Farr & local
Roger chats with Nick Farr and Matt Elvidge from Farr Brew
Saturday 28 August 2021
This article is from
Ones to Watch
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If your name is Nick Farr and you launch a brewery you can be forgiven for adopting the catchphrase “The best beers by Farr”. It’s not an empty slogan for the brewery in Hertfordshire has won a fistful of awards for its beers and its passionate commitment to supporting the environment.
Nick and his business partner Matt Elvidge have made giant strides since they started brewing in Nick’s kitchen in 2014. They moved to a small shed near Harpenden and the reception for their beers enabled them to build a new 10-barrel kit on a farm between St Albans and Wheathampstead in 2016.
They use malt made from barley from the farm and they grow their own hops with help from their supporters. Every Saturday is open day at the brewery and Nick, Matt and their team have bucked the problems of Covid and lockdowns by selling substantial amounts of beer in cask and bottle for take home.
And they now reach out to a bigger audience with an estate of five pubs in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire they lease from other brewers and pubcos.
The duo of Farr and Elvidge has brought different skills to their brewing business. Nick grew up in Herefordshire where his family brewed beer and made wine at home, and he picked up an early taste for good drink. He later worked as a senior estimator in the building industry where, he says, he was good at drawing up contracts – a useful background when it came to dealing with big brewers, farmers and companies supplying his pubs.
Matt’s experience is advertising, marketing and sales, with artwork and design thrown into the mix. He has brought flare to the beers with striking names and label designs.
“I’m also good at talking to people,” he says. “When we started, we sold beer in a market in Harpenden. Nick made the beer but he wasn’t good at getting people to buy it while I was good at the chat. It’s useful when you go round pubs asking them to take our beers.”
When Farr Brew was launched Nick and Matt remained in their old jobs and brewed and sold beer evenings and weekends. When they moved to their current site – with the backing of some “angel investors” – they worked full time, paying themselves the minimum wage until sales picked up. The move into running pubs was essential, Nick says. "Making beer won’t make you money. SIBA [the Society of Independent Brewers] sells its members’ beer at £60 a cask but it’s not enough.
“Pubs are the best experience for beer. You can control the flow of beer, you can keep the beer lines clean, you can talk to staff about how it’s made and take them on brewery tours.”
Their first pub is the Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead high street. Nick and Matt call it their taproom though it’s a few miles from the brewery. It gives them presence in a smart village close to the county’s major hub of St Albans that hosts one of CAMRA’s biggest annual beer festivals.
Nick and Matt brew 5,000 barrels a year and they say sales of their cask beers are growing “massively” in spite of the trauma of the Covid years.
The core range is mainstream – don’t expect any flights of fancy such as raspberry saison or a cloudy IPA fermented with Brettanomyces wild yeast, though Nick says his beers are “bold, exciting and double hopped”.
Matt’s marketing skills come into play with such brand names as Farr Apart, a double hopped IPA, Our Greatest Golden Ale, Our Best Bitter, Our Most Potent Porter and Our Perfect Pale Ale. New beers have been added to what he calls the Covid range. They include Lock In, an amber ale, Farr and Away pale ale, and 1492 brewed with the American Columbus hop variety: Matt reminds us that “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”.
Nick is now busy on the business end of the brewery and Jason Moyland has joined as head brewer. He worked as a sales rep for Greene King and hadn’t brewed before but he’s not only learned the ropes but also spends his spare time tasting other brewers’ beers and pulling them apart to get ideas for new recipes.
Farr Brew’s commitment to the environment won it the Greenest Brewery Award from SIBA in 2018. The barley grown on the farm is currently sent away to be turned into malt but Nick and Matt hope to install their own malt house.
Home-grown hops are used in many of the beers. They are produced by a scheme known as the Hop Collective. Supporters are given root stock for such varieties as Fuggles, Goldings and English Cascade, which they grow in their gardens and allotments. They bring the hops to the brewery and they are used in an annual green hop beer in the autumn.
Honey used in Our Most Potent Porter comes from hives on the farm. Spent hops and grain are supplied to local livestock farmers and much of the food available in the pubs comes from local suppliers.
The pubs come with history as well as good beer and food. The Eight Bells in Hatfield dates from 1630 and stands behind Hatfield House, ancestral home of the Cecil family. The pub has beams, standing timbers, wood and slate floors, old settles and fireplaces. It was visited by Charles Dickens who used it to describe a country ale house in Oliver Twist.
The Elephant and Castle at Amwell is close to Wheathampstead but is deep in the countryside, down narrow winding lanes. It dates from the 18th century and also has a wealth of beams plus an indoor well where water was once used to brew beer. Farr Brew has added a large marquee in the spacious beer garden that attracts walkers, cyclists and visitors to the new Heartwood Forest. The pub is leased from Greene King which supplies lager while all other beers on the bar come from Farr Brew. Two further pubs, the Red Cow and the Rising Sun, are based in Harpenden and Slip End. Nick and Matt now have a staff of 80, including people working in the pubs.
They have won awards from local competitions in Hertfordshire and Best Commercial Achievement award from SIBA in 2020, which also judged Perfect Pale Ale the best in Britain that year.
But awards have not gone to their heads. As well as aiding the environment, they produce special beers for local charities. The latest, in July 2021, was Pride Pale, a 4.2 per cent beer brewed with Amarillo, Mosaic and Simcoe hops for the Ask for Clive charity that supports the gay community.
Nick and Matt have come a long way in seven years, from kitchen brew to running a commercial brewery and several pubs. And they’re convinced they still have Farr to go.
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