“Ein Bier bitte”
An Englishman and a Dutchman walk into a bar… but it wasn’t the bar they were looking for. Neither was the next, or the one after that.
The Baby Goat
Saturday 23 September 2023
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Chris Newman and Thomas Van Doorn had long been friends by the time they found themselves on holiday together, searching for The Baby Goat, a bar they’d been recommended but couldn’t for the life of them find. The pair returned to Hamburg, where they’d been living for several years, having never found the elusive bar. As well as being a running joke, over time their rigorous search for The Baby Goat became a metaphor of sorts, which brought home the reality that perhaps the kind of pub Chris and Thomas wanted to drink great beer in was one they’d have to build themselves.
But that’s getting ahead of how the story began. “To begin with, we wanted to see if we could pique an interest in craft beer within Germany, and particularly Hamburg, where we are,” says Chris. “That movement is visible and recognisable here, but it's not a movement which has the sort of super momentum it has in our respective home countries. We felt it was something that we really wanted to try and bring initially just to our friendship groups, and connections within Hamburg.”
Over the course of 2018 Chris and Thomas’s shared-flat-turned-makeshift-brewery reached the limit of what a residential space could offer some aspiring brewers. Each was undertaking a remote-learning masters in brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt. By the time they were qualified brewers running popup bars around Hamburg, they knew enough about the challenges of the German retail market to know that trying to build a brand while covering the overheads of a newly-bought brewery made their chances of survival – never mind success – slim.
With sensible, slow growth in mind, the pair invested in a two hectolitre pilot kit they operated from a garage lockup, scaled their recipes by contracting through a network of trusted breweries, and decided to grow an on-trade network of their own, that would celebrate pub and bar culture, a central tenet of craft beer in their respective home countries. The Baby Goat was born in 2019, mere months before the onset of the pandemic, which Chris and Thomas took as an opportunity to renovate a tiny space, in the famous neighbourhood of Grindelhof, that would become their pie and ale pub, The House. It was the first independent on-trade outlet for The Baby Goat’s beer.
The success of The Baby Goat’s beer in The House and other gastronomic spaces – venues that Chris says the brand has done really well in, perhaps on account of consumers there being more open to new experiences – allowed it to open a second, much larger venue, just under two years later, in the vibrant neighbourhood of St Pauli. Chris is grateful that The Baby Goat’s journey led them to this dynamic area, where residential space and superb nightlife live harmoniously. He says during the week, locals drop by for a casual after-work pint, and on the weekend, party goers enjoy the onsite pizzeria with a couple of quality beers before carrying on to a club.
“The most fun thing about this whole journey has been playing around with the fact that you're in this incredibly classic beer market,” says Chris. “While that has its challenges, it also offers a very unique opportunity to offer something different. So often here in Hamburg, people ordering at a bar will literally say ‘I’d like a beer please’, so it’s been incredibly interesting and rewarding to just try and gently draw the consumer away from their automatic choice and open them up to the options available to them in the beer space. So yeah, from where we are currently, we feel very fortunate not to have made that massive upfront investment on a brewery, given we probably wouldn't have been able to welcome guests into this kind of environment.”
While The Baby Goat continues to make hospitality its priority, it hasn’t lost sight of aspirations to grow its brand awareness in Hamburg, other major German cities, and beyond. With The Baby Goat’s beers now being distributed around the Netherlands, the brand is currently looking for a UK importer and distributor. Chris would love friends and family back home in Reading to be able to pick up a Baby Goat beer whenever they fancy one. However slow growth manifests for The Baby Goat – whether that be a brewery of its own, a shared brewing space co-run with other breweries around Hamburg, or a healthy distribution network around Europe – I daresay the bars will remain the beating heart of this brand.
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