10 Questions For...
1) Tell us about your city, you’re a London lady! In London, which places get you really excited for drinking beer and eating, especially as a vegan!
I have an affiliation for places with a relaxed vibe, so for drinking I really like The Cock Tavern, The Southampton Arms, they’re owned by the same team and they have this ‘old-mansy’ homeliness? But then there are other more modern places like The Hop Locker which is by The South Bank, so there’s a really nice food market there as well. Generally I like going to breweries beyond Weird Beard, so Bermondsey beer mile is a favourite, but on Sundays when it’s less oversubscribed.
Food wise, I’m into contemporary vegan food and I really like Bao, that’s a Taiwanese place which is very nice, they just opened another restaurant. I’m a massive fan of Japanese food, there’s a veggie vegan place called Atariya, that’s one of my favourites. I also love Dishoom, and Nanban which does great pan asian fusion food, it’s delicious and it’s really affordable, that’s Tim Anderson’s place. and Nopi, which is one of Ottolenghi’s places.
2) And if you were to choose a city away from home that you love, where would it be and which places do you love there?
Hmm, probably Bristol. I really love Bristol, I have friends who have studied there and my sister lives there too. It’s really colourful and vibrant, and there’s a very sustainable farm-to-plate wholesome food culture there. Places I’d recommend to eat, Cafe Kino which is sort of typical cafe food like burgers, but it’s all vegan… they do these amazing ‘sausage’ rolls! The Runcible Spoon do this amazing vegan roast dinner.
Drinking wise there are a lot of good places, you can go to Moor the brewery itself which really really nice, but then you’ve got The Crofters Rights, that’s actually nearby where my sister works, which is called The Pipe And Slippers, they do great cocktails but also have a great tap list, it’s a nice pub vibe. Small Bar is good for beer and the BrewDog in Bristol is one of the nicest ones ever!
3) We’re speaking to you about a couple of your roles in beer today, so can you first tell us a bit about working at Weird Beard and what you’re getting up to at the brewery?
So my job title is Weird Beard Events And Communications Manager, which stems from everything to organising Tap Takeovers, Meet The Brewers, all the social media behind that. Updating our website, creating tasting notes for the beers and listing stockists etc. I also pick up a lot of admin and back of house stuff, and I dabble in sales which is cool. Because we are still a small brewery we aren’t exactly tied to our roles, so if we’re down a member of the brew team on a packaging day then I won’t say no and I’ll happily step in!
I love weekend brew days which is something I’ll sign up to, because the phone isn’t ringing, nobody is delivering anything, and you can just focus on getting the beer made which is why I’m in this industry, I love good beer!
4) And what are the next steps for the team, any exciting plans for Weird Beard?
We’re investing in improving efficiency at the moment. We have such a solid brew team, and now tasks that took two or three people are beginning to take one or two people. We’ve just invested in a new glycol chilling system, which is going to help.
Generally we are going to push for more inhouse Weird Beard festivals. We’ve moved our open days to being seasonally, they’re a lot of work and so we are thinking about having bigger events at the brewery and not just open days, it’s something Siren have done really well. Generally I think we are investing in our team and efficiency, somethings that I can’t disclose just yet, but producing more beer more quickly and seeing where that takes us.
We’re exporting. We have 6 ten barrel fermentation vessels and 2 twenty barrels. We do have floor space for more but we manually package which is a bit of a bottleneck, that’s very labour intensive. But we are putting out quite a lot of beer. Ideally we should be brewing four times a week, it tends to be three or four times a week.
I think we have the capacity to up our production but Brian our director and founder is keen for things to be slow but steady. We’ve never taken out a bank loan, all the money we use is what we have, so nobody is losing sleep over debt and such! So we take our time. We invest heavily in the staff, most team members have been with us two to three years minimum, we’ve only been going for five so it’s very much a family vibe. It’s weird to think of anyone from the brewery ever leaving!
Will you ever move towards canning Weird Beard beer?
Yes when we are ready. We tried mobile canning, it was a very guinea piggy situation and it didn’t really work out, we decided if we do any canning it’ll be in house. At the moment we don’t necessarily have the space or finances for that, so it’s not something we foresee happening immediately.
But where our beer is going we are really taking ownership of bottle conditioned beer, and I think our branding is distinct. As soon as you see a Weird Beard bottle you know it’s us. I like bottles because there is plenty of space to write on them. If we start canning we will have to strip that down and clean it up. I’m not ready for that, I write the tasting notes and I really enjoy that aspect of my job! Sometimes I’m not there on the brew day but I’ll have a QC sample, look at the branding and chat to the brew team and then I get to write something and place that on the bottle, which is really quite fun. Not having that anymore would make the beer feel almost naked to me?!
All our beers have a different skull character, we stylise the label around the beer as well. It’s inspired by Iron Maiden’s Eddie, every tour they have a different Eddie. So there’s a Piece Of Mind Eddie, The Book Of Souls Eddie, it’s a different tweak of his persona. So we’ve got this individual character per Weird Beard Beer. We’re giving time to the beer, and if people are reading the label they’re taking time over that branding element, it’s acknowledging that character.
5) You’re right, branding is an essential part of respecting the product! Now, you are also a co-founder of Crafty Beer Girls, can you tell us a bit about how you started that, the motivation behind it and what you aim to achieve, I know it’s become something that’s self-sustaining beyond your involvement which is great!
So I was working a Weird Beard event at The Bottle Shop in Bermondsey, it was the end of the event and a girl called Alix who at the time was moonlighting for Anspach and Hobday came over and we just started talking with a couple of other women.
Since working in beer I’ve found a lot more time patience and respect for women. I had a select group of girlfriends at uni and one or two close female friends at school but generally I often found girls to be a bit bitchy?! But in the beer industry I found women that I actually click with, we have a drink, have another drink and end up staying out. That’s what happened with Alix, she was maybe a little inebriated but she said ‘I’ve found my new best friend, let’s do this more often!’. So I thought, I should get my girlfriends from BrewDog, you bring your friends and we will get together next month. She texted me, we all got together and went on a little pub crawl in East London.
We had a great time and decided to do it again the following month, and we shared to our friends on Facebook that it was happening, and Alix went home and drunkenly bought the Crafty Beer Girls domain! We made the twitter group and facebook group, and now every month, like minded women, whether they work in beer or are beer enthusiasts or women who give a shit about beer, they come along and that’s that! I’m still quite shocked that it’s been two years and it’s still going on, we have over 450 members now!
6) Do you think there is a need for feminism in beer?
It’s difficult, because I say I’m a feminist and people grimace. Feminism sounds unattractive, most people’s idea of it is that it’s quite unattractive. So I kind of hate to say that I am a feminist, but by dictionary definition, yes of course I am.
That means that I feel women should be able to do anything that a man does, freely. With no repercussion or guilt, so yes in that sense women should be drinking feely, they should have access to jobs in the beer industry equally to men. When you start saying feminism in beer, sometimes people think ‘women don’t drink beer!’ or ‘feminism is ugly’ so it needs a bit of a rebrand! But it shouldn’t be an argument, women should have access to this industry.
7) Do you think there’s anything the beer industry can do to become more inclusive and inviting?
Education is always key. Before Weird Beard I used to work for BrewDog and all the staff were trained in sensory training, beer styles, Cicerone etc. That was open to all staff across the board, and that model works very well because everyone is going to move forward and be educated in styles and service. If more bars train their staff in that way, more customers will understand that the beer industry is one that anyone can get into, and can learn about.
I think sometimes different drinking environments can shut out women, for example if a place has a reputation for large groups of drunk men, you may think ‘is this somewhere that I want to work?’. Especially in roles that may involve living upstairs, or for women who have children or are expecting, it can be a challenge.
It’s showing people how they can safely hold a job in a drinking environment. It’s about feeling safe within an environment and educating people away from yob drinking culture and showing that beer can be fine dining, it can be sophisticated, it can be beer and food pairing. That might encourage people to think ‘I’ve been a great waiter or waitress, but I can apply the skills from that role to a role in beer and food and marry up both interests’. Beer doesn’t just have to be for pubs and bars, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating.
8) Have you been to any beer events recently that you thought really stood out as being excellent and offering something really different?
Recently I went to The Leuven Innovation Festival. Basically you had to bring beers that are a showcase of innovation. There are loads of breweries from across the world and it was held at Stella Artois Brewery so there was an element of big macro brewery but it was so enjoyable and there were a lot of industry centric events.
All the breweries who attended got to go to a chocolate and beer pairing. A chocolatier made chocolates out of everyone’s beers! So we had Weird Beard Dark Hopfler chocolate truffles which we didn’t even know had been made! It was really really nice to do that, it opened our eyes up as attending brewers, even though we market our beer in a different city or different country or different way, we gained something from it. It’s what the industry need, it’s not just customers and consumers who need to be learning, it’s about the brewers themselves learning and experiencing new things.
9) Are there any events in particular that you’d like to see taking place in the industry?
There’s been talk in Crafty Beer Girls about a beer festival for women. It would be organised by women, served by women, and pouring beers that are brewed by breweries whose head brewers or operations teams are women. It would be open to everyone, and it would be exceptional, saying ‘this is what women in beer can do’, to shake up people’s perspective of what can be a very male dominated industry.
It will take a lot of planning and we want it to be of a high standard, so we won’t be rushing to do it right now. But it’s something we would love to do. Maybe some collaboration brews with different groups of women in beer, Crafty Beer Girls, Ladies That Beer, Red Cow Girls, Brum Beer Babs and others.
10) If I gave you a credit card and a private jet, and you could take the crafty beer girls to any 3 bars or breweries in the world, where would you take them?
Three. Ok. I’d love to go to New Belgium because I never made it there when I was in America, it’s up in Fort Collins, it’s quite hard to get to. I really respect Lauren Salazar from there, I was meant to meet her and she was really accommodating but then I couldn’t make it! That’s somewhere I would really have to go. Not only is it a great brewery, they’ve got their QC under control, they’ve got this amazing sensory panel, and then you’ve got this amazing woman who’s at the helm as well!
I would also want to go to Japan to a brewery called Minoh. It was originally a brewery run by a man who died in a tragic accident, he fell off a ladder. Rather than selling the brewery, his two daughters decided to continue running it. They make some amazing stouts. I think they continued their father’s legacy, and as women in Japan they are sort of breaking tradition. The fact that they’re doing that is really beautiful and I’d love the crafty beer girls to see that, I’d love to see that.
Third brewery? I want to choose somewhere in Europe. Maybe Westvleteren, let’s go trappist! A monastery, wouldn’t it be so interesting to see what the monks are doing? I think it would be quite inspirational to see how brewing is tied into their monastic lives, it’s not an experience we can have, we aren’t monks!
So yes, we would experience two different sides of the world, East and West and then finish up with something traditional. I love Westy 12!
Thanks for your time in speaking to Beer Adventures Natasha, let’s catch up soon!