So, 2020, what are the biggest challenges The Godstone Brewers have faced during the pandemic?
We started 2020 on a real high. Prior to the first lockdown, we were at a national trade exhibition and we had just bought a new brew kit and were awaiting delivery.
Almost as soon as we returned to Godstone, we found that the pubs were closing - and we had a surplus stock of 80 casks.
So, we set about damage limitation and hand bottled thousands of pints of our craft beers. In hindsight, just keeping busy and having the chance to think ahead was actually crucial at this stage.
In the early days of lockdown 1.0, selling via Flower Farm shop, home deliveries and brewery collections seemed to take up most of our time and paid the bills.
We got into a routine, then we started the installation and commissioning of the new kit and started messing about developing new products.
And how were things when the world opened up again?
Things were definitely starting to look promising as the country opened up and events were tentatively announced but then, later in the summer, we were hit with three major setbacks: the cancellation of Godstoneberry, our biggest event of the year, followed by FeastyFest in Cheam and the Edenbridge Motor Show.
Combined, these three events were game changers for us and they were all cancelled within a week, again leaving us with a massive surplus cask stock.
Fortunately, Flower Farm ran a ‘pub in the garden’ operation called Strawberry Fields and this gradually nibbled away at our latest beer mountain along with pubs reopening and online trading. Inclusion on the National CAMRA App “Brew2You” expanded our reach too.
These things, combined with the Flower Farm shop home deliveries, meant that we were still able to introduce our beers to a huge number of new customers.
What has the support been like from customers?
Landlords such as Liam at the White Hart in Godstone, Anthony at the Hatch in Redhill and Robin at the Railway in Cheam have stuck by us throughout.
One of the strange positives to come out of our home delivery system was meeting regular customers from our Fresh Beer Friday events as we dropped off cases of beer at their home.
Some of these faces have become really good friends and a network has been created. We feel much closer to them – well, as close as you can be with social distancing.
Tell us about what you've been working on behind the scenes at the brewery…
The new taproom provides us with a window to the world where people can come and try a beer that is absolutely fresh from the cask, and only feet away from the brewery.
Both of us were originally technologists and the installation of the new brewery gives us the opportunity to brew better beers more consistently.
We are also proud that the new kit has been bought outright with the proceeds of success from the last five years. Five years of hard work has now shown some concrete (and stainless steel!) results.
And what are your plans for the new space?
Once things open up again, we shall be able to offer tours and themed evenings in the taproom and engage with the local community. Farmer Patrick will continue to develop larger events at Flower Farm and we will be an integral part of that, but the taproom takes us back to the intimacy of the original Fresh Beer Fridays, which were hosted in a repurposed tea room.
One for the beer geeks! Tell us about the brewery kit itself…
It's a proper step up! We are going full circle from gas to electric back to gas.
Just over three years ago, we had a very small brew kit capable of brewing about 150 pints per batch. The kettle (the vessel in which beer wort is boiled with hops) used a Calor gas burner! How on earth we ever managed to keep up with demand in those days remains a mystery. To put that in perspective, our new kettle uses a 100kW gas burner!
Installation of the new kit is almost complete, and it will give us the capacity to brew batches up to 3,500 pints. It’s not all about size… shiny is important too!
It’s not just the equipment that’s new though is it? You've been experimenting with British hops?
That’s true. Developing new recipes has never been random for us and it has always been driven by our understanding of the importance of hops, but our relationships with suppliers have been built over the past five years and this has allowed us to experiment with new varieties of mostly British grown hops. These experiments help us to create a unique taste profile, and the different ways of extracting hops have also presented new opportunities for the creation of tasty beers in the future.
So, what new beers are in the pipeline?
In many ways, 2020 has been the year of product development!
We have developed our Kolsch style Lager further, making larger batches and having it contract kegged and bottled to support the NHS Air Ambulance.
We have fine-tuned Up Up and Away, our lower alcohol but full flavoured pale ale. This has been test marketed at Flower Farm shop and farmers’ markets in cans and will launch properly in bottles early in 2021.
One of the initial success stories that came out of our hop development initiative and the Strawberry Fields pub garden was the emergence of Forever. For a while, it was called Brewer’s Choice as it was the one that we tended to take home to drink with our families. This will be launched early in 2021. Ridiculous amounts of cold dry hopping has resulted in a cracking pale ale with a zesty tang.
Polly Paine’s Porter has always been well regarded by our lovers of the dark beers. This year, we added Tunnel Vision Stout to our range using vanilla pods and real chocolate cocoa nibs.
To complement our assault on the dark side, we are now experimenting with a very strong ale - something akin to a Barley Wine. At 11.8% alcohol it needs a lot of testing!
Have you got anything special lined up for Christmas?
Santa’s Tipple has returned for the fourth year and is one of our “go-to” lunchtime drinks when at the brewery. Nothing better this time of year.
Regulars may be able to prise a couple of bottles of our barley wine out of Steve's hands, if he doesn't drink it all first.
One suggestion is to buy a mixed case of beer and send it to yourself. Maybe you could include a gift pack of six bottles and share them with someone else. Local delivery is free if you buy a case or more. Email us on firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Finally, why is it so important that people ‘Stay Loyal To Local’ going forward?
When the first lockdown came, we were just trying to avoid wasting any beer and survive for however long it would take. We have been so lucky that we have been able to carry on working pretty much in isolation at the brewery and doing what we love doing. This only happened because of the local support that we enjoyed and the friendships that have grown and flourished.
Being based at Flower Farm has also insulated us from the worst moments and made us appreciate how fortunate we are.
We are a small team, just two people, with great support from our families - but there is also an extended family of friends from our local community who probably don't realise how much they have meant to us this year.
When society starts to function properly again, people will naturally slip back into a more global culture of shopping. However, some behavioural shifts may be a little more “sticky”.
More people will work from home and many will shop online, but people are sociable and that is what they have craved during every phase of the restrictions in 2020.
We hope that friendships and local community bonds will be “sticky” and that there will be a positive nostalgic memory to overwrite the fear and pain.
Two friends brewing in a barn have had a very busy year – and 2021 shows no signs of slowing down.
Stay Loyal to Local campaign