Bye bye 2020 👋
Well what a year 2020 was! When I setup the brewery back in 2014 I couldn’t have imagined that we’d one day face a year when our main customers, pubs and bars, were unable to open for much of the year.
We started 2020 full of promise, 2019 had been our best year yet and we had no reason to believe this trend wouldn’t continue. January 2020, traditionally a tough month in the brewing industry, ended up being our best month ever in terms of beer sales - and we were enthused about the year ahead.
Then in late March everything changed. I don’t need to explain - you were all there and you all know what happened. Our market disappeared overnight, our orders cancelled and all our plans ripped to shreds. My team were suddenly at home, the government paying 80% of their wages, while I found myself wandering around a silent empty brewery, the fermenters empty, the casks and kegs un-filled, the grains un-mashed.
After a scary few days of waiting to see what we could do - what was SAFE to do - we finally got the clarification that while pubs and bars would be unable to open, take away and home deliveries would be okay as long as we took precautions. We had a cold room full of bottled beers, so armed with litres of hand sanitiser (thanks to Noel in Unit 18!) we set to work updating our website and offering free local delivery to those within 10 miles of the brewery needing beer.
It seemed a lot of people needed beer! A whole bunch of amazing folk started ordering online and we were soon out delivering bottles all over Stockport and Manchester. This would seem an obvious time for our van to break down! As a result I ended up spending most of April driving hundreds of miles in my Kia Rio despite never going more than ten miles from the brewery!
Before too long we started running out of beer, and we found ourselves in an awkward situation where furlough meant we didn't have the staff to both brew and deliver beer, but without the deliveries we wouldn't have any money coming in and it was the only thing keeping us going. We made the choice to start buying in beer from our friends at other breweries which meant we could continue bringing in some money while we slowly started brewing again.
It was around this time that I embarked upon another hare-brained scheme! It was obvious that beer in small pack (bottles and cans) was going to be the way most people would be drinking beer for the foreseeable, and our existing bottling setup was slow and made it hard to package large volumes of beer. It was also clear from the guest beers we were stocking from other breweries that canned beer was the way forward. I decided in April we would start canning our beer - a project that would require new equipment and processes that had to be put together on a shoestring! This side-project went on throughout the year and after several false starts we finally got our first beers into cans in September with the help of the lovely chaps from Them That Can whose mobile canning service involves them bringing an entire canning line to the brewery for the day!
It really has been a tough year, and without our amazing team and the support of our customers we wouldn't still be here. The pubs and bars we supply, who have suffered an enormous amount themselves, have thrown us a lifeline by ordering casks and kegs when they've been able to open, and our bottle shop customers have been with us all the way, putting up with inconsistent stock availability and supporting us through the transition into cans.
I could go on, and there have been some really low points to the year that have seen me close to breaking point, but I think we've all had enough of 2020 and I really wanted to make this post about the positives and about moving forward, so here we go...
- We're still here!
- Began canning our beers
- Started our barrel ageing programme by putting our first two beers into bourbon barrels
- Took on a second unit (we signed a five year lease in March just before everything went wrong!)
- Setup a local and nationwide delivery service with no notice and somehow made it work
- Started selling guest beers with the added bonus of making some great new relationships with other breweries
- Bought a new van (our quirky Beer Bus broke down in October for the final time)
As we move into 2021 we have loads of plans and ideas (more of that in my next post) and the vaccine news sounds promising. It’s clear the start of 2021 will be tough but hopefully before the year is out we’ll be able to get back to doing what we love - brewing great beer and drinking it in great pubs!