The devil makes work for idle hands to do

What are brewers doing to keep their spirits up while they wait for this immense grey cloud to pass?


Without routine, life can seem so very vast. In the days following the announcement of lockdown, hundreds of motivational instructions in the form of peppy social media posts appeared, encouraging those of us not engaged in vital keywork to maintain a sense of routine to organise our days up. Even if you’re resistant to pep, if we’re going to be in our homes for the foreseeable future, it can’t hurt to try and accept that our lives have changed, even if we’re still working, and try to pick up some new hobbies to help fill the time between waking, working and sleeping.

Brewers have got it quite tough at the moment. Alcohol has been considered somewhat essential, and thanks to the support of drinkers across the land, many are continuing to make beer for us to drink in the safety of our homes. So, even if their days are disjointed and odd thanks to the lockdown, they’re still pretty busy. When I spoke to Alice Batham, brewer at Thornbridge Brewery, about what she was getting up to outside of work, she firmly proved this:

“I’d love to talk to you about my lockdown hobbies,” she said, “But I’m still working flat out at the brewery!” Which is good news, of course. Alongside new beers being canned and sent out in double-quick time (hello Pondera), Thornbridge’s new special edition beer “Florence” is about to launch, with all proceeds heading to the NHS.

But not all breweries are still operating at full capacity. Many have had to completely change the way they operate, or slow down operations to cope with fewer and furloughed staff.

Some are sadly closed for the foreseeable, and some are using this time to update and get their heads together. That means there’s some unexpected time to fill, that might otherwise have been filled with events and tap rooms and festivals and pub quizzes. So I wanted to know: what are brewers doing to keep their spirits up while they wait for this immense grey cloud to pass?

Fermenting and Pickling

Some brewers have had to adapt to suit a new way of getting their beer to the people who love it. At Abbeydale Brewery, Head Brewer Jim Rangeley is working just as hard as ever, flexing to fit a new, unusual status-quo.

“We are brewing a lot less — about 15% of our usual production,” he explains. “Minikegs have taken a massive step up, but the margins are small. However we’ve taken delivery of our own canning line meaning we can package more beer into cans — our core line plus some more to be confirmed. The line was due to be coming anyway, it’s just turned up at a relatively fortuitous time.”

And how do brewers chill when they’re not able to get out to the pub?

“Aside from going on a run or a walk each day I’ve been fermenting at home more — I’ve got some medlar chilli sauce on the go. Also a kimchi solera, and some garlic ginger paste too.”

Pickling, fermenting and sauce-making has definitely become a top locked-down brewer pastime. Chris Clough, brewer and co-owner of Torrside Brewery has had some furloughed time at home, and among other things, has been busy whipping up his own preserves.

“I’m taking it easy for a change, mostly cooking, reading and dog-walking,” he says. “Nothing very radical! We’re re-opening the brewery soon to do some packaging and local deliveries and I can’t wait to get back there. But we’re only planning to stay open for a fortnight, and then expecting to re-furlough for another three weeks.”

So what’s he been doing with his furloughed time when he’s felt able to get things done? Fermenting stuff?

“That was the original plan actually, but then practicality set in and I converted my fermentation fridge back into a regular beer fridge! I’m mainly making sauces and chutneys, mainly Japanese sauces from Tim Anderson’s fantastic book Japan Easy. I did also make an imperial stout and rum BBQ sauce though.”

Yes please.

Trying To Chill

Charlotte Cook, one of Cloudwater’s star brewers, has spent her lockdown time with her parents in the Highlands of Scotland. Being isolated during lockdown might sound a little too isolatey to some people, but for Charlotte it was definitely the right decision. When I called her she was out on her daily walk.

“IIt’s beautiful up here, I’m enjoying heading out for a walk every day,” she says, making me very jealous. “I’ve not been back this long since I was 18 so in a way I’m trying to make the most of it — to use this as a time for self-betterness, to be out in nature and not lose my strength for when I get back to the brewery.”

Away from the brewery by some several hundred miles, I asked her how she’s filling her days in-between moments of virus-based panic.

“It’s all depressingly wholesome to be honest. I’m doing yoga every day, I might as well! And I’m taking care of my parents — driving my dad to dialysis, cooking kidney-friendly food… did you know that there is kidney-friendly food? There is!”

“We’ve also built some raised beds for vegetables in the garden too, and I’m feeding the chicken every day, which is nice. She doesn’t have a name. Just The Chicken.”

DIY and Distractions

Of course, childcare during lockdown is a whole different situation. Stacey Ayeh from Rock Leopard Brewery has been spending most of his spare time trying to keep the kids (and himself) entertained.

“We have to keep going, thinking positive,” he says. “The other option is to wallow and that’s not an option.”

“Over the past few weeks like lots of other people I’ve had to become a teacher, and the rest of the time we’ve been working on puzzles, playing games, making a herb garden into a vegetable patch… keeping ourselves busy and happy.”

We have to keep going, thinking positive...

He’s also spent his down-time making a picnic bench for the local squirrels.

“I saw a tweet that had blown up with a photo of a squirrel eating at a tiny picnic bench and I wanted to give it a go.” Well, why wouldn’t you?

“We tried all different foods and a squirrel started to appear! It took 21 days to get it to use the bench in the end… it was a lot of effort and we had detractors in the house, but now everyone’s involved. Everyone wants to get pictures and video proof that the squirrel is coming back.”

Over at Salt Beer Factory, beers are still being brewed at a fantastic rate, and when I asked, spare time wasn’t really something head brewer Colin Stronge had a surplus of at the moment.

“I’m still at the brewery 4-5 days a week and Vik is still working full time as well, and obviously we’ve got no childcare at the mo. So a little frazzled!”

“Funnily enough I was just thinking I need to get a hobby, I’ve been so engrossed in beer making (and consuming) for so long I’ve forgotten a lot of the stuff I used to love doing! I’ve started getting back into cooking and trying to cook a lot more veggies. My little one just loves them and we’re trying to eat less meat generally.”

“As far as getting stuff done goes, I’ve been looking after the garden more and we’ve just ordered lots of paint to decorate the hallway and the spare bedroom. There’s a couple of big fields and a wood round the back of our house so we’re getting out for our daily sanity walk there.”

In Keighley, Wishbone Brewery there’s no brewing going on, but there’s still a lot to be getting on with.

“We’re converting cask stock in our coldstore to 10L boxes at the moment,” explains Adrian Chapman, owner and head brewer at Wishbone Brewery. “If I was to look ahead a little I can see that we may have to brew our gluten free beer Greenflute at some point, closely followed by Tiller Pin. I’d have to work a full week alone in the brewery if this happens, I guess it’s a good thing... but I’m sort-of enjoying this forced holiday!”

Adrian isn’t bored because he’s spending his time getting back into creating electronic music.“I’ve had various bits of gear over the years, no actual musical knowledge but I enjoy messing around,” he says.

“I’ve always had an interest in electronic music and over the last couple of years I’ve

re-kindled things, first from using Reason, and then getting back into hardware synths and drum machines.”

“Most recently I’ve been playing with a Eurorack Modular Synth which is basically all the small elements of a synthesiser but you get to patch them up in any manner you feel. It’s a lovely thing to pull all the patch cables out and that great sounding thing you were working on is gone and it’s time to start a new patch.”

“It’s liberating to approach music in this disposable way and every time it’s a new path or experiment. It’s all a bit expensive though so I end up selling stuff I don’t want on eBay to fund my new addiction.”

For the synth-aware, Adrian’s current kit (at the time of writing this) was his Eurorack, AKAI Pad controller, Yamaha mixer and Roland Boutiques SH-01, TR-09 and TB-03. If you fancy hearing his creations in action, find him on twitter at @wishbonebrewery.

While brewers are finding new mild obsessions to tide them over, they’d probably all rather be brewing.

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