
…and we think it’s important to do it consistently, because you’re only as good as your last brew.

So let’s talk about the beer. Does the brewery have a main focus or character to it?

Robin
Definitely. I guess we’re focusing on New England-ish style, with our own spin on it. Mainly hoppy, hop-forward pales, with a lot of emphasis on balance within that style. It’s quite easy to make beers that are one note or, depending how you do the hoping schedules, to make them quite flat in terms of flavour. My goal at Beak Brewery is to make them super hop-forward beers, but with a level of interest and drinkability to them as well. My personal preference is something on the more drinkable end of that.

Danny
Robin and I have a lot of conversations about this.

Robin
Danny is maybe the middle; I like them most drinkable, Danny is mid.

Danny
I like that there’s a tension where you try to meet in the middle. If you have one person heading a brewery it can go in a direction where the other people aren’t saying to that person, “Actually this doesn’t taste very good.”

Robin
That’s right. My palate is not the be all and end all of anything, so it’s good to have that discussion around what we’re making.

Danny
Robin is creating a tasting panel. The idea is that it’s not just me and Robin tasting the beer, it’s also the bar staff, and their opinions are valued as well. Our Operations Manager Cat, who is really into lager, doesn’t really like New England IPAs; her opinion is just as valid. We always want to listen to what people want to drink while not compromising. But we’re not doing massive 12% pastry, milkshake, sour, blueberry, apple pie… I mean if people want to do that it’s fine, but that’s genuinely not what we like to do.

Is there a core range that you produce, or is it always changing?

Robin
It’s pretty flexible at the moment.

Danny
I think it’s developing really. Parade…

Robin
Parade definitely, which is our 6% mosaic, idaho 7, citra. Strangers which is a sabro, idaho 7, mosaic, pina-colada vibe going on. Then Lulla, which is my personal favourite, our table beer with citra, simcoe, amarillo, 3.5% and super-drinkable, but still with body. That’s really the range at the moment.

Danny
We’ve got some seasonals as well. Horses, which is a West Coast centennial, columbus, big C West Coast hop varieties, rye and caro in there. Then Pencil, which is an export porter, and Oopla, our 10% imperial stout.

Robin
We got a couple of old wooden pins from Mark, Manager of the Evening Star in Brighton. They date from 1930s/40s and he’d had them refurbished by a cooper. We did Pencil in them and now we’re doing Oopla in them.

Danny
We put some bourbon in the barrel first to season it, and now it’s been ageing in that and oh my god…

Robin
It’s fun to do that low-tech stuff. It’s not often you get to have a cask and that adds something unquantifiable to beer. You can have the best equipment but not get that element of history.

Danny
That’s what got me into brewing – those more creative beers that you can stick in a small barrel and see what happens.

Robin
I was a bit nervous about using a cask, because they are so old and they can’t be left empty for any length of time. My god I can’t describe what it added, but it was earthy and tasted old in a really good way.

Danny
We serve it through a sparkler, which aerates the beer and gives it a thick tight head – a bit of a nod to our northern roots.

Where are you coming up with the curious names? They are all just one word, aren’t they?

Robin
The depths of our minds. (laughter)

Danny
When we started everyone was doing really elaborate names, so we decided to keep them to one word, keep it simple.

Robin
Yeah, if you’re going up to the bar and asking for a beer, you don’t want to be ordering a whole sentence.

Danny
You want to get straight to the point. (laughter)

Robin
We want them to be jumpy, lively, fun words generally.

Danny
And evocative of the beer. Oopla doesn’t mean anything, but it feels full and unctuous as a word.

For the tech-heads, what do you brew in – and is there capacity to expand here?

Robin
The brewery is packing about 2200–2400 litres, so about 150 cases, 20-odd kegs. Three-vessel kit, single infusion. You don’t need a very bells-and-whistles kit to brew ale, but we’ve got a couple of extra things. We’ve got quite a big whirlpool for the large amount of hops we’re using, and a dry hopping gizmo that lets us add dry hops without adding oxygen. They are so delicate – you can’t have any oxygen or they ruin really quickly.

We’ve also over-spec’d the cooler so that we can expand a bit. We can get a few extra tanks in there as well.

Danny
The idea was to get a kit that one person could bash out a beer in a day, but requires minimal maintenance – a super simple kit really.

Robin
Long term we want to be a brewery that’s sustainable, respected and largely the same in spirit, and we wouldn’t want to change any of this (gesturing towards the groups on benches behind us). We’re always going to be about producing beers of the highest quality we can, and I don’t see us ever appearing on shelves in Tesco.

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The Beak Brewery: Reasons to be Chirpy

Sitting and chatting with Danny and Robin, founders of The Beak Brewery, you are struck by their happy-go-lucky, youthful optimism. And they have good reason.

Having launched their brewery and tap-room in an off-piste industrial unit during a pandemic, they have been enthusiastically embraced by a local and national community of modern beer lovers.

We get to know the boys behind the Beak…

Tell us a bit about yourself and the birth of the Beak Bewery.

Danny
I’m Daniel Tapper, founder of Beak Brewery. It was a nomadic operation for about three years – before that for more than a decade I was working as a food & drink writer for various newspapers. But my main loves have always been skateboarding and home brewing, and I turned home brewing into a commercial venture when I bought a nano-brewery.

So what did you learn from all the cuckoo brewing you did?

I was only making about three or four brews a year, because it was so expensive – it was just a hobby, it was like glorified home brewing really. The main thing it taught me was how important it was to have your own place, so you have full control of the final product.

I also learned the importance of meeting lots of people and becoming friends with folk in the industry. Not a day goes by that I’m not calling someone who I’ve met for help, and people are really willing. I remember my first beer festival, and not knowing anyone; a few years later and I know so many people.

Also it’s a really good way to test out a brand and see whether people dig that kind of beer. A lot of people start breweries – usually a bunch of guys – and invest in something like this, but with nothing to base it on. We were able to get quite a bit of investment just based on a few years of nomadic brewing and having a following…

…and getting your mistakes out of the way early on?

Yep, definitely some mistakes! (laughter)

(Robin then joins us, bringing with him three halves of ‘Locals’)

Perfect timing. Tell us a bit yourself as well.

Robin
Hi, I’m Robin, I’m the Head Brewer here at Beak Brewery. I’m from Edinburgh originally, but I moved down here about five years ago work at Burning Sky brewery, just down the road. I was there for about four years, and now I’ve been been on board with the Beak since winter last year. I was involved with the build. We’ve been brewing here since August.

How did you both meet?

Danny
It was a Blind Date. (laughter)

Robin
A mutual friend from Beavertown introduced us. I used to work with Jonny Hamilton, who ran the Tempus project at Beavertown in London. He’s now one of the core people who set up Newbarns up in Edinburgh, another brewery mad enough to start up this year.

Danny
Yeah, so as I mentioned my operation was a nomadic brewery. I was doing a brew at Beavertown, and Jonny said, “Oh, you’re moving to Lewes, let me introduce you to Robin.” It’s quite a small town, so if you can meet someone else who’s really into beer it’s quite a big thing.

Robin
Yes, I was living in Brighton but always travelling through Lewes by train and thinking, that’s a nice place to live. So eventually my girlfriend and I just got a place here.

Ahh, so this pre-answers my next question about why you set up in Lewes. But how did you come to be here on the industrial estate?

Danny
We spent ages looking at beautiful farms all around thinking ‘Oh my god, we’re gonna do an amazing destination brewery,’ but the thing is that these farms just don’t have the utilities. No drain connections, don’t have the right electrics, and people have to drive miles to get there so there’s no community. Yes it’s an industrial estate, but actually we’ve got an amazing community of people who come here all the time. It’s got all the utilities, and actually as far as industrial estates go it’s a nice one.

Robin
Yeah, it’s pretty nice here.

Danny
For instance, we had an older couple call up yesterday just to ask when we’re running the These Hills Festival. They’d been down to the taproom six times in the last four months. They come from Guildford and stay in a B&B just to come and spend a couple of nights here.

So you’re a tourist destination as well?

Danny
Definitely. Lots of people from London and Brighton.

Robin
We are quite surprised in a way. When we thought of having a taproom on site we imagined four or five tables. Then the pandemic hit and we thought that idea might be out the window, but it’s been incredible.

Danny
That’s right. In the business plan we thought we’d just sell three kegs over a weekend – you know, half a dozen locals sat around a bar. Haha!

Robin
We just thought that people wouldn’t want to come this far out of the town centre. Your readers can’t see, but right now there’s 50 people sat behind us. Yeah the support has been amazing.

Danny
We’ve been getting 300 people down here every Saturday, fully booked up, which for an industrial estate in an old market town… we just didn’t expect it.
We can’t really make enough beer at the moment. We’ve just bought a new tank and we’re selling 80% direct, which was never in the business plan – the plan was always to do distributors. So we really do feel immensely fortunate.

All this is despite you launching during a pandemic. (laughter) How has this year shifted your business plans?

Robin
We were always going to be selling quite a lot in cans, just because the style of beer does quite well in that kind of presentation.

Danny
We wanted to get it far and wide. Keg is good for a local markets, but the history of the brewery as a nomadic project meant that it’s always had a really small but national following, especially in Leeds, Manchester and London. Breaking it down, not a lot of our beer is sold locally. Yes it’s a taproom near Brighton, but beyond that most of it goes out nationally and I think small pack lends itself to that.

Can people find you on tap regularly anywhere in Brighton and Hove?

Robin
We’re in a few pubs in town. The Evening Star, The Independent, The Well in Kemptown; we’ve been on at Bison, The Pond and at the Brighton Beer Dispensary. Often the problem is that people are asking for kegs and we just don’t have them because we’re selling so much through the taproom.

It seemed like there was quite a lot of hype and excitement around your launch. Why do you think it’s been so successful?

Danny
(Long intake of breath) God knows. (laughter)

Robin
I would like to think, as the brewer, that the beer speaks for itself; but also there’s really not anything like this in Lewes. Up to this point Lewes had a very traditional beer market.

Danny
But it’s more than a Lewes thing, we’ve had a really good national response.

Robin
I think that during lockdown it’s a case of people latching onto something new and exciting. We’ve tried to be quite positive about how we view what’s happened to us and the industry this year, so I think that’s been a big part of it.

Danny
It’s nice to have interest but the whole ‘hype’ word is quite scary, because with hype there’s always an inevitable drop when the excitement wears off. That always really scares me, because the same people that hype breweries are the same people that can turn against them. They can be quite fickle.

Robin
But I think we’re putting a lot of thought into long-term quality and sustainability in the types of beers that we’re doing. We are doing things that might create hype..

Danny
But only because we like those beers…

Robin
…and we think it’s important to do it consistently, because you’re only as good as your last brew.

So let’s talk about the beer. Does the brewery have a main focus or character to it?

Robin
Definitely. I guess we’re focusing on New England-ish style, with our own spin on it. Mainly hoppy, hop-forward pales, with a lot of emphasis on balance within that style. It’s quite easy to make beers that are one note or, depending how you do the hoping schedules, to make them quite flat in terms of flavour. My goal at Beak Brewery is to make them super hop-forward beers, but with a level of interest and drinkability to them as well. My personal preference is something on the more drinkable end of that.

Danny
Robin and I have a lot of conversations about this.

Robin
Danny is maybe the middle; I like them most drinkable, Danny is mid.

Danny
I like that there’s a tension where you try to meet in the middle. If you have one person heading a brewery it can go in a direction where the other people aren’t saying to that person, “Actually this doesn’t taste very good.”

Robin
That’s right. My palate is not the be all and end all of anything, so it’s good to have that discussion around what we’re making.

Danny
Robin is creating a tasting panel. The idea is that it’s not just me and Robin tasting the beer, it’s also the bar staff, and their opinions are valued as well. Our Operations Manager Cat, who is really into lager, doesn’t really like New England IPAs; her opinion is just as valid. We always want to listen to what people want to drink while not compromising. But we’re not doing massive 12% pastry, milkshake, sour, blueberry, apple pie… I mean if people want to do that it’s fine, but that’s genuinely not what we like to do.

Is there a core range that you produce, or is it always changing?

Robin
It’s pretty flexible at the moment.

Danny
I think it’s developing really. Parade…

Robin
Parade definitely, which is our 6% mosaic, idaho 7, citra. Strangers which is a sabro, idaho 7, mosaic, pina-colada vibe going on. Then Lulla, which is my personal favourite, our table beer with citra, simcoe, amarillo, 3.5% and super-drinkable, but still with body. That’s really the range at the moment.

Danny
We’ve got some seasonals as well. Horses, which is a West Coast centennial, columbus, big C West Coast hop varieties, rye and caro in there. Then Pencil, which is an export porter, and Oopla, our 10% imperial stout.

Robin
We got a couple of old wooden pins from Mark, Manager of the Evening Star in Brighton. They date from 1930s/40s and he’d had them refurbished by a cooper. We did Pencil in them and now we’re doing Oopla in them.

Danny
We put some bourbon in the barrel first to season it, and now it’s been ageing in that and oh my god…

Robin
It’s fun to do that low-tech stuff. It’s not often you get to have a cask and that adds something unquantifiable to beer. You can have the best equipment but not get that element of history.

Danny
That’s what got me into brewing – those more creative beers that you can stick in a small barrel and see what happens.

Robin
I was a bit nervous about using a cask, because they are so old and they can’t be left empty for any length of time. My god I can’t describe what it added, but it was earthy and tasted old in a really good way.

Danny
We serve it through a sparkler, which aerates the beer and gives it a thick tight head – a bit of a nod to our northern roots.

Where are you coming up with the curious names? They are all just one word, aren’t they?

Robin
The depths of our minds. (laughter)

Danny
When we started everyone was doing really elaborate names, so we decided to keep them to one word, keep it simple.

Robin
Yeah, if you’re going up to the bar and asking for a beer, you don’t want to be ordering a whole sentence.

Danny
You want to get straight to the point. (laughter)

Robin
We want them to be jumpy, lively, fun words generally.

Danny
And evocative of the beer. Oopla doesn’t mean anything, but it feels full and unctuous as a word.

For the tech-heads, what do you brew in – and is there capacity to expand here?

Robin
The brewery is packing about 2,200–2,400 litres, so about 150 cases, 20-odd kegs. Three-vessel kit, single infusion. You don’t need a very bells-and-whistles kit to brew ale, but we’ve got a couple of extra things. We’ve got quite a big whirlpool for the large amount of hops we’re using, and a dry hopping gizmo that lets us add dry hops without adding oxygen. They are so delicate – you can’t have any oxygen or they ruin really quickly.

We’ve also over-spec’d the cooler so that we can expand a bit. We can get a few extra tanks in there as well.

Danny
The idea was to get a kit that one person could bash out a beer in a day, but requires minimal maintenance – a super simple kit really.

Robin
Long term we want to be a brewery that’s sustainable, respected and largely the same in spirit, and we wouldn’t want to change any of this (gesturing towards the groups on benches behind us). We’re always going to be about producing beers of the highest quality we can, and I don’t see us ever appearing on shelves in Tesco.

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