Beer squad

Robyn Gilmour introduces the beer power pair taking Beer52's selections to a whole new level

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The whole being greater than the sum of its parts doesn’t negate how essential each member of the craft beer community is to the industry as a whole. Without writers, artists, musicians, engineers, chefs, farmers, social workers, and scientists turning hands and palates to beer, craft wouldn’t be as dynamic, exciting and unexpected as it is. With this industry being the point at which many winding paths converge, Ferment has been both fortunate and privileged to work with an array of skills and experiences so vast as to seem a bottomless wellspring of care, creativity, and innovation. 

In the past two months, Beer52 has acquired two new team members whose experience is so deeply rooted in a passion for what they do, that we felt a formal introduction to Ferment readers was warranted. James Caley and Carlos de la Barra are joining us to develop craft beer buying and production at Beer52; they will, without doubt, imbue these roles with their countless years of experience, and change so much of how we work for the better. 

James’ experience lies in the field of supply chain management and procurement; having worked extensively in logistics and purchasing for Bibendum and Matthew Clark, he is bringing a wealth of knowledge to his new role as head beer buyer for Beer52. Carlos comes to us from Omnipollo, and is a renowned brewer and winemaker with a background in food science and biotechnology; he’s worked in kitchens, labs, wineries, and a plethora of breweries across a multitude of countries. While continuing to brew for Avaans, Carlos will oversee quality assurance for all beers brewed for Beer52 and assist small breweries with the volume demands of fulfilling orders for our growing membership.

James and Carlos’ respective skillsets supplement and complement the other’s, while their philosophies overlap perfectly. One is entrepreneurial and the other creative, but both think analytically and value community and collaboration above all else.

Before setting up a brewery with a friend in New Zealand, and later moving to Omnipollo, Carlos’ progress up the ranks of a multinational beer and wine company separated him from the hands-on work he loved doing with a product he cared about. After following the path laid out by his expertise in a corporate environment, he decided to move in directions that would allow him to engage with process, ingredients and flavour directly, and daily. 

The move to Beer52, for James, means he’ll get to spend more time doing his favourite part of previous jobs; working with breweries in a way that can nurture and support their growth, as much as ours. Like Carlos, James is kind in how he speaks of all places where he’s gained experience; “Different parts of the industry work in different ways; that doesn't mean it's good or bad – it’s just different – but you know, in a big volume kind of world, it becomes more important to establish that commercial gain, which can make it less collaborative. People in craft beer know each other, like each other, help each other out, and that just makes your job nicer; that culture of working with suppliers for mutual benefit is a big part of why I was interested in moving to Beer52.”

This spirit of collaboration isn’t just talk – it’s baked right into how the pair work, and how their experience is shaping their new roles. To best explain this, it might be most useful to pause and look at Omnipollo, the esteemed Swedish brewery from which Carlos joins us.

Omnipollo was founded by brewer Henok Fentie and artist Karl Grandin in 2010, with a vision of changing the perception of beer. Founded on a multidisciplinary background, Omnipollo has a lot in common with other forms of cultural expression: it's a jam, a studio, a retreat, a salon. Omnipollo’s beers are made at breweries around the world – its brewers remain part of the Omnipollo team, but work with collaborating partners either in their breweries or rented spaces. A permanent production brewery was only added to the Omnipollo repertoire in 2021, and was designed by Carlos. 

Aside from loving to travel, Carlos speaks highly of the benefits of contract brewing, because of the skills and knowledge that it spreads between collaborating breweries. “Aside from keeping tanks full and brewers working, the hosting team gets to work using different ingredients and techniques at no cost to themselves. Breweries are cool for us to have control over the process used while brewing beers over a weekend, because it's a career journey together for everyone participating. Being a good contract brewer is like being a good houseguest; you leave something behind for the hosting team, which is new knowledge, new ingredients, and new techniques. It works for hosting breweries, so they want to have us back”.

What does that mean for Beer52? Well, as we grow, and the community on this journey with us expands, it becomes increasingly difficult for smaller breweries with limited capacity to work with us. For Beer52 and Ferment, it remains important that we can continue to support and work with micro breweries that are diversifying the industry and driving innovation forward. Therefore, a main objective for James and Carlos is to keep small breweries central to Beer52’s future, with James building partnerships that will actually benefit smaller breweries, and Carlos on the brewing side, helping scale up volumes and get the authentic beer into members’ boxes.

“To curate a themed box, there's a lot of options and a lot of different core criteria that need to be fulfilled by all 16 beers that feature,” says James. “They have to offer their own thing, while also meeting the fundamental brief set out by the theme, if that makes sense. But beyond that, it’s kind of over to the brewers; we'd like to work with you because of what you're already doing. We don't take a backseat, we're involved all the way through, but ultimately, it's showcasing the brewery, not showcasing Beer52.”

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