Getting to know BREW: Merakai Brewing Co
We caught up with Emma O'Neill-Parsons & Olly Parsons - Co-Owners and Co-Founders of Merakai Brewing Co to find out everything from their collaborations with other businesses to the importance of non-alcoholic beers in the craft beer industry.
Can you give me a little bit of history about Merakai Brewing Co & how did you become involved?
Emma - Merakai Brewing CO. is the genesis of an idea that has been in the pipeline for about 10 years, we just didn’t know the idea would manifest itself as a craft brewery. I had the idea that Olly and I would do something together, we just didn’t know what that would be.
Olly - I sacked my corporate life and got a job brewing at Arundel (after a few years of being a homebrewer). Starting a brewery for us was a necessity, we sold our house with the view that we would start a brewery eventually, the pandemic happened and Emma was out of a job, we decided during the first wave of lockdown we would go for it.
How is your beer connected to the local area?
Emma - We want our brewery and the beer we create to support the community and not necessarily be connected to the terroir of the local area. For the launch of How’s Your Head Hun, our Helles Lager, we did a fundraising campaign for our local MIND charity and hosted a programme of activities to drive awareness around the issue of mental health. We will be doing more of that as we establish ourselves further.
We have been taken in by our local (to us, Sussex) bottle shops and craft pubs, our community connects us to the area. We have also been very lucky that we’ve been picked up nationwide too.
What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
Olly - Once we’ve found our feet, we want to create flavours that are distinctly Merakai. At the moment, you could say what sets us apart beer wise is that our hop ratios are higher than your average brewery.
Emma - We feel that there is no one out in the market like us. We are not afraid to show who we are, what we’re about, and come out in support of marginalised communities and important topics within the craft beer industry and beyond. We are not afraid to be involved with and talk about subjects that people may not want to face or hear about within the craft beer community. We are here to be supportive and create spaces for people who want to get into craft beer but don’t feel that they can.
How do you decide on what new beers to brew?
Olly - Emma and I own the brewery, we don’t have to answer to investors or shareholders. I am very lucky to have free reign to make the beers I enjoy, and luckily for us, others seem to enjoy them too. Seasonality plays a part for sure, but it’s pretty much down to what I want to create right at that moment.
Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you can tell me about?
Olly - I’ve not brewed a TIPA before, so I’m going to give that a try. Until recently I hadn’t brewed a fruited gose, that turned out well so we’ll definitely be trying new flavour combinations with that style as I learned a lot.
How important do you think collaborations are - with other breweries or businesses?
Olly - One of Merakai’s core pillars is the community, and for us the connection with other breweries is extremely important. You get the opportunity to share best practice and learn from each other. We have some really exciting collaborations in the pipeline that we can’t talk about yet, hopefully we’ll be able to let you know soon.
Emma - We love working with local businesses such as craft pubs and bottleshops. We’ve done fundraising, a collaboration with the wonderful Hop’t Sauce and completed a few tastings and tap takeovers, and we’d like to do more of that. If there is anything we can do to support each other and the wider craft movement/community we’ll be there.
What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?
Emma - The industry by its nature (by all means not the worst) isn’t great for sustainability. At the moment, we are being as conscious as we can be and we try to keep any wastage to a minimum. 87.5% of our brew kit is second hand, which means there is a lesser environmental impact. We are constantly looking into what is possible from a packaging and production perspective.
We do due diligence on our ingredients and packaging suppliers, making sure that we work with suppliers and partners who are committed to looking at and implementing practices that are sustainable to reduce their overall carbon footprints too.
We are committed to doing better and aren’t into greenwashing.
What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
Olly - We launched Merakai Brewing CO. and started cuckoo brewing at the end of November 2020, our biggest challenge has been launching a new business during a pandemic, without any contacts within a very crowded market when most of the hospitality industry was unable to open and without any financial support from the government or banks. I think that sums it up.
Emma - Learning new skills such as running a brewery, our own business and everything outside of my professional remit has been challenging but really enjoyable
What are the biggest problems you run into in producing beer?
Olly - Brewing beer on a new brewing kit that's new to me, when you don’t quite know it’s foibles is challenging, but once you get it right, it’s magic. Packaging has been interesting, we have our own canning line (ExpressFill XF4400) and nothing ever seems to go smoothly but the end result is quality, these things come with the territory and you just have to make it work.
Emma - Not yet having the benefit of economies of scale and finding a balance in supply. We really want to be as competitive as we can be, but we’re still not able to produce as cheaply as some of the larger micro craft breweries. We’ve been asked why we can’t be as cheap as x or y, so that has been challenging. The customers we do have, have been really supportive, even though we’re not as cheap.
In terms of supply, we’ve had to start producing more due to demand, but we were brewing to our regular capacity, and the turnaround is 4 weeks, so we’re playing catch up. We think we’ll find the right balance soon.
Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
Olly - We launched Merakai with a DIPA, I wanted to make it New England style but it came out more of a midcoast and then evolved to a West Coast style beer. This was because when I scaled up the beer, the hop efficiency was greater in Arundel’s brewery kit, which gave it a more bitter note. The positive was that it tasted amazing, and we made a LOT of it.
There are still people who bought it, hadn’t got round to trying it, and have it in their cupboard that are drinking it now and giving it good reviews. As long as the end customer enjoys it, that’s all that matters to us.
What has been your favourite beer you have produced at Merakai Brewing Co?
Olly - The Strawberry Fruited Gose ‘We Like You Berry Much’ because it was my first fruited beer, and a great collaboration with Hop’t Sauce.
Emma - it’s probably the Helles lager, but Three Little Birds was lovely (it wasn’t around for long). When we do a Belgian beer that will be it for me
How important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
Emma - Massively, in my opinion it’s as important as the taste itself. My background is in marketing so I had to come through for us. We wanted to create something that represents who we are, that stands out on shelves. I hope you’ll agree that we have achieved that.
Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
Emma - We mentioned before that our ethos is all about being inclusive and trying to grow the craft beer community and industry. Non and no alcohol beers play an important role as they allow people the chance to participate. Also, low and no are great for new parents (ask my sister and brother in law) or during drier seasons.
How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for you in the industry?
Olly - For up and coming breweries like us, it helps when people and trade are looking for new breweries to try. For the most part, we’ve had positive experiences with the people using it. Please feel free to follow us and rate our beer if you don’t already. That would really help!
What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
Emma - Building out our brewery in Uckfield and increasing our production
Olly - Exciting collaborations, craft beer festivals in the summer and more amazing beers
What's your Favourite Pub
Our local, The Brooksteed. John and Aaron have been really supportive of us and our champions during the pandemic. Outside of the UK, we both would say ‘t Terrastje in Bruges you never know what day or time it’s open, so it’s a treat when it is.
Favourite beer style
Emma - Belgian Beer all day long.
Olly - Oatcream IPAs or DIPAs.
Favourite Hop to brew with
Emma - Nelson Sauvin, it’s delicious characters of tropical, gooseberry and grape are just it for me.
Olly - Mosaic, I love the tropical, blueberry and dankness it brings.
Favourite snack to have with beer
Olly - Korean BBQ wings or a premium scotch egg (with black pudding is amazing).
Emma - Beer fried chips with Hop’t Sauce sauces (genuinely delicious).
About Merakai Brewing CO. LTD
Address: Unit 12, Squires Farm Industrial Estate, Framfield, Palehouse Common, Uckfield TN22 5RB