Visit Melton Mowbray; home to stilton, pork pies, and Round Corner Brewing
Round Corner Brewing
Saturday 30 July 2022
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I was not expecting another Irish voice to greet me, when the dial tone gave way to a warm hello from Combie Cryan, co-founder of Round Corner Brewing in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire. We assess each other’s accents over the course of the call, go through the wonderfully comforting motions of asking where we’re from, how we ended up in the UK, and how we used to go about getting beer home to friends and family before customs became more complicated. I only here mention the Irishness of Combie and co-founder Colin Paige because of the significant role it plays in the unique origin story of Round Corner, a brewery we’re delighted to profile in Ferment for the first time.
It was the limitations of Ireland’s craft beer culture, in the 1990s, that set the wheels of adventure, exploration and discovery in motion for Combie and Colin, who met in New Zealand back in 2005. Colin had graduated from the brewing programme at Heriot Watt in the mid ‘90s, and moved across the world to cut his teeth in craft, which hadn’t quite taken off in Ireland or the UK yet. Combie was similarly in New Zealand to assess how a more developed industry and craft beer scene was progressing; equipped with a background in finance, and a lifelong love of beer, his plan “in [his] own deluded way, was to buy a brewery”.
“I started travelling a lot when I moved to New Zealand,” Combie says. “In fact, I took a whole year to travel; I went overland all the way from the north of Russia down to the south of Africa and aside from that just generally spent a lot of time overseas. Throughout all that time I always sought out beer. I've always visited breweries wherever I've gone. So now, we definitely have this global sense of beer, and that drives me to kind of think about what UK beer can be, and what my role in it is.”
When Combie and Colin eventually met, it was as though the stars had aligned, and the two quickly began to take seriously their hunt for the perfect place to establish and grow a place of their own. “We had a number of near misses over a large number of years,” says Combie. “We nearly built a brewery in New Zealand, then we nearly built a brewery in Vietnam, nearly in Cambodia.” In the interim, Combie moved back to the UK, and Colin started running operations for Stone & Wood, a large brewery based in Byron Bay, Australia.
By chance, in those intervening years, Combie and a friend ended up getting involved in Melton Mowbray Markets; not only are these one of the biggest livestock markets in the UK, but Melton Mowbray itself is a rare example of a Town Centre market. Markets and events here take place in and among food halls that host a plethora of independent businesses, vendors, and festivals, and feed locals, as well as out-of-town members of the farming and agricultural community that come into Melton Mowbray to do business.
When Combie and Colin eventually met, it was as though the stars had aligned
No sooner had Combie clapped eyes upon the town than “a penny dropped … This was the place that Colin and I had been searching for all around the world for so long. From there I phoned Colin and said ‘I’ve found it!’ He agreed to come back and we got to work on it. The end result is the brewery we have now, and which we started in December 2018”.
Combie speaks very highly of Colin, as you would hope one would of a business partner, but their story and relationship strikes me as a particularly unique and trusting one. “It’s a big ask,” Combie acknowledges when I comment on the extraordinary trust the two must share, for one to move one’s life halfway around the world on the strength of their confidence in a shared vision. That said, now knowing the complementary skill sets and experience of the partners, it seems to me that the Round Corner operation was destined to be water-tight from the outset.
“I certainly find working with Colin that it's a great combination, because of what we both do,” Combie says. “He has deep beer expertise, he’s a Master Brewer, he's brewed for 30 years in huge enterprises and small enterprises. So he brings that deeper knowledge and then from my perspective, I bring the kind of financial rigour and the sales and some of those areas. So it's a great combination.”
On the foundations laid by the shared expertise of its two partners, Round Corner has cultivated a range of beers with a sublime integrity at its core. “We have a mantra around patient growth,” Combie says. “We don't try to create scarcity or over brew and hope things happen for us. You won't ever see our beer flooding any one place or area, but within what we do, our job is to be super professional about everything. When we say we're going to do something, we do it, and that extends from bottle shops and online retail partners, to drinkers that pick a product of ours.
“We define craft as the relentless pursuit of perfection” says Combie, “we’ve invested heavily in quality, and now have a state of the art laboratory, and all the equipment we need to brew the best examples of a huge range of styles. Our core range lagers, Frisby Lager and Gunmetal Black lager, won a silver and gold respectively at the 2019 International Brewing Awards. Our Hopping Spree, West Coast IPA has become the most awarded IPA in the UK over the last 3 years, and our Steeplechase Pale Ale was awarded a gold medal and then a trophy as the best small pack ale in the world in 2021”
“Lets face it, in terms of the wider world, craft beer is still relatively niche, and lots of people still have to discover how wonderful it is, so for us it's really, really important that we bring people into the movement, but that definitely starts with our community. We have a huge tap room and a huge local following here; that’s our foundation and everything builds up from there.”
The round corner operation was destined to be water-tight from the outset
And what a community they have; Combie tells me on any given Tuesday you could have between five and six thousand sheep herded through and around the town to various locations. On Wednesdays, Melton Mowbray is swamped with 800-odd cattle, and of course, each day brings with it hundreds of farmers who chat, purchase and trade in line with their needs, and of course need to be fed and watered at the end of a long day.
Not only is Melton Mowbray one of the few remaining market towns in the UK, it is one of the only towns with two designated origin products; stilton cheese and the esteemed pork pie. With such rich agricultural products, and knowledgeable clientele passing through the town on such a regular basis, it’s no surprise that Melton Mowbray has such a rich food culture.
“We've got a lot of food manufacturing expertise and industrial expertise in this town. We’re surrounded by people who understand what it takes to make great products. Being here, we get the benefit of their experience, we’re well positioned to use some of their services, and of course we find it inspirational to pair our beer with them,” says Combie. “The great sense of passion for what’s produced in this area is a reason why we’re so proud to have set our roots here.” Just the week before I speak to him, 70 lucky people attended a pairing session hosted by Round Corner, the UK’s largest pie maker, and the company that makes 70% of the world’s stilton.
“We put our heart and soul into beer, we recruit brewers from all around the world, we obsess about beer, but in the end, beer is a social lubricant. Yes, it has to taste great and you know, hopefully has a lot of love put into it, but people want to have a beer with their friends and their family and talk things over it. So for us it's really important that beer can be well paired with food, which again goes back to making great beer accessible to people and situations where people drink it”.
When I ask Combie what food he recommends be paired with the Bullroarer APA he makes for Beer52, he of course reverts to stilton, the fattiness of which is cut through by the bitterness of the Bullroarer. He admits he may be biased in saying that, and nobly notes that the right pairing lies in the palate of the beholder.
If you’re keen to engage more with Round Corner and the food culture of Melton Mowbray, Rare Foods Festival is a festival organised annually by the brewery to celebrate the culture and cuisine of its locality. Combie promises spectacular food, obviously brilliant beer, and an exhibition of rare and exotic livestock that, going by his description, is worth travelling for. The festival will be held on 10th September 2022, with more details being available on Round Corner’s website.
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