Hello Beer Fan,
Welcome to our second brewery interview - this time on Zoom! George and the Moor Beer Company are super interesting and we're excited to be able to share this with you hot off the press.
In terms of layout the interview is broken down into 5 parts, with my questions in bold. Please skip to the bit that interests you most or just have a browse through.
1) Quick Fire Questions
2) Moor Beer's Journey
3) Live Brewing
5) QWERTY Beer Box
1) Quick Answer Questions
Which Brewery and Role: Moor Beer Company and role is national sales manager
Have you worked at a brewery before?
- I moved down to Bristol 8 and a half years ago for university
- Haven't really worked in beer before that - a few pubs as a bar person.
- Very traditional places, when I came to bristol I intended to have the first year as a student experience and not work
- But in freshers week I went to a place called the Beer Emporium, and got relatively destroyed on the first night and ended up drinking with the owner, who was like ‘oh you should come and work here’
- Then we were 8 years later, worked at lots of bars after, the barley mow in bristol, the Lion Kiln, and a few odds and sods around the place and then started working at Moor about 5 and a half years ago.
- What did you study at University? English Language and Linguistics - obviously something that I use on a day to day basis.
- Very nicely spoken I may say. There is that to it yeah.
What is your favourite type of beer on a Tuesday evening, mid week and after work?
- So at the minute, if it was one of our beers it would be Revival - pale bitter, just 3.8%, really nice light, easy drinking. Being in the week I tend to go fairly low on the ABV, school night so have to be relatively sensible.
- If it was someone else's, I would go for a lost and grounded Keller Pils, something a little bit stronger, but lovely and smashable, yeah.
- I’ve heard the work crushable chucker around quite a lot, does this mean ‘very drinkable’ in a different way? Yes essentially. The sort of thing where you will drink, crush the can and start again.
Hobbies in your free time:
- I am into photography, try to go out a couple of times a week and take a few random landscape things and pieces, if I am not taking photos of beer. Which I do tend to spend a lot of time doing.
- Outside of that, a little bit of water sports, paddle boarding.
- When I was down at the M-Shed, I saw people paddle boarding along the water there. Is that safe? You wouldn’t want to drink much of the water when you fall in, would be my advice. Quite an urban version, you normally see it by the coast. Yeah, I think Bristol is just great for it, because it is so close to the sea, without actually being on the sea it has that coastal vibe and excitement.
My favourite bit about working at Moor Beer Company?
Thoroughly enjoy the travel aspect, so over my time here I have done loads of events. This is across the country, spending quite a lot of time in the north. But I have also been out to Oslo for a beer festival, Athens, Italy, yeah, travelling across Europe with beer. Which is just fantastic, the beer community is awesome and you go to places where you would never go normally and just be cool. I'm getting paid to go here and drink beer. What could go wrong?
Ant messages you'd like to give to young and aspiring brewers and craft beer fans?
For people trying to get into beer, the best thing you can do is to go and work in a bar. The best people come from hospitality. There is just a lifestyle that goes along with it which is just so fun and if you can work somewhere which has got a good range of beers you get to try so many things that you wouldn't get to try ordinarily. Also talking about beers constantly with new customers, you get to know a lot about beer. So yeah, I would say definitely work in a bar.
2) Moor Beer's Journey:
Tell us about the journey Moor has come through and how Moor transferred since 2007?
Moor itself started in 1996, on a little dairy farm down in Somerset. Over time it was run by a lovely chap called Author, he was a lovely bloke but not much of a brewer.
He got into it as a bit of a side hobby and then it grew and grew around him. At the time he was brewing very traditional beers. I mean at the time across the country there wasn't really craft as we know it now. We would consider it not exciting beers these days.
Then Justin, came over in 2006 or 2005 and was working in blue chip companies selling software stuff for huge huge companies. Didn't really enjoy it and saw an advert for Moor up for sale in the CAMRA magazine and thought, Sod it let's do it. He took it over and then spent 6 months just redesigning all the recipes. He carried on brewing a few of them but carried on tweaking them and then he started selling into the Queens Arms, pud down in somerset. Queens Arms is one of the most significant pubs for us, or one of 2 significant pubs.
At the time the guy who was running the bar was Tom, he is now our head brewer. So he started helping Justin out by doing odds and sods. Then he fell in love with the process and the brewing idea so Justin took him on full time. His brother, James was also there and James is now head of retail, so is in charge of all retail operations, so that's our site in bristol and our site in London. When he was there, in the early days or Moor we were still doing some fined beers, beers with isinglass in, nice and clear. He’s never enjoyed the idea of putting fish guts in beer, because why would you? Having spent so much time in Germany, where it is just not a thing, and the rest of the world really, clear beer has never been a statement of quality. He found a pub down there called the Royal Artillery Weston, he really enjoyed it as a pub and they were very forward thinking. Justin said that they would like to do an unfined version of our beers for you and they went. ‘Yeah we love that’ and took it on and got on as a house beer and that is sort of where we turned into where we are now. Justin saw that people were willing to try it and said from there forward we’re never putting fish back in the beers, so we have been vegan for 12 and half years now.
Moor Beer was the first UK Vegan beer right?
So yeah, that is something that we would claim to. It is hard to pinpoint when the first sort of thing happens, But certainly, the crusade that Justin led in those first early years, and being proud of the hazy beer, and knowing that it's not bad and it's not going to upset your stomach or anything. Yeah we were certainly the first champions of unfined beer, and it just happened to be vegan. And then obviously over the last 3/4 years where veganism has become way more mainstream, its turned out to be a thing where we should start shouting about this.
Where did Moor get its unique style?
Our approach has always been 3 fold. So as Justin is himself American, and as a child his parents always came over to Europe quite a lot, they bought and sold antiques. So he would come over, and he’d quite often at 16 years old be put in a pub and told to look after himself for a couple of hours. So he fell in love with the pub culture and thought it was fantastic and the whole sessionability of beers. In America there is a very different scene on ABV of beers, they sort of go for high strength beer, unless it is those Bud lights and that sort of ilk.
When he was in America, there was this first wave of craft beers coming through with these really high alpha acid hops. Super flavourful, but you do end up with quite a bitterness at the finish. He loved both these things, and then having spent time in Germany after being posted there for the military and he fell in love with Reinheitsgebot and the purity laws and a concept called ‘naturtrüb’. My pronunciation is appalling, my german is dreadful. Basically this is a longer term view to processes and doing things slower and more naturally. If things have a haze to it that's fine, purity cleanliness. 4th thing is the military training, everything is very strict and you’re not allowed to sway from this view. That blunt, we are doing it this way and we are doing it right every single time. That has been a big impact on our consistency and quality and the rest of it.
A lot of smaller breweries struggle with consistency, but it's once a brewery becomes consistent that a brewery can really start to grow. I think that’s it yeah. There is a lot around at the minute that is lots and lots of new beers, which is great and really great for the scene. But there is a skill, so if you look at these German Breweries which have been doing the exact same beer 500 years. And you go, yep that is just epic. And you know that that is the exact same beer that someone in the 1500s would have been drinking and you’re like that is just incredible. It has such a story and heritage to it that it is fantastic.
What does Bristol mean to Moor?
Bristol was a huge jump for us as a brewery. It is when I joined the company, which has probably been the biggest impact... No, so before we were down in deep dark somerset. Where it is 2 and a half hours to anywhere geographically. Yeah so, not matter how close you are to somewhere it is always 2 and a half hours from anywhere. So trying to grow from there is just impossible. Trying to get these huge trucks into our tiny dairy farm, yeah it wasn't much fun on all accounts. So we moved it to Bristol about 6 years ago and it just has such a sense of life to it. It is just so fiercely independent, it prides itself on supporting independent businesses, so we have Gloucester road here which was the longest stretch of uninterrupted independently owned shops certainly in the UK but maybe Europe as well. So yeah, there has always been a sense of yeah, we want things to be done properly, we like the older ways of doing things, the heritage, the independence, but also it has this sense of diversity and the fact that food whys you just have offerings from around the world all on the same street. So you can just go like, that's just mind blowing. It has such a supportive community towards it, hugely hugely hugely important to where we are now. I don't think we would ever, or as far as I know, move from Bristol. And then around us over the years the beer scene has just grown and ground, so I would argue that it has the best beer scene in the country. Certainty has one of the highest concentrations of good breweries. Only other one would probably be Manchester but that's North.
I got an idea of just how many breweries are in Bristol when I google it! Yeah and I think it's because we're so small, but there are obviously more breweries in London, but Christ we’re winning on breweries. Bristol dominating on breweries per square mile. Yep.
3) Live Brewing
What is live brewing and why do you brew that way?
Live beer is more interesting. You’ve seen similar stuff happening in cheese, would probably be the most notable example. Where you have all of these homogenised, pasteurised cheeses, they're all perfectly safe and completely the same every single time but it takes all of that craft out of the situation. SO live beer for us is a huge thing as beer grows it changes, it ages it grows different characteristics and it does things you weren't expecting to happen. SO yeah, live beer is incredible stuff, well every beer starts off alive, as you have live yeast in there. Then where most people choose to end that process, and then force carbonate those beers as it goes into packaging. We go for the approach of nope, we’re just going to put a little bit of yeast in and let them eat away at the little sugar that is still in there, so the beer ends up with a softer carbonation, more sort of rounded flavour. Certainly more of a fullness of flavour, because the yeast is still present, it is still interacting with the pallet, so it brings a lot to the table.
I remember speaking to yourself and Tom at the brewery and asking you guys whether I should tip all of the beer from the can into my glass or stopping with the bottom couple of mms. Tom said that you guys do it to such a fine measurement that you can drink it and still has that natural carbonation - it sounds like a fine art. Yeah, very much so, I mean there are a lot of beers around that have an accidental secondary fermentation and they do tend to go pop. It is about trying to dial it in so that you have the ride level of carbonation without it going over and at the same time not letting it get under carbed which obviously isn't good for your beer. Huge amount of skill that goes into it. I obviously don’t do any of that sort of thing, but yeah Tom and the rest of the brew team are just so laser focused on it.
How has Moor survived the last 7 months with the COVID-19 Crisis?
We expected COVID to be a lot smaller than it was really, no one saw it coming and how big the impact was going to have. So we went into it thinking this is going to be a lockdown, but okay it is only going to be 6 weeks of no pubs, but we’re going to be able to muddle through and then it obviously started carrying on and on. We spanned the business really quickly, within the first week we had changed the packing schedules and moved as much as possible into small pack, and started an online shop which we had never really had before and yeah we really pushed it quite hard and started doing home deliveries both here and London. SO there was 3 or 4 weeks where I would be out and about, my Bristol sales counterpart was out and about, and some of the breweries were out and about. In our personal vehicles just dropping off beer to people, which felt very surreal, driving around on completely empty roads. But yeah, we moved everything into small pack. And then as it started drawing on and on we started offering mini cask and mini kegs to try and use up the draft stock that we had beforehand.
One of the advantages of us brewing everything with live carbonation was that we could put everything into the 4 degrees cold stores and that essentially outs the beer into hibernation . So sort of sits in status. Still tasting really fresh and really drinkable. We managed to work through most of the draft stock that we had. But as I say for those first 6 weeks really we still hoped that pubs were going to reopen, so we still needed stock so that as soon as it was announced we could start selling straight back into them. So yeah it has been a horrible year all round for everybody, but we've managed to do well through it I think.
I suppose one of the biggest things has been the rebrand. Which we had wanted to do through the summer, we started talking about it the year before and had been planning a nationwide tap takeover, a few tap takeovers in Europe and a big tour around the country and around Europe, just trying to get the new branding out there. Had a load of specials planned alongside, and then obviously couldn’t do any of that sort of thing. But on the flip side of that we managed to get our new looking beers into everybody's hands, so yeah it sort of worked to our favour on that side. So meant that people were really engaging with the new branding and giving fresh life back into us.
So yeah it was horrible and challenging, I wouldn't want to do it again but we got through.
On a strategic level have the last few months altered where you want to go or how you want to get there?
For us this year had been all about growth.It is all a bit up in the air at the minute, but there is a system that was introduced back in 2002 or 2004 called the small brewers relief act which essentially meant that up to 5000 hector litres of production you payed a certain level of duty and then as soon as you go above that you pay a colossal amount more, it literally doubles. So it was designed to encourage more breweries to come into life which it has done fantastically, we have an incredible amount of breweries in the country and the idea was that you save all that money in duty, put it aside and then really pump it back in to jump from 5000 Hectolitres up. So this year we were trying to go from 5000 to 10,000 hectolitres, so literally doubling in size. That obviously hasn't happened, so our goals went from doubling in size to trying to maintain. Thankfully I think we have done quite well and it sort of means that hopefully next year we will be in the position to pick up those big contracts that we had and have that big jump next year. But it all goes on whether pubs will be allowed to stay open, rumours going around that pubs are about to close down for at least a couple of weeks. If not quite a lot longer, so there is a lot of uncertainty in the industry at the minute. Everyone I have spoken to has had big plans but has had to caveat them with uncertainty, as no one really knows whats happening.
Has the industry as a whole changed? Maybe more to D2C or online or any other changes?
Yeah, I think it has an enormous impact really. It is very hard to quantify. Whereas most breweries we probably doing 15% maybe in small packs, this year is up to 80%. This is shown across the board with all breweries that I have spoken to. As you say that sort of B2C has never really been much of a model for many people, there are a few breweries who do it amazingly well. But it is a very fine line between not cutting off the bottle shops who you have always worked with and have supported you and the industry, but at the same time you are trying to get as much beer out the door as possible to keep the lights on.
This year is going to have ramifications which are going to go on for quite some time. Certainly a lot of the breweries that have grown on external investment, not having the sales to justify it. They are in a really really sticky situation at the minute. The next 6 months we will see quite a lot of breweries go under. Obviously we’re going to see this in the pub world, yesterday Fullers are laying off 10% of their staff which is horrible to see. So yeah, the whole concept of going to the pub is completely different to at the start of the year where it you could sit there and go ‘do you want a beer after work’ to now where it is ‘shall we ring and book a table for an hour and a half to have a beer?’. Yeah it is going to take a long time for breweries to return to life beforehand. Anything we can do to encourage that we will get behind, but yeah it is a very different beer scene to what it was last year.
Yeah that is very well summarised, So your online store, you launched that very quickly I remember you saying. Do you want to keep that as a channel?
Yeah definitely, it's great to be able to sell directly to the end consumer, and be able to get all of that feedback much quicker. You can build packs and work through beers you wouldn't have been able to do before, or put into cans. So we have a couple of specials in the next months or so which ordinarily would have gone into draft but now we’ll be able to actually get the cans out there and get the branding out there. Definitely keep the store as much as we can. And I think people like being able to buy directly from the brewery as well. But yeah it's going to be a strange one as you want to be able to support the independent bottle shops that have supported you from the get go.
5) QWERTY Beer Box
What do you see the partnership with QWERTY Beer Box going?
Yeah, I really like the concept of QWERTY and I think the concept of focusing on different regions because, as I said earlier, there are so many great breweries in the country, we still have the most breweries that we’ve ever had. And every single area that you go to around the country, as I said I get to travel quite a lot with work, you end up in some strange places, but everywhere has a little beer. For example, Northampton is home for me, it's my hometown, and over the last 5 years going back there and seeing the beer scene develop has been fantastic. So the fact that you’re highlighting different areas which potentially don’t get enough love as they should do is absolutely brilliant.
The partnerships that we like to make with people are very long term and were always thinking 2-3 years down the line and I can see QWERTY as a whole growing considerably over that period. We like working with nice people, and you are nice people.
Thank you very much, feed the ego, feed the ego! It's been awesome to talk to you guys and see the brewery and we’re excited to have your beers in our Best of Bristol collection.
Is there anything else you wanted to add?
So we have a couple of specials launching in the beginning of November, so if you sign up to our mailing list, go onto our website www.MoorBeer.co.uk you can sign up and get early access to all those bits and pieces. Definitely get out there and support your pubs and yeah they need as much support as they can get at the minute and thats about it for the minute. Follow us on the social Medias.