The Wild Beer Co has been creating delicious, inventive and thought-provoking beers since it was founded in late November 2012.
With both a love of discovery combined with the opportunity to brew beers that tasted wildly different, The Wild Beer Co began. Its co-founders Andrew Cooper and Brett Ellis, who loved sour beers, had taken the bold step of admitting to themselves and to each other that the UK wasn’t quite quenching their thirst for experimental brews and so they simply decided to make some of their own.
Suddenly, beer became exciting again.
“When we first came up with the concept of The Wild Beer Co about six years ago, the beer industry was a very different place to where it is now,” says Cooper. “We felt there was an opportunity to specialise in using different yeast strains, different ingredients and barrel ageing and using slow maturation in beer to create different characters and different styles of beer to what other people were doing in the UK.”
Inspired by traditional Belgian Lambic producers; the first of the new wave of US wild and sour beer producers; wine blenders; spirits blenders and cider makers, the duo set about creating a brewery that considered people’s developing interest in food and drink – a brewery that considered how people had become more conscientious about ingredients and processes.
“We looked outside of the bubble of the beer industry” and “saw the enormous steps in artisanal production of everything in the UK from cheese and charcuterie to spirits, beers and ciders” and “looked to what was happening for both inspiration and different perspectives.”
Drinks for people interested in what they consume
“People have become more aware about ingredients in all sorts of food and drink and have pushed the boundaries a long way from where the industry was 20 years ago,” says Cooper, explaining that this is because people have simply begun to realise they are interested in what they consume.
“If we were catering for an audience who were not interested in ingredients then I guess we’d be going out of business,” laughs Cooper. But instead business is thriving. “When we started, we were brewing roughly 4,000 litres per week and now we are brewing about 50,000 litres per week” and, with a new brewery in the process of being built three miles away on the Bath & West Showground, The Wild Beer Co will be looking at its “capacity going up by another 50% in the coming months.”
The new brewery space is going to have “a big shop as well as a bar and restaurant attached to it,” says Cooper, explaining that this will be the brewer’s third bar venue after Jessop House in Cheltenham and Wapping Wharf in Bristol and “is going to be far more focused on food and drink than just a tap room.”
“It is going to be a food and drink experience in a brewery, not just a beer experience” and “the kind of place that’s appealing to people who think they aren’t even really very interested in beer.”
The new brewery, in Castle Cary, can be reached on a direct train from London Paddington in roughly an hour and 40 minutes and is set to open “in about a year’s time”. There will be “a big focus on offering high quality food” and there are ambitions for it to become a destination for anyone who loves food and drink.
New canned beers & new spirits launching
As well as the new brewery and a new canning line that is all set to bring more of The Wild Beer Co creations to 330ml cans, there are some new spirits soon to be on the horizon.
Joining its Sleeping Lemons gin will be a new 40% ABV gin called Shnoodlepip which will launch in a couple of weeks and has been inspired by its eponymous beer. The new gin will include the same botanicals as Shnoodlepip beer and will be available directly from The Wild Beer Co’s online shop priced at £42 per 700ml bottle.
Moving into the casual dining scene
Other plans for Wild Beer Co involve the brewer’s ambitions within the casual dining and restaurant scene. As Cooper admits: “We would like to do more in casual dining and the restaurant market as we feel there are lots more opportunities for us there,” agreeing that the stylistic appeal of the iconic dripped wax bottles could lend something to restaurants looking at offering premium beers, traversing the image barriers often present for brands looking at gaining beer listings in dining venues.
The challenges with premium drinks retailing
Cooper laments that opportunities for premium drinks sales in the UK have been deeply affected by the mind-set that ‘value’ is based on ‘cutting price’ rather than ‘raising quality’.
“The alcohol market in this country is pretty much set by the big four supermarkets and yet the big four supermarkets treat alcohol as a loss leader [a product that is drastically reduced in price to be used as a lure to attract shoppers into stores to buy other goods]. So almost from the top of the biggest retailers in the country, the market starts being set in the wrong place. Drinks are devalued and degraded. At the moment there isn’t anyone really treating beer with a premium look as a retailer.”
“We have finally decided to put something premium into Waitrose – our Ninkasi beer – and it’s going really well. It is having a lot of success.”
“All of the other supermarkets have also come to us and asked for beer. But sadly none of the other supermarkets actually seem to know how to make drink exciting; for so long, for them, it has just been about price.”
Never let price rule over quality
How do we fix this? According to Cooper, we need to take tips from drinks retailing in Australia.
“I went over there earlier in the year and sat down with Coles supermarkets which is the Tesco equivalent and all their buyers were ex Asda, Tesco, Sainsburys originally from the UK. After our tasting, I asked them all why they had moved here and they said “the Australians understand about alcohol retailing and don’t treat drinks as a loss leader” they explained that now in their jobs as buyers they “get to look at putting together exciting ranges. Their entire attitude to upholding drinks quality is brilliant in Australia. Each of the people I spoke to who had worked in the UK where it was not about the range and always about the price admitted they had found it so refreshing to be working with drinks where it was about having ‘the best available’ and not just ‘pulling together a really cheap range’.”
The people who guide us about drinks need to actually care
Cooper is certain that until we move on from this mode of thinking about drinks in the UK, “alcohol retailing is not going to change unless we do” reiterating how important it should be that the people who select the best drinks for us to buy in the UK actually care about drinks and understand what makes them appealing.
“I remember sitting down with a supermarket drinks buyer who had recently been moved from confectionery and she even didn’t drink alcohol. She selected booze for them to sell and for people to drink and wasn’t even interested in it. That’s quite sad.” Comparatively, you wouldn’t order food from a chef who has no interest in cooking, taste or flavour creation. So, why should drinks be any different?
Appeal to your tastebuds and sate them with new discoveries
Wild Beer Co tries to “approach making beer a bit more like how a chef thinks about making food. Firstly, we consider what’s available, what’s seasonal and what is interesting. Then we ask: ‘What have we tasted and been inspired by recently?’ And we go from there. It is the kind of people we are and the sort of people we want to be. Sure, we have a core range of around 10 beers we make all the time, but otherwise we rotate things and then some things are made seasonally and annually and some things are never made again. There is no fixed agenda – we just come up with ideas and just start working through them; it’s quite an organic thing.”
When it comes to The Wild Beer Co’s progression and reputation, Cooper puts the company’s success down to both the drinkers of his beer and his team members, who he calls “like-minded people” who “understand this is a place of food and drink experimentation.” He explains: “It’s the kind of place where people bring things they discover to work so that other people can try them. That’s our ethos and the place where we start each day: ‘What have you discovered?’ What’s cool and different? What can we learn from this?’ We really do love the drinks we make.”
What to try from Wild Beer Co
- Wild Beer Co is seeing the biggest growth this year from its hoppy and tropical-fruited 4% ABV pale ale named Pogo which has a recipe that centres on huge hits of orange as well as passion fruit and guava. It first became available on draught, but was so popular it went into 330ml cans pretty swiftly.
- Seeing success this year is the Wild Beer Co’s new 6% ABV pineapple sour beer named Tepache which is available in 750ml bottles. The recipe takes its inspiration from Mexico and, as well as being made from spontaneously fermented pineapple, includes star anise, masa canina, cinnamon and demerara to create a funky brett with a tart sweet fruit and dry spice character which perfectly cuts through the heat and spiciness of Mexican dishes.
- A recent addition worth a try includes Wild Beer Co’s 8.5% ABV raspberry imperial stout called Jambo! Into 750ml bottles. Jambo! has the warming velvety comfort of a sweet dark beer, the richness of chocolate and a muddle of fruitiness.
For the discerning sour beer lover
- Every year, Wild Beer Co makes a beer called The Blend which is inspired by a Belgian style of beer, a geuze, [a blend of different-aged Lambic beers] and, using its selection of over 500 oak barrels, Wild Beer Co blends from the very best of its pale and sour barrel-aged beers to create something special. Some of the beers blended could be around three years old and others might be just six months old. This means that the end result will always a complex sour beer that is different from anything else available.