Quick Fire Questions:
- Name: Nick Palfrey
- The brewery I work in and my role: Founder at Steel Brew
- In the past I’ve worked as a: My background is Management Consulting specifying on Virtual Reality Technology and Military Training – not a brewer.
- My favourite type of beer on a Tuesday evening: Probably some light session beers in the early part of the week and it gets stronger and stronger later in the week.
- In my free time I like to: I spend a lot of time with my dog and wife. We bought a new house in the outskirts of Plymouth and there’s nice walks around there. It’s nice to ‘decompress’ out in the open.
- My favourite bit about working in a brewery: I like the creativity. A lot of the jobs I’ve done in the past are very process based and rigid. Creativity is often tempered with the need of something else. This project has allowed me to work with some really great people. Then there’s the style of beers we brew, the label art, the look of the taproom – everything that we do is what we want to do and that’s why this project is also a creative outlet for me. It’s a true representation of what I want this business to be.
- A message I want to give to young and aspiring brewers: My advice would be just do it! Don’t think too much about it, everything will fall into place and has a natural progression. If you want to learn the ropes and perfect a number of recipes on a home system and then go ahead from there that’s great. But if you like the idea of just slinging beer to people just go for it. You know when you’ve got a good product, it’s more about what your product makes people feel and how you work and communicate with them.
- Tell us a bit about your brewery:
We’ve opened a brewery in a location which is perfect for a taproom, it’s based in the Royal William Yard in Plymouth, which is a very popular destination for people eating out and socialising. It’s a historic place and people enjoy to just walk around and enjoy the views.
We are led by our taproom and the beer that we make is predominantly sold and poured in the tap room. The great thing is that everything is on show – the equipment, the people, we bottle and keg in public etc. In terms of our ambition, we didn’t expect it to go this well, especially with Covid. Our plans for the future are that we need to grow. We’re hardly doing any wholesale at the moment but definitely want to do more of that. That will help us get more equipment and focus on growing this business organically.
- When and how did you hit you start brewing?
We started brewing on 100l home kit system in my garage since January 2019. From the start we had the intention of opening a brewery so we participated in competitions and sent out trade samples right away. There was a much bigger demand for our product than I expected so we really sold the first beers we brewed at home. We jumped straight in and haven’t stopped since! The equipment has arrived in October last year, we fit the brewing facilities in January and were up and running in March.
So we were brewing all the way through lockdown but we also gave it two weeks after pubs reopened since we did not want to be a part of that ‘run to the pubs’ – it felt a little crazed. We wanted to really keep our people and the customers safe.
- How have you dealt with the March lockdown and what will you change about how you approach this lockdown?
We feel quite comfortable about the upcoming lockdown partly because we kind of expected it. Without getting political, we need to do something to get the virus under control so I understand why it’s done. We were kind of born into lockdown so we’re used to deliver locally so that’s what we have to go back to doing. Obviously we’ll miss the taproom revenues but for me there was a real change with the rule of maximum 6 people anyway. I would rather see this under control and then get back to kind of normal in the new year. The government did an important u-turn in the past days allowing alcohol-led businesses to be off-license. Yet it still does feel like certain groups are penalised more than others. Breweries like us are not pubs so we really need to keep that ability of direct sales and takeaway.
- Has Steel Brew’s overall strategy changed as a result of COVID?
Not really. It has definitely made me realise more that people will always want to support local small businesses like us and I think it’s really important to have a product and a venue that caters for everybody. We’re not looking to be exclusive and want everybody to feel welcome and try the different beers we have. We want to give people as much of an experience as possible so when we look at opening future site, we’d really look into how we can bring the comfort and the ambience of the taproom to a new location such as a micro pub for example. One more change that I welcomed positively was the ordering beers at the table rather than queueing 10 minutes to get a pint. Originally, we were missing the standing up but now that table service is a thing, we’re good at doing it and enjoy doing it and talking to customers.
- Where do you see yourself and Steel Brew want to be in 5 years time?
5 years is a long time. We want to open more locations and expand quite rapidly. We feel that there’s a craft beer gap in the South West of England, in particular South of Exeter down to Cornwall. There’s some great brands doing amazing things but I still think there’s not enough of them. We see ourselves as being a lifestyle brand so will also look into sponsoring events. We want to open locations outside of Plymouth and just doing as much as we can with the wider regional community. So, we see ourself as a regional company and that level of growth is what we’re striving to achieve over the next 5 years.
- What does the QWERTY partnership mean to you?
Such a partnership is hugely important to us. The stock we have available is really precious to us because of the speed it luckily goes out in. I think QWERTY Beer Box raises awareness about our brand and lets people know that we exist outside our community. I think it’s championing great products and highlights that new breweries are coming up and attracting people to them. In reality, you send beer out to a couple hundred people that have never heard about us before but will hopefully check us out if they like our beer.
Here are some more images from their amazing brewery and taproom: