Pints through a lens

Katie Taylor meets the photographer celebrating the women of the south-west beer scene


Bristol-based Nicci Peet spends her life watching the beer scene bloom up around her with precise, curious eyes, always watching for the best light to go with the freshest beer. Nicci is a photographer, photojournalist and activist within the beer industry and beyond; a quiet riot under a dark fringe and warm smile. An interest in beer led Nicci to pursue photography inside the industry, as well as outside in the midst of the revellers. Four years after moving her life and her heart into Bristol, she’s seen gradual changes that have moved the beer scene along gently but irreversibly, in a direction she didn’t see coming.

“There’s been such an increase in the number of bottle shops,” she said. “Thinking about it, I’m surprised at the number we have now. In a project I worked on called Beer Cities in 2016, I shot 35mm photos of some of the best and most famous bars and bottle shops in Bristol, and some of most highly-regarded locally. Brew was a homebrew and bottle shop that was a part of our scene back then, and sadly - really sadly actually - it’s shut down since I worked on that collection. But, at the same time, we’ve had so many shops open: Bottles and Books, Coffee + Beer, Two Belly, Brewtique, Corks of Cotham…”

Is it safe to say, looking at those shop names, that Bristol’s beer scene is as much about experience as well as it is about beer? Nicci says: “Mainly yes, but sometimes no. We’ve got so many good pubs in the centre, but I live outside in an area called Fish Ponds. In more suburban areas like where I am, a few craft beer-style bars have opened, with the look and feel of these cooler, DIY-style places, but for a slightly older clientele. They tend to just sell cask, but because local breweries like Arbour make cask, they’re still new beers people are excited to try.”

There’s a huge number of breweries in Bristol, and Nicci’s glad they’re opening tap rooms too. “Somebody told me we’ve got the most breweries per capita. What’s surprising, but very ‘Bristol’, is that they don’t really compete; they’re all different enough to stand up on their own. In the three years since I worked on the Beer Cities project, brewery tap rooms have become my favourite way to drink - they have that relaxed pub atmosphere rather than being super busy or full of people out on the lash like some of the city centre bars get at weekends. It suits Bristol too - everywhere you go you see ‘shop local’, so people are preferring to go straight to their favourite brewery’s source.”

There’s something else about Bristol’s beer scene that Nicci’s proud of. “At the moment, people who work in the brewing industry in Bristol are split pretty much 50/50 men and women. A lot of the breweries here are co-owned by women and men partner teams, and women are integral to their businesses. I set up my Women In Beer project to raise awareness - there are women out there doing vital work in the beer industry, but for whatever reason, they aren’t being seen or heard. In my photos, you can see the women behind the beer you love, whose work is essential to their brewery’s success.”

Nicci’s activism speaks to many members of the beer community. Women In Beer showcases images of women who brew, manage, support or market beer in the UK, and celebrates their work in what’s often seen as a male-dominated sphere. On top of this, Nicci’s work documents the history of craft beer as we live it, so we never lose sight of how our scene has evolved in different ways, in different areas, for different reasons.

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