From toilet block to brewing mothership
Saturday 19 November 2022
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Our whistle stop tour around the South West takes us through a myriad of different landscapes, communities, and breweries, but a common thread uniting all of these is the reaction we receive to any mention of St Ives’ recent refurbishment. We hear it referred to as “space age”, “state of the art” and “an impressive bit of kit” before actually laying eyes on the facility ourselves. We conclude, at this point, that we had not been ill advised.
Managing director of St Ives Brewery, Marco Amura, meets us with a warm welcome at the door and issues us into the sizable building. The stylish and sophisticated taproom opens into the sleek brewery it shares space with; parquet and green plants contrast shiny tanks that are within arm’s reach of where drinkers will consume the beer.
Marco tells us the facility has been six months in the making, and only brewed its first batch a week before our visit. With that being the case, head brewer Callum White is still fine tuning operations, but overall, everyone is fizzing with excitement at the capabilities of the new SSV brewhouse. “The service is end-to-end,” says Marco, “everything from boil temperature and cooling, to grain handling is integrated into the control panel. Brewing is still far from being a one-man job, but having an automated system is just so much less labour intensive, and it’s a breath of fresh air to be getting away from the manual world we’ve come from.”
In addition, St Ives has acquired its own packaging infrastructure, a feature that was important to Marco given that in a past life, he worked for a brewery that did contract packaging. He knows the pitfalls that can come with this incredibly underrated element of beer production, and says that “it’s kind of the case when you’re contract packaging, that beer becomes your responsibility, irrespective of what condition it's in when you receive it. That works both ways of course, and you can either be blamed for the poor quality of a beer that wasn’t that great when you received it, or if it’s your own beer, a great product can be compromised at the last minute by very avoidable mistakes.
“In either instance, I’d rather oversee the whole process on-site. We have a laboratory here so we can test for a load of different things that ensure a beer is on track all the way through the production and packaging process… It's really difficult to predict where our business is going, but just on the basis of having installed this kit, we’ve gotten so many leads and contacts. We might end up in a future where we contract for smaller breweries and help them scale up their output, but for the time being our ambition is very focused on making our own beers as good as they can possibly be.”
Tasting the oatmeal stout brewed for Beer52’s South West box, we’d say St Ives has firmly grasped this ambition. The quality of its brewing is even more impressive considering it only recently moved from its original brewery, based in an old toilet block about the same size as the new Hayle facility’s taproom.
“Because previously we didn’t have the ability to package the beer ourselves, we tended to stick with styles that minimise the risk of being negatively impacted by packaging issues and had a longer shelf life. Now, with the new kit, the team is getting to experiment more and really let our minds wander,” concludes Marco.
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