The last 12 months have been tough for Simple Things Fermentations, owner Phil Sissons hopes next year will be easier
Around this time last year I was brewing the first two beers from my new brewery in Glasgow, determined to get them into shops for Christmas. It was one of the most difficult and stressful things I’ve ever done, but ultimately it was a success and the beers sold well. In January I continued to be stressed, but I looked forward to a year of steady growth, a summer of beer festivals and seeing my pump clips and keg badges starting to appear in pubs and bars up and down the country. Clearly 2020 hasn’t gone the way I, or anyone else, expected.
The original plan was two-pronged: ‘quieter’ styles, those seen less often on the shelves, in bottle conditioned form; and more mainstream styles in cask and keg. As it turned out, it was a Monday in mid-March before I filled the first kegs and, of course, that was the day Boris advised us all to stay at home and avoid visiting pubs for a while. Unsurprisingly, I’ve sold very little in keg or cask since then and not having the ‘shop window’ of pubs, bars and beer festivals has made publicity more difficult than it would normally be.
It’s been far from doom and gloom though. During the first week of lockdown I was able to get my license application approved, allowing me to start selling directly to the public online. The web store was always part of the plan as I’d envisioned this being the means by which beer geeks nationwide could find the quirky styles I was bottling. Free local delivery was available from the start and the response was incredible, with much of the beer remaining within a couple of miles of the brewery. As people stayed at home with more spare time, more disposable income and an urge to support a local business, the orders kept coming.
I’m not sure if there’s ever been a time when things have changed so often, so quickly and for so long. For me, like many others, it has meant constantly evolving the plan. It was great to see my new local customers enjoying Scottish Light and Foreign Extra Stout, but Glasgow likes a lager. I loosened the self-imposed rules, reached for the Pilsner malt and set the fermentation temperature to chill. Celebrating variety is still the ethos, but the geek factor has been dialled back a bit.
As the restrictions were eased over the summer, I did manage to get a few casks and kegs out, but it was a short window and at no point did it feel like a good time to be selling beer to pubs. So almost a year into the business, it continues to be bottle conditioned beer that’s paying the bills. The same independent shops who supported me when I finally managed to get the first two beers done one week before Christmas last year (not the best time to start trying to sell to bottle shops, as I discovered) are still some of my best customers, and the good folks of Glasgow’s Southside are enjoying having Table Beer, Peated Pale Ale and Best Bitter delivered to their door. Despite me not being able to get out and about much, word continues to spread and bottles go to new parts of the UK every week.
At the end of 2020 I’m just pleased that I’m still here and grateful to have had some nice things happen along the way; all the more so for having been unexpected and largely unplanned – or planned on the hoof. Hopefully, the keg badges and pump clips will start to appear next year.
Phil Sissons established Simple Things Fermentations in late 2019, it is a small brewery based in Glasgow’s Southside. The beers available through the Simple Things web store www.simplethingsfermentations.com/shop
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