Getting to know BREW: Quantock Brewery
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 end 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 family-run award-winning microbrewery.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area and what’s unique about your beer and your brewery?
We originally set ourselves up in a unit tucked away on an industrial business park in Wellington, Somerset. Six years down the line and it was evident we had outgrown our present premises and were on the hunt for a new home.
So onwards to Bishops Lydeard we moved in 2015 to a unit five times bigger than our previous home and a two minute walk from The West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage steam railway in England. Now, we had the space we craved for to be able to increase capacity, start our own brewery shop and we opened the doors to our beloved Taproom in May 2016.
The Taproom has been a brilliant way for people to try our beers and so we can get instant feedback on new brews we are creating. It also means we can create small batch brews that are only available at QBHQ. The additional space allowed us to start hosting events of all sizes from live music on a Saturday night to 3-day ale festivals.
Since we’ve re-opened this summer we’ve been expanding our street food offering at the weekends with amazing vendors from Somerset and Bristol. This is proving really popular and we’ve got an incredible foodie line up planned for the rest of the summer.
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.
The brew team strives to produce quality beers that have flavour and character, far different from the mass-produced beers that used to be traditionally found in pubs across the UK. For us to be able to start supplying pubs again has been really welcome as lockdown restrictions have started to ease. 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.
Q. How do you decide on what new seasonal beers to brew?
When we set up Quantock Brewery it was important to us that the beer, we brewed should be for everyone. So, we focus on brewing beer that we hope everyone wants to drink. Quantock Ale, UXB, TIPA and Stouts are all brewed with our customers in mind. But if there’s something we feel we should brew then we try it. Nothing is off limits, Oreos in a stout, 5kg of raspberries in a sour, a 1% beer to an 11% imperial, we will do it all. Our eight barrel plant and ten fermentation vessels enables us to produce up to 50,000 litres of pure liquid goodness a month; a task that the team absolutely relish in. Our motto is better never stops!
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 and we’re really open to ideas. A recent example is a collaboration with Charles Faram using one of the hops from their development programme to create an English Pale Ale available in our taproom.
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 hard, there have been difficult decisions and 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 feeling like the rug was being pulled out from underneath us. We knew we had no choice but to adapt so we changed our business model. We could keep the shop open but we needed to create a bigger online presence as the footfall we used to get from people visiting Somerset had dropped off completely.
However, reflecting on what we have been able to achieve against the odds has shown us that something good has been able to come out of something bad. We’ve evolved more quickly than we ever thought we could. Critical to this has been accessing a Government grant which we used to purchase a canning plant. 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 and by investing in the canning plant it’s meant we have had more control and flexibility to can what we want when we want to. As a result, we’ve been able to keep the beer flowing and keep up with demand. Since we’ve had the canning plant, we’ve been able to release more than 25 different new beers as well as our core range.
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 our designs to be different from other brewers and I think they are.
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
There is a perception that low ABV is often tasteless but it doesn’t need to be and there are some great quality lower ABV beers out there. 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 choose to have a beer if they want to. Currently, we don’t have the equipment to make our own non-alcoholic beer, however, we are trying to go as low as we can and last year we released our first low alcohol beer Little and Fierce which was really positively received.
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
We’re looking forward to our Milestone 1500 brew – a real moment for us all to savour. We’re planning to open our second taproom which is likely to be only a few minutes walk from Somerset County Cricket Club. Originally it would have opened last year but it's looking more likely to be the Autumn. It’s so important to us that the taproom reflects our identity and we’re excited about creating another place in Somerset where people can try our beer and enjoy the results of our effort and hard work.
About Quantock Brewery
Quantock Brewery is a SaLSA certified, CAMRA and SIBA accredited microbrewery. Our brewhouse is an 8-barrel size with 10 fermenters allowing us to produce 12,000 litres per week which produces 3,520 pints per brew. Currently, we can produce over 300 casks or 30,000 cans per week. Recently the brewhouse has started producing kegged beer supplying over 40 key kegs a week.
Address: Quantock Brewery, Westridge Way, Broadgauge Business Park, Bishops Lydeard, Taunton, Somerset TA4 3RU
Social Media: @QuantockBrewery (Twitter / Instagram/Facebook)