Orval, 1892 and flying through Flanders - An interview with Bethany Burrow
Welcome to part two of our Beerblefish Brewing focus. Yesterday’s piece looked at how Beerblefish evolved as a brewery and the importance of social outreach to their brand.
Today we chat to Bethany (with input from James), founders of Beerblefish and discuss everything from the madness of the last few months to incredible Belgian beers, cheese and cycle trips.
If you missed our chat yesterday, you can go and read that here.
Q: The last few months have been tough for micro-breweries, how did you react to pubs closing and on-trade revenue disappearing?
A: The beginning of the lockdown saw about 75% of our trade disappear overnight, and April was our worst month for sales since we started brewing full time two years ago. Plus, we had to furlough staff.
However, we didn’t panic (no matter how tempting it was) and we made a plan for how to get going again as soon as we could.
The first thing was to get a premises licence for the brewery, which confused the council no end when they received the application less than a week after the lockdown started! This enabled us to open for off sales and bring staff back off furlough.
"We didn’t panic (no matter how tempting it was) and we made a plan for how to get going again as soon as we could"
At the same time, many of our regular wholesale customers were also finding their feet with takeaway and delivery services, and we started brewing again in May.
With the combination of direct sales and pubs and bars taking more stock, May turned out to be our best month ever. Introducing mini casks has been a massive success, both in direct sales and for wholesale.
Q: What steps are you taking now they are beginning to open again?
A: Although pubs can open again now, many of our regular customers have not yet done so, because they are micropubs with limited space and it isn’t financially viable for them.
We are selling a lot more bottles (and mini casks) than we were previously, and I think that is likely to continue, so we may refocus our packaging strategy a little.
Finally, we think we missed a trick by not having a web shop - it was already on our list and we’d made some enquiries before the lockdown, but it didn’t move fast enough to be ready in time. It’s high on the list to revisit in the near future.
Q: Someone from the cycle club is visiting the brewery for the first time, what beer (or gin) do you recommend they try first?
A: I would love to say “all of them!” but I fear that might not be wise if you’re cycling!
If I had to pick one, it would be Cashmere Brut IPA (6.7%) because it’s my baby. I’m allergic to grapes and wanted something that would fill the wine glass-shaped hole in my life, so I designed a beer that comes in a 750ml wine-size bottle, has a light mouth-feel and vinous characteristics that allow it to earn its place at the dinner table.
It uses the Cashmere hop from the US, which has a delicate lemony flavour and fragrance and, being a brut IPA, it’s quite dry and not very bitter (about 16 IBUs).
James would have a completely different take - he’d point you in the direction of our 1892 IPA (6.9%), which is at the opposite end of the IPA spectrum.
It’s based on recipes from the late nineteenth century and has a rich, reddish colour, full body and a fruitiness derived from both the hop profile and the mixed fermentation using Brettanomyces.
For a third option, Glenn, our brewery manager, would likely have you try one of the Hoppy Pale Series (4.5%) - these are single batch pale ales brewed with the same malt bill, but with a different hop profile each time to showcase some of the more unusual hops that we come across.
Q: You'll be celebrating your 5th birthday in August, have you got any big plans?
A: We were hoping to have a big party, but in the present circumstances, I don’t think that’s realistic.
We might be the ones to make sixth birthday parties the new fifth? But we do have some exciting things going on - our new brewer is starting on our actual birthday, which will be a great excuse to celebrate, and we may also have a new beer in the pipeline...
Q: Final question (and one of our favourites) If you're going on a long bike ride, what bike are you riding and what beer are you drinking when you finish?
"These days, I think my preferred route would be around the Flanders region of Belgium (not too many hills…) on my trusty steed, a Dahon Espresso full-size folding bike, taking in Ypres/Ieper and Poperinge and ending at the St Sixtus Abbey cafe “In de Vrede” for a Westvleteren trappist beer and a plate of paterkaas"
A: I am actually quite a keen cyclist. I didn’t learn to ride a bike until about eight years ago, when I was very much already an adult, but I did so by signing up to the London to Brighton bike ride two months in advance - and then having James teach me!
I made it, but it was quite an adventure and I honestly can’t remember what I drank at the end of it now, but it was very welcome.
These days, I think my preferred route would be around the Flanders region of Belgium (not too many hills…) on my trusty steed, a Dahon Espresso full-size folding bike, taking in Ypres/Ieper and Poperinge and ending at the St Sixtus Abbey cafe “In de Vrede” for a Westvleteren trappist beer and a plate of paterkaas (the cheese made by the monks). I’m not sure whether I’d go for the 8 or the 10, but if James were with me, he’d be all about the 12.
This sounds like one hell of a trip. Sign us up next time! What about James?
James would be on his Tern Jack D24, with Schwalbe Big Apple Tires which eat up the bumps, which he says is great for long rides and steep hills and, like mine, it can fold so you can catch the train home allowing more beer to be consumed at the final destination.
James is likely to be up a hill somewhere and says that, apart from a Beerblefish 1892 IPA, he would have to be drinking a Rodenbach Grand Cru or Alexander or Orval 24 months aged or a Westvleteren 12, depending where our travels took us (although if he’s up a hill, it would probably have to be Orval out of those…).
Orval at the end of a long ride? Youre not alone there James!
Thanks for your time on both of these interviews Bethany,
We'll be putting the route together later this week and can't wait to share it with you.