10 Questions For...
1) So we’ll start with something easy. You’re a Manchester chap. Can you tell us some of your favourite spots for food and drink there beyond the Cloudwater barrel store… any hidden treasures to share with us?
I’m not quite sure that they’re hidden treasures anymore because thankfully Manchester benefits from an increasing number of food bloggers and national food critic visits. Now we actually have some treasures where for years I don’t think we really did!
Altrincham Market is a firm favourite, the quality of food and drink there is absolutely fantastic. It’s a really inspiring place to visit. It feels like that operation in particular is really cementing all the work done by GRUB. Altrincham Market took all of that and set up a permanent site. It felt like a stepping stone between street food and setting up restaurants. In my opinion it’s one of the most important places for food in Manchester.
In the city centre one of my favourite places to go is Pollen Bakery near our Cloudwater barrel store. They came out of that street food movement, as did Rudy’s Pizza. Those places are great. I don’t think there’s anywhere new per se that really competes with those guys. But I’m excited in general.
Another trend in Manchester has been the rise of a sort of new wave of authentic food. Whether it’s Spanish food at La Bandera or El Gato Negro. Or Japanese with Yuzu, or Thai with Siam Smiles or Northern Chinese with Red N Hot or Hunan. It’s been really exciting to see ethnic food cultures stop being so timid. They’re feeling confident that there’s an appetite for cuisine that’s the real deal. That’s been an amazing trend.
2) We get you! And what about when you’re away from home? Which city that you’ve visited has been your favourite, and which places there do you love?
Tough call! I think if I could click my fingers and be anywhere else in the world I would probably be in Kyoto, Japan. There’s a market there called Nishiki. It’s this covered market and it’s got a bunch of really cool food producers and suppliers. You can get tofu ice cream, preserved vegetables, more pepper than you ever knew existed! All these wonderful flavours, eel livers on a skewer!
One place that I always enjoy is called Yoramu. It’s a sake bar owned by a really cool Israeli guy that’s settled in Japan. He’ll take you through a range of sakes the likes of which you’ve never had before! Small batch stuff; everything from sake that tastes like sherry to sake that tastes like crisp wine.
There’s some really phenomenal Kyoto style eel restaurants. Kaiseki which is some of the best seasonal food that you can ever imagine having. Goma tofu, which is sesame tofu. Every food and drink experience that I care about is there, though maybe the beer is a bit lacking! But when I’m in Kyoto having all of these wonderful sensory experiences, I couldn’t give a monkey’s if the beers not quite up to the standard of other cities that I like.
More than just the food culture, it’s an incredibly beautiful city. It’s accessible, it’s got ancient temples, zen buddhist gardens, you’ve got it all! A river runs through the city that’s so clean people fish in it. You can cycle round, any city that I really care about you can cycle around!
3) Let’s get back to things at home. Cloudwater has gone from strength to strength in the last couple of years, beer geeks are going crazy for your DIPAs and you’ve had strong praise from Mikkel (Mikkeller) and Soren (Dry & Bitter) in our previous Beer Adventures interviews! Can you tell me a little about the Cloudwater story, what inspired you and the direction you take the company in?
Absolutely! Cloudwater is coming up to 28 months old. Not quite two and a half years yet. James and I started working on Cloudwater as a new venture back in 2013 and it wasn’t until mid September 2014 that we started working full time on the project. We then got the keys to our warehouse here on the 6th of November 2014. By the 13th of February we’d finished the warehouse, there wasn’t even a single plug socket in there! So we converted that into a brewery, brewed our first beer on the 14th of February 2015 and released our first beer on the 16th of March that year. So yeah, not long at all, it feels like an age and at the same time, no time at all!
I think we had quite straight forward aims in the beginning. James has made some great beer in Manchester over the years, plus the local food and drink scene was showing such promise. It also felt it would be good for more contributions to be made to the Manchester scene. More people making things that people could really believe in.
Our aim for Cloudwater back then was really simple… make some good beer! And that’s what we tried to do in our early months. Every time we got a little bit closer to being happy with our beer we raised our standards again. I never accept things like ‘oh, this is just how it is, this is the best we can do’, I always kept wondering how much further we could go.
Each month we uncover problems we want to solve immediately and we can’t always. But each month we definitely do make a few more steps forward. We just keep functioning in the same way that we did back then. We keep trying to get better, but I think now we believe in ourselves a bit more.
4) You’ve released some amazing collaborations in the last few months, can you tell us a little about working with those breweries and why you enjoy these projects? How do you choose who to collaborate with Cloudwater?
Cool, well I’ll start with the last bit first. The decision to collaborate with somebody is generally pretty simple. Either we really like them already as people so we want to hang out with them, or we are really intrigued to see a little more detail about how they operate. We walk into every business with our eyes wide open, especially when visiting breweries.
Whether we come out with a list of things we want to do or a list of things we never want to do, that’s incredibly useful. As well as that we obviously try and work as much as we can with people whose beer we have respect for, and whose beer we absolutely love. Everybody has something to teach us, whether that’s stepping into a brewery like JW Lees who have been going for a long time, have an incredibly experienced team. Or whether that’s walking into BrewDog with their ever growing and wonderfully technological brewery.
Then you’ve got Cellarmaker in San Francisco and seeing how that exact configuration of market place and brewer ambition creates something wonderful over there. There’s always going to be a very wide variety of breweries that we work with. We are never going to try and work with only the newest and boldest. We are happy to work with really experienced older breweries too, because we’re going to learn, make new friends and hopefully make some great beer along the way too.
With some of the more high-end collaborations we’ve done, Brewdog, Cellarmaker, Other Half, Jester King, De Garde, it really does blow me away to step back occasionally and think about all those folk we’ve worked with. Sometimes I think ‘shit! I can’t believe that we have the chance to work with these people!’ We still look up to them now. It’d be really difficult to choose a favourite. Whether it’s chewing the fat with the folk from JW Lees or staying up all hours of the night with Tim at Cellarmaker. Or hanging out with the guys from Other Half in New York, it’s all been really good fun. And I’m not downplaying the collaborations with UK brewers either, every one of them has been a deeply enjoyable experience.
5) It sounds like the stuff of dreams! Can we ask, do you feel that the craft market is becoming at all saturated? If you were to give any advice to someone that was thinking about entering this industry as it currently stands, what would that advice be?
I think the market is nowhere near saturation. I live in a part of Manchester that’s largely untouched by modern beer, and where my folks live near Newcastle there isn’t much craft beer. We live in a bubble in this industry and it’s easy to think it’s everywhere because we know where to go! But it really isn’t.
I want to see accessible flavourful bold inventive modern beer choices up and down the country. I don’t necessarily want to see beer sat on shelves in every supermarket but I do think that by craft beer being in supermarkets it gives us a chance to lobby from the inside. Hopefully we can all make the changes to the supply chain and improve quality. I’d like to see craft beer far and wide, there’s a lot more room for a lot more breweries to help us achieve that.
My advice to a start up brewery based on my experience with Cloudwater? It’s really simple; you have to make better beer than us! Otherwise I’m not sure what contribution you’re going to make. When we first started there were loads of breweries that we looked up to, that we still look up to now. We only really show respect to them by trying to be the best brewery that we can be. That’s what anyone who is worth anything in this industry does. So you have to have ambition to be the best. And of course one person’s juice bomb is another person’s murk bomb, there’s a lot of variety out there in the marketplace.
It’s wonderful that that exists but truly the only way forward for the industry as a whole is for as many breweries as possible to be very ambitious and set their sights as high as they can, and then keep setting them higher. It’s the way to win people over, and give them valuable experiences in beer. I hope that when people decide to get into this industry they take a look around them and at some point make the decision to really go for it. Don’t come in and make any old beer. Figure out who the leaders are in any particular style and catch them up!
6) What has been your favourite beer event in the last year and why? And are there any upcoming events that you’re particularly looking forward to?
I’m not going to struggle with this one at all! Pouring beer at Ratebeer in January was mind blowing. Before that we had an incredible time at Modern Times Festival Of Dankness, we thought ‘fuck! Things are really happening for us!’ And to have poured beer at MBCC was a dream. I’ve been going to that festival since it started, and I never imagined that I would be running a brewery that would get to pour there. But Ratebeer felt like we turned a big corner. That was a festival that we got invited to because of what consumers think about our beer, no other reason. And there were enough people that were thrilled by it to put us up there with some phenomenal breweries, so that was just an absolute buzz.
Gosh, I can’t believe all the festivals we have lined up, it’s maybe a little too much! I’m really looking forward to it but I’m also wondering just how tired I can be before it’s all too much. But I’m really excited to head back to the States in August to go to The Veils Forever Summer Festival and then Shelton Brothers festival in Atlanta Georgia and Festival of Dankness again in San Diego.
I’m really excited to see what happens in September with Beavertown’s Extravaganza and to see how that changes expectations for UK festivals. The lineup that they’ve pulled is amazing, like nothing we’ve seen before. And of course I’m excited by Indy Man, I’m always excited when that comes round. But yes, most of all I’m excited about this trip that’s coming up in August. It’s going to be a lot of fun, we’re going to learn a load about where we are as a brewery at Cloudwater. It’s also going to be a good chance to hang out with some good friends.
7) This one may be a little left field but you’ve been known to be politically outspoken across Cloudwater blogs and social media, which we love! Would you say this has had a demonstrable impact on the reputation of yourself or Cloudwater and was it a big decision to be outspoken in that way?
No, it wasn’t a big decision at all. It’s exactly the way we’ve been since day one. We pride ourselves on being as honest, open and straightforward with our customers as possible. You’ve got to start off by recognising that your average modern beer fan, your craft drinkers, they’ve got their eyes and ears open. That’s why they’re out there trying to hunt down really interesting sensory experiences. So we show them a lot of respect, I treat them as I would like to be treated myself.
I like to know what’s going on behind the scenes of some of my favourite businesses and breweries. Certainly it was an easy decision to use Cloudwater and the platform that we have to communicate exactly the impact that the Brexit Referendum has had on us financially and socially. Communicating our concerns when the Referendum result came in was really straightforward. As was choosing to put another piece together before the recent General Election. I can understand why other people might be reluctant to put their views out there and put the details of how certain principal outcomes will affect their business.
It’s obvious who we as a team thought would help us out the most and deliver the changes and progression in society. The way that we communicated that was that we tried to make sense of how each outcome would affect us as individuals, because that affects how we work as a team.
We are just a bunch of people here who have shared objectives when it comes to work. We feel very passionately about how things are for people who maybe don’t have some of the privileges and luck that we’ve had and it felt really good for us to put that out there.
We’ve had a lot of very positive feedback. A lot of people have said ‘we respect you even more as a company now’ because we went to the length to show that passion. People have stuck their thumbs up and thanked us for putting that out there. I won’t hesitate in the future to make our views known if I think it will help in any way.
8) Good, we know a lot of people who really enjoy reading those blog posts so keep it up! On to something a little more light hearted, if we gave you unlimited funds and the ability to teleport, which five breweries in the world would you head to and which beers would you drink?
There’s probably a bunch of breweries that I haven’t been to which would feature here. But right now I would go just a little bit south of Munich to Tegernsee. I would drink their Helles because we want to up our lager game, we’re a long way from where we want to be with it at the moment.
I would click my fingers again and hop over to San Francisco and drink some Tiny Dankster from Cellarmaker. I drank it a lot earlier this year. Hanging out in the bar there, they play the best music. It’s such a good laugh and I had such a good time there, I’d kill to be back over there!
I’d probably jump to Rebecq and find myself sharing some bottles with Pierre Tilquin. And since it’s unlimited funds maybe we can pour some special bottles from elsewhere. He’s always a great guy to drink with.
If I had unlimited funds I’d probably bribe Shaun Hill to let me stay in his taproom for as long as I wanted. They’re on a farm in the middle of a rural setting, and because of that as a responsible licensee they have this set up where you can only go for a couple of drinks. If I had those funds I’d take my whole team and we’d go and hang out at Hillstead Farm Brewery . To take everyone with me on trips would be an absolute dream.
Who’s going to fill that last slot, this is a tough one. No, fuck it, easy! We’d go to Pizza Port Ocean Beach San Diego. Pizza Port’s double IPAs are what started us wanting to make IPAs, we’re West Coast inspired. There’s great vegan food and Pizza Port do some classic wings. It’s five minutes walk from the most beautiful beach and it’s mostly tremendous weather out there. We’d get some pints of Kook and Swami and then go sit on the beach. That sounds amazing!
9) We’re so sorry that we can’t actually send you on this trip but who knows for the future! But some great choices! So, what is next for Cloudwater? Any exciting news to share with us?
Yeah actually, we’re working very hard to expand our Brewery Tap offering, that’s one of the most exciting things we are taking on this year.
Oh wow! Is that premises expansion or a change in your offering at the current Cloudwater tap?
Definitely an expansion of what’s going on but hopefully a premises expansion. We’ll still be restricted which is annoying, there are still gonna be things that we want to do that we sadly can’t. Our retail operation still won’t be at the stage we want it to be at, but it’s going to be a lot better that it currently is.
As for the brewery, we’re going to try and make a lot more beer in the 2nd half of the year than we did in the 1st. Hopefully bring in some equipment that will help us boost the quality. We are taking a delivery of a Hop Gun in the next couple of weeks which should help us have even more impact from the hops we use.
And again, in the background we’ve got improvements to make in many of the styles of beer that we turn our hands to. We’ve got a long way to go with getting our Cloudwater lagers to be where we want them to be. That’s a really big focus for us. Not that we’ve solved every problem with our hoppy beers, but they’re certainly a lot further along the path than our lagers are. We’re going to be putting as much attention and energy as possible into being better with every beer we make. Our customers in the UK, they deserve better. So that’s what we’ll be working on.
10) Great, really big smiles all round! Ok, our last question is a bit of silly one. If a swarm of hop-munching locusts were to consume the planet, and only three hop varieties were able to survive, which would you choose and why?!
Ummm. I’d choose… (laughs hysterically… :-)) It’d have to be Citra. Because that for us is one of the best hops for any beer. We can make a good lineup of pale ales and IPAs with Citra. Another variety that we’d save would be… wait, this is for global use right?
Yup, all your peers are using them too.
Ok, we’d have to save a noble hop then! So probably Saaz. I want people to make some great Helles and Pilsner. It might not be their first choice for a bittering or aroma hop in those beers but it would also allow us to make some hoppy beers.
For a bit of variety we need something from the Southern Hemisphere. This is crazy, the whole of Europe is growing Saaz. The whole of America is growing Citra and the whole of the Antipodean region is going to have to grow Vic Secret.
Certainly last year I think that was our favourite. I know people are going to be saying ‘oh my God! What about Nelson Sauvin?!’. Yeah, OK it’s wonderful but we’ve had more pleasing results from Vic Secret. So if you want an honest answer at this time then those would be my three choices!