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Getting to know BREW: Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing

What do you think of low and no-alcohol beer? It's quite possible that you’ve not tried any and that the idea of low ABV beer sounds bizarre. But it’s an ever-increasing part of the beer industry with low alcohol beers finding prominence amongst 18-24 year-olds.

According to projections, the no-alcohol market is expected to grow 34% by 2024 taking a big chunk of the market away from traditional beer producers.

The Annual British Craft Beer Report, published by the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), details that one in three young adults have cut down on their alcohol consumption.

So with this being the case, now is the time to get involved in brewing low and no alcohol beers. There are a few newcomers to the industry taking on this challenge, including recently established Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing (SiWC)

We caught up with Matty Dixon, Founder of SiWC to ask him what challenges he expects to face over the next year.

Can you give me a little bit of history about SIWC? - How are you involved and what’s your role?

SiWC, Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing, actually started out as a drunken conversation during my MBA. I built a business plan during a module and then pitched to some angel investors. The feedback was incredibly positive and so I felt encouraged enough to take it forward.

After rejoining the real world I pitched this to a couple of folks who ended up being my original co founders. Unfortunately, after about a year and the impacts of COVID-19 we split and went our separate ways. So I was left with a brand and no beer… arguably the wrong way round for a start-up brewery!

I pivoted pretty quickly, and this is where I managed to sell my vision onto my now cofounder John and a few mates of ours who offered to help support to lighten the workload. John and I both have day jobs but quickly managed to come up with the plan for how we create incredible 0.5% beers and focus on the low and no alcohol beer market.

Since then, it’s been a pretty exciting (and exhausting) ride to get to where we are now, getting ready to launch in mid-July 2021. We have caused floods, sprayed yeast and beer all over the walls (and sometimes the dog), had a new addition to John’s family and welcomed two new incredible brewers to the team, Daisy and Adam.

We put a huge amount of our effort and focus as a team into yeast exploration and experiments. This is allowing us to launch with two 0.5% beers which I think will impress a lot of people as to how much ‘beer’ taste is in each can. These are true beers, brewed properly with flavour profiles which I think will blow people away, and challenge any outdated beliefs that low alcohol means it’s missing something.

How is your beer connected to the local area?

At the moment, we are sort of connected all over the country. We have had to operate the entire business remotely since we joined forces in late August 2020. At the time of writing this, the team has never actually met in person… so we stretch from London through to Manchester, and Edinburgh to Aberdeen.

Our vision is to build small communities around our premises; we believe the pandemic has only sped up the reality of what true community means. We are looking forward to having our first fixed home later this year which Adam will be heading up where we can continue our experiments and also offer local residents first access to our limited-edition small batch brews and show what we mean by inclusivity. I intend on all of our premises being fully accessible to all people, no matter your physical and mental ability, and not just as a customer but as equal members of our team too.

What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewing setup?

I think our most unique aspect right now is that we have never met in person to brew! We are a lockdown brewery in every sense of the word. I think this bodes well for the future though as we have really had to learn (and continue to learn) how to communicate properly and effectively. I’m certainly continuing to learn how best to motivate and empower people, which is a challenge many people have faced with virtual relationships during the past 15 months.

Beyond that it’s all about yeasts and our constant reviewing of the most modern discoveries in the beer world. We’ve put a huge amount of focus on yeast strains, in fact we believe our Lager Day Saints launch beer will use a specific yeast strain which we don’t think has ever been used in beer before… It is an incredibly temperamental strain but the results are definitely worth the pain!

How do you decide on what new beers to brew?

It’s a bit of a freestyle approach. I’d love to say we follow some data that guides us, but the honest truth is we discuss foods or drinks we like and then think about how we could convert them into new and exciting beers. With that we take a blank piece of paper and create version one. This has led to our launch beers but also a few more in the creation path, including a couple collaborations we are super excited about. This autumn will see us launch our Chocolate Cherry Stout, a 2.8% sessionable stout which tastes and feels like something much stronger! We’re also working out the kinks in our 0.5% sour, and 0.5% banoffee stout…

The main thing is we are super excited to launch small batch wild beers for people to enjoy alongside developing our core range of beers.

Are there any styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you can tell me about?

I mentioned stouts already… we’re working on an extremely complex and special one which we hope to launch later this year. There are some recipes which I think we want to surprise everyone with but I can be very open in saying our lab is full of efforts to recreate traditional Belgian beers but at 0.5%, it’s not easy but it is something we are determined to crack.

How important do you think collaborations are - with other breweries or businesses?

I think this is a very case by case basis. For us, they are super important because we truly believe in community and we are simply trying to be a part of the beer industry, so if we can help each other then brilliant!

We are also working on developing partnerships with businesses and people who share our same values. We are looking to try to see how we can help each other, not just with awareness and sales but with our social goals too. So watch this space, as I’m incredibly excited about what this could entail!

What efforts do you make to be environmentally friendly?

As a contract brewery this is a funny one at the moment, but we have made steps. We have three core values we are building around; inclusivity from day zero, community (which will grow), and sustainability (which will be what we strive for at every opportunity).

A couple of things we’re doing at the moment are to work with a logistics company to use recycled cardboard for delivery of our beers once we launch, as well as research into hop extracts as an alternative to rare and exotic hops. We’ve also just bought a load of clothes and worked with our supplier to make sure each option was the most environmentally friendly available for each item.

This is a huge distance from where we would like to end up but we are committed to making the most environmentally friendly decision at each step and also being completely transparent about it too - no bullshit.

What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?

There was losing my two original co founders and being left with a brand and no beer in August, to brews going wrong, not once meeting the team in person, communication, navigating the pandemic, yeast strains going wrong at the final step, all the things I had no idea about cropping up and honestly so many other things I can’t recall right now.

It has been an absolute ride; I am delighted to be on the journey but there are so many things I’ve done wrong and that we as a team have faced as challenges. The power of hindsight!

What are the biggest problems you run into in producing your beer?

I think we have two, one is being brand new to commercial scale brewing. Securing slots, working with our partner breweries, scaling our recipes successfully has been a challenge, so a massive shout out to our partner breweries who have all been incredible; 71 Brewing, Glen Affric, Allendale Brewery and 6 Degrees North.

The second is yeast… understanding how they operate in our experimental brews it turns out does not strictly translate to commercial scale. That caused a few extremely stressful weeks! We got there but a lot of lessons were learned.

Then the unknown one… will our beer sell?!

Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?

Absolutely! We have a 2.8% pale ale which just didn’t ever work and actually got shelved and completely replaced with what is now our Shetland Pony Pale Ale. I think I brewed three different iterations and honestly, it got worse each time.

Then there were the early 0.5% beers, we discovered that although they tasted great at the point of brewing, delivery was destroying them. We were sending out samples to each other in the team and what was arriving had changed so much. This has led to some DIY filtration coming into place before we package our experimental home brews. We have also had some early success too, where version one of a recipe turned out so well that it only took a couple more iterations to get it to the point of scaling to contract brew.

I think the most frustrating one though is our Easy Rinder… John managed to brew a brilliant version of this quite early with a hybrid combination of a couple of yeast strains. It was incredible. And we have never managed to recreate it… in fact we’ve actually swapped the yeast completely to get it ready for scaling and selling. This was a really sad one, we haven’t given up on potentially improving the recipe in the future by changing the yeast again but for now it is another frustrating learning experience!

What has been your favourite beer you have produced?

This is actually a pretty difficult one, each of our beers has its own personality and a special place. I think for me though it would have to be Lager Day Saints, this beer has been around since this was all just an idea being discussed over one too many beers and to see it now come full circle to commercial production is incredible. The best part being that I truly believe this beer could be game changing to the sector, I believe in this beer so much versus the competition. Huge mass appeal Munich Helles, and all at 0.5%.

How important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?

For us branding is huge. It starts with our values and long-term objectives, these were then built up around my love of art (Lichtenstein and Caulfield being a big influence).

This has allowed us to create, what I hope, is a fun and appealing brand which will engage with anyone and everyone. If we can do that it then allows us to get to work more quickly on achieving what we actually want to do under our values.

How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for you in the industry?

I think platforms like Untappd can be brilliant resources for people to be able to explore breweries and beers from around the world. With the world becoming more and more connected, people want to understand the depth and range of a brewery's offerings. This allows a one-stop shop for beer fans, and a source of feedback to us as a brewery.

What’s next for you over the next 12 months?

Step one is to launch, hopefully successfully. This will involve an online launch event (follow us for details on how to get involved!), attending BREW//LDN at the end of July (come say hi!) and then finalising a couple of tasting events we have lined up with some bottle shops along with trying to get into a couple more festivals later this year.

The two big goals for the next 12 months will be to launch our first physical premises later this year and then follow up with launching our own brewery and taproom before the end of next year which will specialise in low and no alcohol beer and have full access for anyone who may wish to either come for a look around and a beer or actually join our team.

We will be proactively seeking new team members from socially marginalised groups, such as those with physical disabilities, and people with autism and learning disabilities. I believe we will open the most accessible brewery and taproom in the world which we want to follow up with a few of our own establishments built on the same premise.

Job one though, sell some beer!

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