Getting to know BREW: Quantock Brewery
Updated: Apr 23
Escaping to the country from the big city is something many are looking to do after 2020. The wide-open spaces, fresh air, peace and quiet and traditional village life are just some of the reasons to pack up and move away.
But, this way of life was realised much sooner by Cheryl Ford, Managing Director and co-founder of Quantock Brewery, who moved to Somerset from the east of London many years ago to help run her parents' village pub. After several years running the pub, Cheryl then co-founded Quantock Brewery in December 2007 in Wellington, Somerset along with head brewer and former nuclear engineer Rob Rainey.
We caught up with Cheryl to find out what the challenges have been with running an independent brewery during a pandemic and what's in store for those visiting the CAMRA and SIBA accredited microbrewery.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area and what’s unique about your beer and your brewery?
In June 2015, due to growing demand, we stepped up to a larger facility alongside the southern terminus of the West Somerset Railway in Bishops Lydeard, Somerset. The new site allowed us to produce more beer and open our brewery shop. In May 2016 we also opened our taproom to the public so that anyone can try our beers before they buy and it also allows us to hold events of all sizes from live music on a Saturday night to 3-day ale festivals.
We use the best natural ingredients for our beer. Our Head Brewer, Rob, wanted all the beers to be brewed entirely from the highest quality grain and whole hop cones, the only other ingredients being yeast and water. No chemicals or sugar are added to the beers to ensure the flavour is pure. Rob strives to produce quality beers that have flavour and character, far different from the mass-produced beers traditionally found in pubs across the UK.
Q. How do you decide on what new seasonal beers to brew?
We decided that beer should be for everyone so we brew beer that we hope everyone wants to drink. Quantock ale, UXB, TIPA and Stouts are all brewed with our customers in mind and we get so much positive feedback from them in the taproom. If there’s something we feel we should brew then we try it. If it was down to me, I would just drink a tasty NEIPA all the time.
Q. Do you think collaborations are important?
Definitely. We’ve been working with Flavourly to offer their customers four completely new exclusive beers. It’s an opportunity which we couldn’t turn down. We are looking at selling some of our beers through Morrisons (Locally) in May/June which is really exciting for us.
We’ve also been working on the Pink Boots Society collaboration which helps to raise awareness for women in brewing and celebrates all women in our industry, as well as to connect and educate all aspiring brewsters out there.
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
It's been really hard over the last 12 months, but if you love what you do then you should succeed. Without a doubt, the pandemic has been challenging for us all. We went from winning gold at the SIBA National Independent Beer Awards for Titanium and talking about opening a new taproom, then all of a sudden the rug was pulled out from underneath us.
We had to change our business model. We could keep the shop open but we needed to create a bigger online presence. The footfall we used to get from the people visiting Somerset just dropped off completely. I told myself, ’You’ve just got to put on your big girl pants and get on with it’, which I did, and it’s amazing how things have been going for us.
Something good has come out of something bad, as we’ve been able to evolve more than we ever thought we would have done over the last 12 months. We were able to get a Government grant which we used to purchase a canning plant and without doubt, if we didn’t have that we wouldn’t be producing the craft beer we currently are. We used to have our beer canned and bottled by a third party, but they could only do a certain amount. During the first lockdown, we kept selling out so we needed to do something about it.
Q. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
I think that cans are like works of art. If you can get the media right, create a story to tell, then the customers respond well and they know that we’re passionate about what we brew.
Regarding the design, I always take the opinions of my team on board. I want to know what they really think of the design of the pump clip or the cans, and the merchandise. If you can make a really memorable product then that’s great, we're all delighted. We want to be different from other brewers and I think we are.
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
It’s very important but we don’t have the equipment to make non-alcoholic beer, however, we are trying to go as low as we can. Table beers are very important for us, especially as we are rurally located. At our taproom, we always have a low ABV beer so people can have at least one beer if they are having to drive.
People’s perception of low ABV is often that it’s tasteless but it doesn’t need to be. There are some great quality lower ABV beers out there.
Q. How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd?
We take platforms like Untappd with a pinch of salt, which is all you can do. There are some instances where it can help you but you shouldn’t obsess over it because as quickly as it can help you it can also have you on your knees. Social media sites like Twitter and Instagram are more important to us as we can tell our story and can engage with people that have a genuine interest in our beer. Because we are located in such a busy and tourist-focused part of Somerset, we tend to find that Trip Advisor is a good reviewing platform for us too. Although we have many 5 out 5 reviews we have had a few reviews that said, ‘I’ve had a drink in an industrial estate’ when they’ve expected something like a pub. So there are negative reviews for something that there need not have been.
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
We are looking to open our new taproom which is only a 2-minute walk from Somerset County Cricket Club. Originally it would have opened in April 2021 but it's looking more likely to be October as we want to make sure everything is exactly how we want it. It’s so important to us that the taproom reflects our identity and doesn’t look like any other taproom. The exciting thing about the taproom is that it gives us an opportunity to control the quality of the beer and people can drink it how we intended it.
As of 12th of April 2021, the taproom on the brewery site is now open – perfect if you’re visiting the West Country on a staycation!
About Quantock Brewery
Quantock Brewery is a CAMRA and SIBA accredited microbrewery. Our brewhouse is an 8-barrel size with 8 fermenters allowing us to produce 5 brews per week and over 2300 pints per brew. Currently, we can produce over 160 casks or 11500 bottles per week. Recently the brewhouse has started producing kegged beer supplying over 40 key kegs a week. Our brewhouse also features our new HOPGUN. This exciting piece of kit replaces the traditional dry hop brewing process and allows our brewing team to infuse a more intense level of flavour and aroma directly into our new craft beers.
In an industry of endless possibilities, we will always continue to explore new ideas and add to our ever-growing range of beers crafted in the heart of Somerset.
Address: Quantock Brewery, Westridge Way, Broadgauge Business Park, Bishops Lydeard, Taunton, Somerset TA4 3RU
Social Media: @QuantockBrewery (Twitter / Instagram)