Meet the family-run brewery stealing hearts in Somerset


Cheryl Ford is a formidable figure, being co-founder, managing director and matriarch at Quantock Brewery. Her son, Rhyse, and husband, Rob, both work here as brewer and technical director, and she refers to brewhouse manager James Higgins as somewhat of a “son from another mum”; he’s been working at Quantock since he was 19. Beyond the immediate branches of this family-run business, the team at Quantock is 12 people strong and slowly growing. It has come a long way from the homebrew kit Rob picked up from Boots over 50 years ago, and quickly discarded in favour of a model he could design and build himself. Rob is a nuclear engineer by trade, so the project was in good hands. 

Quantock took its first tentative steps into existence in 2007, but in many ways, changes at the brewery have been most dramatic since 2015, when operations moved into the unit Quantock currently calls home. “If you’d have told me we were going to start putting beer in can and kegs, I’d have argued, saying you can’t put real ale in kegs,” says Cheryl. “But at the end of the day, we don’t want to compromise on flavour, or on good quality ingredients. 

Cheryl, the co-founder

“Here in the South West, a lot of pubs and bars are very food led,” says Cheryl. “So when they’re open and they’re busy they don’t always have time to look after your casks. You can make the best beer in the world, and cuddle and kiss it as much as you like, but at the end of the day you’re hoping the landlord down the road will take good care of it”. 

Cheryl is not the first person to mention this issue on our trip around the South West. We talk to breweries that withdrew contracts with on-trade stockists who couldn’t guarantee the proper storage of cask, so it is interesting to hear about how an alternative approach to the issue has unfolded. 

Of course for Quantock, the decision to migrate to keg and can was also in part driven by financial necessity. With Quantock’s pre-pandemic emphasis being on on-trade sales, lockdown hit the brewery hard. “We had literally just left the 2020 SIBA National Beer Awards as the overall cask champion for Titanium, when we came back here for a drink and a chat – we were all talking about the next beer festival and what was going to be the next beer we've got to brew – and Boris ordered all bars and shops to be shut. And that was it, every route to market we had was gone.”

As challenging a time as that was, the acquisition of a canning line changed everything for Quantock. Having previously outsourced its canning needs to contract packaging agencies, Quantock now had more control over the volume and styles it brewed. “If we just wanted to brew 1000L, or 2000L as opposed to 30,000L, we could do that,” says Cheryl. “We weren’t tied to anybody else’s volume requirements, which then opened the floodgates to all these recipes the team had wanted to try, but hadn’t been able to before in such small volume”. 

Robyn with James, the brewhouse manager and Daniel, the brewer

“We started out with that traditional cask that had to be clear as glass,” says James. “We used American and English hops quite a lot, did a couple of your best bitter, traditional ale styles like a traditional English IPA. These are still all available in bottles and are still very much a part of that side of the business, but as time went on and the market changed, we sort of tried to keep up and change with it. We’re chipping away at gaining reputation for that.”

Cheryl tells us Rob’s traditional recipes from 45 years ago are still brewed, and still loved, but the infrastructure acquired during COVID – which included a new brewhouse and fermenters – has allowed Quantock to come back with a bang. The brewery’s taproom has never been so busy, and online sales are thriving. Cheryl assures us the Quantock journey has been an emotional rollercoaster: “the passion and innovation of the team is second to none. We really love what we do, and when you love what you do, you can’t really go wrong, can you?”

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