Have you tried home brewing and it went better than you thought? Did the IPA or Pale Ale actually taste nice? Did you then say: “I should do this a living”? Probably, but turning a hobby into a vocation takes determination, skill and a fair bit of financial commitment.
Like many craft beer enthusiasts, Dan Lawson began brewing with a home brewing kit bought online as a way of helping with the struggles of anxiety. What he didn’t realise at the time was that this would become much more than just a new hobby, it would become a way of life.
Within 12 months Dan had started building a small brewery at the bottom of his garden at home, affectionately naming it the ‘brew shed’ where he would brew artisan ales with a focus on supporting other local businesses and the local community.
We caught up with Dan and Sam Lawson, husband and wife owners of Copper Beech Brewing Company to find out everything from how their brewery is connected to the local area to what it meant to be nominated for the SIBA Business Awards 2021.
Q. Can you tell me a little about Copper Beech Brewing Company?
The Copper Beech Brewing company is a nano-brewery situated at the bottom of our home garden in Kidderminster, Worcestershire beneath the hanging branches of a Copper Beech tree – hence the name! It is owned and ran by me (Sam), my Husband Dan, Dad John and Mum Trish.
It started life as brewer Dan’s hobby which began to take over the kitchen and spare room and so I banished him to the bottom of the garden! Eventually, he decided to turn the hobby into a business and with the help of John, built a custom Brew Shed.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area?
As a company, we hugely value the local community and want to support it in any way we can, as well as other local businesses. We currently do this in two ways –
Firstly, we source as much as possible for the business from the local area. Kidderminster if possible, Worcestershire if not and as close to the Midlands as we can otherwise. It doesn’t always make perfect business sense, but it is an important part of our identity as a company.
Secondly, we created our ‘Delivery With a Difference’ incentive. We do not charge a delivery fee but instead, our customers are encouraged to donate food items, which we collect when we drop off their order, to donate to a food bank in the local area. We choose a different food bank within our delivery areas each month to donate to and so far, the response has been overwhelming. Food banks have been under immense pressure during the pandemic and we are so grateful that we have been able to help in this small way.
Q. What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
We think visually, our branding is quite unique. The craft beer scene is such an impressive showcase of artwork and a lot of it is super brightly coloured and eye-catching in a way that we felt we would easily get lost amongst if we tried to take a similar path. That’s why we chose the style that we did, to stand out differently. Also, all of our beers are inspired by events or periods in our lives. Each one has its own story (which is accessible via a QR code on the can) and we joke that there’s a little bit of nostalgia in every can.
With regards to our beers, we take a similar approach - there are some incredible breweries that are just phenomenal at experimental flavours and styles, standing out can be a challenge. Our aim is to just make really great beers. Dan is hugely invested in the finer details such as water chemistry and yeast/hop interactions and he is constantly striving to produce absolute top-quality beverages. That’s not to say we don’t want to produce interesting flavours and push the boundaries but for now, our focus is on producing clean and crisp beers that you want to drink over and over.
Q. How do you decide on what new beers to brew?
We may have brewed ourselves into a bit of a corner so to speak, all of the beers are linked to our personal experiences and so the story and name tend to come first! With the story in mind, we can figure out the flavours we want to create and which style will best fit.
If the recipe comes first because there’s something specific Dan wants to brew with, for example, we have to sit down and say ‘where does this transport us to, what does it remind us of?’ which tends to be much harder!
Q. Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you can tell me about?
I’m massively into the idea of a Brut IPA being a big fan of champagne but Dan may take some convincing! We will definitely be looking at producing a Summer Ale for the (hopefully) warmer months and perhaps some seasonal brews later in the year. Dan is very keen on attempting to make a lager and venture into DIPA and TIPA territory although this won’t be easy until we scale up. He also wants to create a really good Amber Ale for nostalgic reasons so that may be at some point this year.
Q. How important do you think collaborations are with other breweries?
I think collaboration in any industry is important. Admittedly, being so new to the industry we don’t have a huge amount of insight on how that works but sharing knowledge and keeping inspired through collaborative ideas is an exciting prospect and something we would be absolutely open to in the future. We have had some fantastic beers which have been collaborations.
Q. What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?
Sustainability is a great concern of ours and something which we will be constantly striving to improve on. In the early stages (before we launched) we were bottling our beer but eventually moved to canning as metal recycles forever. All of our packaging is sustainable – we only use paper bags and six-pack can rings made from recycled materials.
We recently purchased a Duofiller machine for our canning process which is allowing us to further control our Co2 usage and keep it to the exact amount necessary.
We have a way to go in becoming fully environmentally sound but we are committed to making improvements at every opportunity.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
No points for guessing! In January 2020 we spent pretty much every penny of our savings on the Brew Shed and then the pandemic happened. We had a few different business models which wouldn’t have worked in the situation we all found ourselves in and so Dan spent his time learning the new equipment inside and out, perfecting recipes and waiting the situation out. As the year unfolded and it became clear that there wasn’t going to be much change regarding the restrictions we decided that selling small pack locally would be our best option.
I’m sure people think we’re mad to have launched a brewery during a global pandemic but in some ways, we were fortunate to have the luxury to bend our plans around the situation, and the truth is that we got to the point where we had to start recouping our investment somehow. Our hearts really go out to established businesses though, facing this situation and having your income affected so drastically must have put unthinkable pressure on so many. Hopefully, with everyone so keen for life to return to normal, anyone affected will bounce back quickly.
Q. What are the biggest problems you run into in producing beer?
Dan can’t stop flooding the brew shed every single time he brews! In seriousness, the biggest issue we face being on the scale we are is the availability of ingredients. Some things aren’t available to us for a reasonable cost and some things just aren’t available at all. We have had issues where we can’t get hold of hops we need unless we buy huge quantities, which we aren’t able to do, so we have had to release an iteration of one of the beers in the past. It’s all a learning curve – we always order extra now!
Q. Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
I Left My Heart in NYC was brewed so many times because it was always ‘too this’ or ‘too that’ or ‘missing something’ and so that constantly didn’t turn out how we wanted! Although it did make it that much sweeter when we felt we had got it exactly where we wanted it to be. In contrast, we brewed Birdie once and it came out perfect!
Q. What has been your favourite beer you have produced?
My personal favourite is our Pale Ale Birdie. I’m massively driven by the aroma and this one has such a big juicy fruit hit on the nose. Its also super flavour packed and bitter without being harsh, I could happily drink it all night.
Dan would choose our IPA I Left My Heart in NYC, he’s really proud of how well balanced it is.
Q. How important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
To us, it is equally as important as what’s in the can. It is the first (and sometimes only) way of telling people who you are and what you’re about.
We are so fortunate to have a close friend who is an immensely talented graphic designer who we work with on our branding. We discussed a concept with him – using icons and shapes which link back to the beers being inspired by things that shape us as people, expressing our value in the heritage of our local area – and he took it to a place beyond our wildest dreams.
Q. What does being nominated for the SIBA Awards mean to you?
We entered really last minute due to being so preoccupied with the launch so we were utterly gobsmacked and thrilled at the same time! Especially seeing the names of the other breweries who had been shortlisted - to be named alongside some of our beer heroes this early in our journey meant so much to us and being recognised for anything at all at this early stage is very encouraging. We attended the virtual awards ceremony on 18th March and felt a huge wave of imposter syndrome, to be honest, we kept saying to each other ‘how did we get here?’ but I guess its proof that size is not a measure of anything, if you have something good to offer it doesn’t matter if you’re in a huge warehouse with a taproom or you’re in a 12 x 9 shed in the back garden!
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
That’s a difficult one to be honest. It’s not something we have a lot of knowledge of. I think that the scope for non-alcoholic beverages, in general, is huge and there are many more imaginative options to be had than a beer. I think low-alcohol beers may be more valuable if they can capture the flavours and experience of drinking an amazing craft beer, as we are of the opinion that becoming inebriated is a rather inconvenient by-product of loving craft beer!
Q. How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for the beer industry?
We didn’t register on untapped as we weren’t sure if it was something we wanted to look to closely at to begin with however, within about an hour of delivering the first round of beers, a customer had done it for us and the reviews started trickling in! It’s really helpful and interesting to read peoples comments on there so we learned quickly that it is actually integral in receiving honest feedback, which is what you need for continued growth. Does it sting a little when someone gives a low score? Sure. But this industry is based on taste which, as we all know, is subjective so you can’t worry too much about that – as long as a beer is scoring well overall that’s the best you can hope for. The thing I would change about it is that a reviewer can only review the same beer twice if they’re changing their rating as I think it would make the scores more reflective of the general quality.
Q. The small breweries relief fund debate is getting a little heated between many macro and micro breweries. Will the change of the fund affect you?
Currently, it doesn’t impact us however, it will affect our long-term future. We are respectful of all opinions on this as it will affect everyone at different stages in different ways. The only thing we can do is carry on with our plans and figure it out as we go!
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
We absolutely did not think we would be in this position so quickly but the immediate plans are scaling up the equipment and hunting for a small unit to house it so that we are able to produce more beer each month. We’re also in the process of getting our AWRS so that we can supply to bottle shops in the local area, hopefully pushing the beer out to a wider audience which will be fantastic.
Other than that we just want to keep building and interacting with our community and continue to support our local area in whatever ways we can!
About Copper Beech Brewing Company
The Copper Beech Brewing Company web shop opens once a month for 7 days. Find out more about their monthly release events.