What inspired you to launch Hop Stop and how did it all come about?
It was all about combining two goals; working in a field we love and being our own bosses. Hop Stop is a family business owned and operated by Ruth and her husband James and Becky (Ruth’s sister) and her husband Mike. Ruth initially had the idea and talked it through with Becky and Mike who were living in New Zealand at the time. One thing led to another and here we are five years later with a beer shop, a bar and three more children between us than when we started!
Tell us briefly about your backgrounds before Hop Stop…
Ruth and James have always been passionate beer drinkers and have travelled extensively around Europe and the United States in the search of great beer. Before starting Hop Stop they had worked at Surrey Hills Brewery (Ruth) and Pilgrim Brewery and Dark Star Brewery (James) along with plenty of bar/pub work. Mike has always loved (drinking) beer, was a keen home brewer and a big fan of traditional cask ale, which was a rare item in his native New Zealand.
It’s clearly been a difficult year for many – how did you deal with lockdown at Hop Stop?
It has been tough; we closed the bar before we officially had to as it didn’t seem right to be open and we could see that it wouldn’t be long before hospitality venues were forced to shut. We then had to close our shop for just over a month before we launched our click and collect service in early May which operated across both venues and is still going strong now. Not only did the click and collect service help keep our business running but it also allowed us to keep in contact with all our customers, the support we received really meant a lot.
And how have things been since you’ve reopened your doors?
They have been ok, of course it is a very different way to operate, we have gone from a capacity of 70 people to approximately 24 in the bar and it is a different feel.
While people might still be a little reluctant to drink in we have noticed a large increase in customers taking beer away, it is hard to beat coming in for a couple of cold cans or two pints of draught beer to take and enjoy in Priory Park (Reigate), Master Park (Oxted) or in the comfort of your own home.
Pleasingly the click and collect service is still proving a hit, we were a little worried it would drop off once bars and pubs re-opened but it we think our customers enjoy the convenience along with the excitement of a new list of beers each week and being able to get their hands on the brand new releases without even leaving home.
What are the major changes you’ve had to introduce?
In Oxted we have had to alter our opening hours to reflect how customers working lives have changed, we used to be open into the evening for commuters to pick up a few beers on the way home but now that isn’t required so much.
In Reigate, we have had to make major changes to help make our customers and of course our staff as safe as possible. Our capacity has been much reduced, and we have introduced measures such as table service only. One big change has been no customers sitting at the bar anymore and we really miss this! Part of the fun we get from our work is talking with our customers about the beer they are drinking but currently that is hard to do.
While we have had to make some big changes, we still have a great range of beers available as that is our core philosophy and we wouldn’t want to change that at all.
What sort of impact has it had on the breweries you work with?
We have seen breweries switch to or increase their retail sales markedly since there was not much, if any, wholesale/trade business for a long period of time while pubs and bars were shut. This has upset and unsettled many independent retailers/bars/pubs in the industry, but businesses have had to adapt to survive during these tough times.
When we launched our click & collect service it was difficult to get hold of new beer as a lot of breweries, like many other businesses, had stopped production. Fresh cask ale especially was hard to find but luckily we have some great local breweries we have good relationships with that we could stock up with.
How do you go about picking the beers you feature in the shop and the bar?
Multiple factors go into what we pick. We always aim for a mix of styles and strengths and love scooping out new releases each week or bringing back a classic to enjoy again. The shop and the bar generally have the same beer, the only difference being that more taps in the bar allow us to have a larger range of draught beer available.
We aim to have something for everyone, even those who profess to not liking beer. Have a chat with one of our staff and it won’t be long before you are discovering how much variety there is in the beer world.
Above all though is the ethos of only stocking quality, not just having a beer in for novelty value or simply because it is new but because we believe that it is worthy of spending our own money on.
Do you get much time to visit the breweries you champion?
We try and get out to the local breweries where we can for example, we collect beer from Westerham, Titsey, Pilgrim, Surrey Hills, Burning Sky and Brighton Bier. Earlier this year we were invited along to the Cobbett’s and Surrey Hills Collusion brew day which was a fun day for all the team and a great opportunity to take our staff along to get involved in the brewing. Also, once lockdown was eased, we enjoyed a few beers at the Pilgrim Tap.
If you had to pick three favourite Surrey beers at the moment, which would you go for and what do you enjoy about them?
It is hard to pick with so many good breweries on our doorstep, but Surrey Hills Brewery always produce consistent, top quality cask ale so one of their beers would be in our top Surrey three.
Pilgrim are great too with their mix of classic brews such as Progress and Surrey along with their recently released beers. Their Somers Lager really hits the spot.
Are there any British breweries that you're particularly inspired by at the moment?
Good Things Brewing Co is a brewery that we are particularly inspired by at the moment. Based in Eridge (East Sussex), they not only brew great beer but also have a strong ethos about being a closed loop brewery and are completely self-sustained.
Burning Sky are another brewery who never fail to inspire, their barrel-aged beers are some of the best beer you can buy in the UK today. No hype, just consistently great beer.
Lastly, we must mention Boxcar who are located at Bethnal Green. Their use of a house yeast is rare in the new wave of ‘craft’ brewers. They are constantly creating modern takes on classic styles which are remarkable and have definitely put a smile on our faces during lockdown.
Putting you on the spot, what’s your all-time favourite beer?
The next one! More seriously so much of the enjoyment of the beer is tied up in time and place that trying to pick an all-time favourite is near on impossible. Memorable beers for us include the first Stein of Helles in a Munich Bier Garden, sampling the delights of Belgium beer in Bruges, sitting on the beach in California with the best West Coast IPA or sipping a perfectly kept pint of ale in a traditional British pub.
What’s next for Hop Stop?
Our plan is continuing on our path before COVID. It was a very sad and hard time to close the door on our Reigate bar before its first full operational year, but it is good to be back at some capacity and we hope to get back to some sort of normality soon.
About two weeks before the pandemic we had just completed our new refurbishment on our Oxted shop, which gives us more beer fridge space and a larger cool room.
We are always striving to improve the quality of beer and how we can serve it.
Early September we launched our new draught beer containers for takeaway. This allows beer to remain in a better condition for longer and help reduce the use of plastic.
Not sure if many people are aware, but we try to collect most of our beer directly from breweries across the UK.
The reason for this is we get to build good relationships with brewers, get access to the newest, freshest beers and we can deliver directly to our cool rooms so that the beer stays in the best possible condition before our wonderful customers drink it.
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