There was a time not so long ago when Britain’s once buzzing beer industry was declining at a staggering rate. British beer wasn’t as popular, pubs were closing and alcohol consumption among the masses was falling. Something major needed to happen in the industry for it to revive itself, and although many were looking to the big names in the market for something special, it would be an unexpected movement from the smaller scale beer ‘fanatics’ that would bring a revolution in the way many consume beer. Beer as we know it has been reinventing itself across the country over the past few years thanks to a wave of microbreweries producing craft beer, with exciting new flavours and beer styles introduced to the market. This burgeoning trend of microbreweries in the UK and the US has led to craft beer becoming way more accessible for so many more people, and the UK market can’t seem to get enough.
Following on from our last ‘As Worn By’ piece, in which we talked with Bond St Coffee owner Chris Campbell about the rise of coffee culture, and in particular independent coffee shops, we now look to another market that is adopting this small scale, do it yourself approach. Thanks to these creative brewers who all share a real passion for the beer they produce and drink, craft beer has become the go to alcoholic beverage for many, and it’s not the older generation that are leading this movement either. The younger, fashionable scene is what is really driving the market and has opened beer drinking up to a whole new audience. The movement has seen events such as the London Craft Beer festival in which thousands, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, come together to celebrate their love for craft beer. The events see high profile bands, DJ’s and good food added for the ‘cool factor’ amongst the younger generation. We also see a lot of women in attendance, which is a rarity for a beer festival and really shows the diversity of the product. All in all its an exciting time for the UK beer industry, and especially for those who are passionate about the quality of the beer they are drinking.
Continuing to celebrate those who are dedicated to their craft, for our latest Edwin As Worn By feature we sat down with Nick and Jack, two people who love their craft in both senses of the word, to discuss their journey in opening Bison Beer Craft House in Brighton. Born out of a love of beer, Bison stocks hundreds of different craft beer brands, as well as supporting local microbreweries, introducing new ways to drink craft beer to the Brighton market and also developing their own craft beer. For someone, like myself, who isn’t that clued up on the whole craft beer movement, it was great to get a bit more of an insight into the industry and also chat to two people who were clearly doing what they do for the love of the product.
Hey guys, how are you doing? Could you tell us a bit about yourselves and what you do?
I’m Jack and I love beer.
I’m Nick and I also love beer. We’re best friends that met at college and lived above an offie in London. Now we’ve opened our own beer shop in Brighton.
What inspired you to open a craft beer shop?
Beer! When Nick had a family we found ourselves hanging out at his a lot and less time to go down the pub. It was fun trying new beers and looking at all the cool labels. Then we invested in a growler, which we took turns to fill with beer from independent bottle shops in London and share in the comfort of our own homes.
Do you have any previous experience in brewing or in the alcohol industry in general?
Not really. We did a home brew course in Homerton, which was a lot of fun and we learned the basics there. We’d worked at an Italian media company for a combined 16 years and never really thought about doing anything else.
What have been the main barriers to overcome for you guys?
Getting a licence to sell beer. We opened bang in the middle if what’s called the CIZ: Cumulative Impact Zone. Brighton council basically put a blanket ban on any new licences being given out in the area and we faced an uphill struggle from the start. We knew the shop had to be close to the beach and were completely set on number 7, East Street. The police finally took a meeting with us and told us when we walked in we had a 1 in a hundred chance of convincing them otherwise. By the time we’d told them our plan, the beauty of craft beer and how we’d be supporting local breweries, they’d practically put in orders for friends and family. It seems like getting a foot in the door is always the hardest part of anything we do in business.
One thing that stands out when you walk into the store, aside from the countless bottles of beer, is the Bison Beer branding. What’s the story behind the name and the branding?
We like animals and there seems to be a connection between them and craft beer. There’s loads of bears in the beer industry so we looked at other animals in America and came across the Bison. We thought he was cool and noted he had a beard: looks like a beer drinker we agreed. Don’t be a Boar, buy some beer!
Why did you choose Brighton as a location to open the shop?
We chose to open in Brighton because it’s the best place we’ve ever lived. Whether it’s hanging out on the beach with our friends or going for a bite to eat in the lanes, we don’t think we could ever be bored here. Living in Brighton is a lifestyle choice; it’s a colourful and creative city full of adventurers.
It seems as though Bison Beer put a big emphasis on keeping things local, is that something you hold dear?
Bison Beer is local, independent and proud. There’s 63 microbreweries in Sussex and some brilliant beer being brewed local to us. We believe there is a different way of doing things and we’re trying to prove that every day.
There are loads of interesting features in the shop. What did you consider when designing your space? Did it turn out how you had envisioned?
We wanted to create a space that celebrates Brighton and what makes it such a brilliant place to be. The whole concept came about from recycled and restored materials – the counter was made out of pallet wood from our first delivery and the bench is built out of wood from the West Pier. We worked with friends, who we drink with down the pub (http://www.revivejoinery.co.uk/) to hunt and gather the best bits of wood lying around Brighton. We found rotted groynes, unused scaffold poles and beautiful old rope and gave it a new home in our Crafthouse. It turned out a thousand times better than we ever dared to dream of.
For those that aren’t too familiar, what’s the concept behind the growlers?
The ‘growler’ is a 64 oz American glass flagon that’s filled with draught beer that will stay fresh for up to 6 weeks. The simple science to it never fails to amaze us as the growler is counter pressurised to create a chamber that is free from oxygen and loaded with the good stuff. It’s designed to be your best friend by giving you access to all sorts of ale that may not be available in any other format. We can also pass on the savings in bottling costs direct meaning that beer is cheaper.
You are currently running an artist series with the growlers, could you tell us a bit more about this?
We’ve just made a new beer: bEAST STREET IPA, and we asked 5 local artists to come and doodle on blank growlers to mark the occasion. We wanted to see the beasts of East Street brought to life and our customers got the chance to own a bespoke piece of art by the likes of Will Blood, Chloe Batchelor and our original designer, Dan Walters.
Alongside the hundreds of different beer brands that you sell in the shop, you also have your own craft beer? Is this something you would like to develop further?
We opened with an American Pale Ale, which we called See Side, because Dan’s Design Studio is called See Creatures (http://see-creatures.com/) and because we do like to be besides the seaside. We brewed that in the New Forest at our friend Kev’s place but now we’ve invested in something a little closer to home where we’d like to create some more beers. The first batch is an IPA, bEAST STREET, that references our home on East Street and is proving very popular. Several pubs in Brighton are serving it on draught and it’s just been taken by The Ravensbourne Arms in London, which is apt considering we met at Ravensbourne college.
What’s your personal drink of choice?
We like Wiper & True’s Autobahm. And anything by Beavertown really. Founders porter scores 100/100 on rate beer and is only £3 a bottle!
What’s next for Bison Beer?
We’re getting this question a lot at the moment. We’re only 4 months old so it’s hard to try and look too far ahead but we’ve recently started a new venture to collaborate with some other local businesses like Brighton Gin and Street Diner. We were honest with ourselves and asked for help with the events we were being asked to do. We launched Loco Social (https://twitter.com/locosocialuk) and we’ve already done some pretty cool things with them, the latest being a charity auction for Audio Active where we raised around £500.
Finally, why do you wear Edwin Jeans?
We appreciate the brands rich heritage and with the denim being such great quality, they’re made to last. They look good, whether its casual or smart and with us being hands on in the store and at the same time dealing with customers, we need to be wearing something that allows us to carry kegs of beer about without looking scruffy. Edwin Jeans allow us to do just that and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Both Nick and Jack wear the Edwin ED-55, which you can shop HERE.
For more information on Bison Beer, head over to their website HERE.