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In this audio, Paul Urwin interviews Andrew Cooper who, along with Brett Ellis, founded the Wild Beer Company in 2012.

Brett and Andrew started out by doing things differently and, well, they’ve never stopped! From beers that include exotic ingredients such as oysters and pineapple, to name but two, to their use of modern creative techniques, the Wild Beer Co really does stand out from the crowd.

It’s a modern brewery that focuses on the whole beer-drinking experience. The flavour combinations of the beers make them outstanding in their own right, but considerable thought has also been put into combining the right beer with the right food.

Wild Beer Co

Brett & Andrew

As Andrew puts it: “A lot of our drinks come with a level of culinary sense” and “we take a lot of inspiration from other parts of food and drink”. Their passion and enthusiasm has also led to them receiving the award of Best Drinks Producer at the prestigious BBC Food and Farming Awards.

Incredibly (how do they find the time?) The Wild Beer Co is expanding in other areas as well. From launching gins aligned with the Wild Beer Ethos, to their plans to take beer tourism to a new level in the UK, it’s a fascinating company that lives and breathes innovation and creativity!

Listen to this intriguing interview with Andrew, where he talks about their barrel-ageing and blending processes, their successful crowdcube.com crowdfunding campaign, the new brewery and other plans for the future

To find out more about Wild Beer, please check out the links below:

http://www.wildbeerco.com

https://twitter.com/wildbeerco

Here is the full transcript:

Paul:

Hi. This is Paul Urwin from bigboxcontent.com and today I have the pleasure of talking to Andrew Cooper. Andrew is the co-founder of the Wild Beer Company. This is a brewery, which was founded in 2012 and is famous for its use of wild yeasts and natural ingredients in its beer, and has recently expanded into gin production.

Hi Andrew. Great to have you here. How’s things with you?

Andrew :

Hi Paul. Yeah, we’re very good, thank you. We’re nice and busy, and have a lot going on at the moment. So its happy days and busy times.

Paul:

Okay, brilliant, brilliant. Well Wild Beer or the Wild Beer Company has obviously been very successful and certainly had a great impact on the craft beer market, both in the UK and overseas. But I just wanted to take you back to 2012 or even before that. How did all this get started and where did the idea come from?

Andrew :

So, together myself and Brett Ellis, who founded the company with me, we used work together at another brewery. And we just had ideas, I guess creative ideas around using different ingredients, using different yeasts, and particularly around barrel aging that we wanted to explore. Both for our kind of creative passion, I suppose. But also as a business opportunity, we could see what was happening in other parts of the world. And we felt that the UK market lacked anyone really exploring yeast and barrel aging. And so it was both as a business opportunity and something that was genuinely exciting for us.

Paul:

Okay. Brilliant, brilliant. Didn’t you think that might just be a little bit risky going into something that perhaps was so innovative?

Andrew :

Yeah, and a lot of people told us that we were crazy to do what we were doing and they weren’t really sure if it was a good business idea. But I think we had some level of confidence in what we were doing. We could see this sort of thing working in the US. Historically, it worked in Belgium. And we were just taking those ideas and those inspirations, and putting them into a UK beer market that traditionally is very traditional in its outlook and in its approach. But actually we felt the way that food and drink, and the markets in other food and drink, were really expanding. People were interested in flavor in a way that they hadn’t been before. And it was something that gave us a level of confidence that we could do this.

Paul:

Okay. Fantastic. Can you just explain in a little bit more detail about the barrel aging process and what it is that you do that is so different?

Andrew :

Yeah, I think we approach making beer a bit more in the way that a winemaker approaches his wine, or a spirit blender approaches their projects. And we age beer anywhere from a few months to a number of years. And what we’re looking to do when we do that is get more complexity into the beer. And the key part of that is blending. So, for example, the beer that really started the brewery, or at least the concept for this beer started the brewery, is a beer called Modus Operandi. And with that we brew an old fashioned style of beer called Old Ale, and we put that into both bourbon whiskey casks and burgundy red wine casks, and age those anywhere from 5 or 6 months through to 18 months or more. And then we’ll blend different barrels, and different ages of that beer together. And what you end up with is something that has different layers and complexity to it. And it’s a far more experiential drink than we’re sort of used to having in the UK. It’s not about volume. It’s quite high in ABV at 7%.

Paul:

Yup.

Andrew :

But it’s perfect to have with food, with rich red meats and game. It cuts through. It has a level of acidity to it and a short of cherry pie character, which is particularly delicious especially on a winter’s day.

Paul:

Okay. Brilliant, brilliant. Does it take a long time to find the exact combination of flavor and exact blend that you are looking for? Is there a lot of experimenting going on?

Andrew :

I think there is a level of experimenting but it’s also sort of educated experimenting. We’ve spent 5 years or so at this now and we have a pretty good understanding of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it. And I think in terms of being sour beer makers and barrel agers, we’re definitely still very much in our infancy. In Belgium terms we’d be considered in our infancy for about 30 years. But the experiences we have got led us to be able to experiment, but experiment with a level of knowledge.

Paul:

Okay, okay. Fantastic. Right. Well, moving on to some of these unique flavors, let’s talk lobster, lets talk cockles, pineapple, and many others. How do you combine those ingredients into your beers?

Andrew :

We take a lot of inspiration from other parts of food and drink, be it other drink producers in different fields or from going out and eating a meal. And the lobster beer came about because both Brett and I adore lobster bisque, and we challenged each other one day to a bisque-off over who made the best lobster bisque. And from that came the idea of turning that concept into a beer. And, yeah, it’s definitely out there and it’s a bit of fun.

Paul:

Yeah.

Andrew :

But it’s also nice to try and do stuff to challenge ourselves. Can we incorporate these flavors actually in a really nice beer? And with that one, one of the great surprises is, it’s actually really good to drink.

Paul:

Yeah, it certainly sounds quite outrageous but it absolutely works.

Andrew :

Yeah, it does. And I think a lot of our drinks come with a level of culinary sense. So the pineapple beer, the pineapple its also got spices in there, and pineapple and cinnamon are great together. So when you put those into a beer, you’re actually putting together flavors that have a level of culinary background to them, and I think that’s why often our beers come together pretty well because we’re not just throwing together ingredients, we’re trying to put things together that naturally work in a culinary sense, or are seen maybe in a Michelin-style restaurant, you know, where people are going to experiment and push the boundaries a little bit. But they’re not necessarily going to shy away from some of these flavor combinations.

Paul:

Okay. Fantastic. And how is the craft beer market in general, both within the UK and looking overseas at the moment?

Andrew :

I think it’s a thriving world market right now. In the UK it’s a very competitive market. We’ve got more breweries per capita than any other country in the world but a lot of those are pretty small. So whilst it’s very competitive, there are different breweries with different ambitions. So there’s still a lot of traditional English cask breweries out there but there is a growing number of people who are trying to push the boundaries and trying to do interesting things, and looking at beer in a different way. And I think we’re seeing that around the world, everywhere from Scandinavia to Southern Europe, to Australasia, and East Asia as well. I mean there’s breweries anywhere and everywhere. And I think more and more of them are looking first to the US and what’s going on in the [inaudible 00:08:57], as there are over 5,000 breweries now in the US. But they’re also looking now at what’s happening in Europe, and there are breweries who’ve moved from Europe to the US, and vice versa. And there’s a lot of people looking at where they can put down a brewery and do new things. And I think around the world, it’s an exciting time for beer.

Paul:

Okay. Fantastic, fantastic. Looking at the growth of your business, Andrew, which has obviously been very rapid, how do you raise capital for the business both in general and, in particular, I’d like to talk about the crowd funding campaign that took place earlier this year.

Andrew :

Yeah, we’ve invested a lot in terms of care. We’re always trying to improve the quality of equipment we’re using and that’s been a big part of how we grow. And we’ve always talked about trying to keep our quality care ahead of our growth care. And we’ve just invested an awful lot in a new canning line that allows us to produce much better canned beer than we have done before with much lower dissolved oxygen levels, and a much more consistent product. And working at those kinds of things helps us particularly grow our business but keep that quality there.

And then, in terms of the crowd funding, part of that was we started running out of space on our current site a couple of years ago, and we knew that our long term sort of growth would lead us to needing a new brewery. And so we started plans to build that new brewery a couple of miles away. And the crowd funding campaign was to raise money for that and to be able to grow into that, because over the last couple of years we’ve moved our warehousing offsite here. We’ve actually bought another brewery recently that had gone out of business. And we also have two bars. So we’re now running from 5 sites and we need to bring that back together, and build one big new brewery that allows us to keep growing the business but also showcase what we do, and have a bar and restaurant, a visitor’s center attraction to it. And take beer tourism hopefully to a new level in the UK. And make that not just about beer but about food and drink all around.

And so doing the crowd funding raise was all about enlarging the number of people both invested in the brewery in terms of cash, but in terms of their sort of heartfelt sentiment towards the brewery and increase our team, if you like, so that when we build this new brewery we’ve got new people who’d like to come and visit it.

Paul:

Yeah, absolutely. Okay, very, very good. You talk a lot about the combination of food and drink, and sort of finding the right combination or pairing the right food with the right drink. Could you talk a little bit more about that because you’re clearly not just brewing this amazing beer, you’re clearly focusing on an overall sort of food and drink offering.

Andrew :

Yeah, I think the whole reason that we started this was that Brett and I have a love of food and drink in general. We didn’t start this as purely beer lovers. And so his background is a chef, and my background is running bars and restaurants. And we’ve been involved, not just in beer, but food and drink for a very long time. So I think whenever we’re thinking about new beers, or we’re thinking about ideas for beers, food naturally sits alongside that. And, with a lot of our beers, we’ve almost got a meal in mind when we’re making it, or a culinary idea in mind. I mean, we’ve made everything … some beers like the lobster beer that was almost reminiscent of a dish, we did another one that was based on a [inaudible 00:13:23] soup. And we love kind of culinary flavors and how we can integrate them into beers, or thinking about beers that will work alongside food. And I think both of those things are really important to us.

One of my favorite events we ever did was an 11-course tasting menu, where we had a different beer for every single course, and that was so much fun to do.

Paul:

Yeah.

Andrew :

And to work out those beer and food combinations was brilliant.

Paul:

Well, your passion certainly shines through in all of this Andrew and, therefore, no surprise that you picked up an award at the recent BBC Food Awards. Tell us a little bit about that please.

Andrew :

Yeah, for us this is probably just about as a prestigious award available to us really. It absolutely blew our socks off. We’re weren’t expecting to win this at all, even when we were shortlisted as one of the final three. We thought all of a sudden we were a shoe-in to be honest. But this is an award that originally gets voted by the public and they put forward food, sorry, in our case, drink producers, which then a judging panel put together a short list and come up with the final three. And then they come down and they visit us, and two judges come and have a proper look around, and they both taste it and see it, and talk about it, and all those things. But they then go away, go to the other drink producer finalists and choose a winner.

So it’s one that’s not just an exiting one to win, it’s one that’s actually judged properly, and judged with time and care, and that means an awful lot. And obviously winning a BBC award is a highly prestigious thing and genuinely very exciting for us.

Paul:

No. Many, many congratulations on it. It’s absolutely brilliant. The only thing I’m struggling to understand in all this, Andrew, is how you guys have time for all of these different projects within the same company. You’ve got the bars, you’ve got the gin, you’ve got the beer, you’ve got everything going on. You’re also attending a large number of events, is that right?

Andrew :

Yeah, it is. I think the absolute key to all of that is having unbelievably understanding wives. And without that I don’t think we’d have been able to do half of the amount that we’ve done. Yeah, we go to a hell of a lot of events. I think the craft beer calendar is now hopefully reaching some sort of saturation point, cause we’re all starting to run out of energy a bit. But we attend a lot of things. We did 97 events last year.

Paul:

Wow.

Andrew :

And I know we’re ahead of that this year.

Paul:

Yeah.

Andrew :

And it does get to a point where you think this can’t go on quite like this.

Paul:

But it must be great to have that kind of real interaction that you have with the public and get real honest feedback?

Andrew :

That’s why we do it. Ultimately, part of it for us is we have spoke to a lot of countries, about 27 I think, and supporting those different countries means going there and going to events, and meeting the public, and getting people to taste your wares. And be that in different parts of this country or be that abroad, it’s the most important thing. It’s connecting with people and saying this is what we do, and this is why we do it. And the passion that you talk about that we exude its not just me, it comes across the company, and we’re all very proud of what we do and what we try to do. So it’s great to go and share that with people, and actually find that they’re in some cases just as passionate as we are about our products. And that’s incredibly humbling and exciting all at the same time.

Paul:

Yeah, that must be so fulfilling to encounter people who are real sort of brand advocates, real fans of yours, and really talk about your beers in a positive light. That must be amazing.

Andrew :

It is. Absolutely. And it starts off in year one, you’re super exited that anyone’s just drinking your beer.

Paul:

Yeah.

Andrew :

That’s an amazing feeling. And then you start to travel a bit and you start exporting, and this year I’ve been lucky enough to go to Australia and to find people in Melbourne who were incredibly excited about what we did and even [inaudible 00:18:22] excited to see me was an immensely humbling and exciting thing to do. And it’s an amazing thing that we’ve become part of, and this industry is hugely welcoming, and hugely friendly. And we’ve made great friends both in other breweries around the world, and with bar owners, et cetera, and people are just so excited about beer right now. And anyone who does things a little bit differently, and stands out as doing things differently, has a real opportunity at the moment to really sort of gather the public and take them on a journey with you.

Paul:

Yeah. It’s a whole culture, it’s a whole movement, and you obviously having a great impact on that movement. So many, many congratulations. Finally, Andrew, I just wanted to ask you about the gin that you are currently producing or have plans to produce in the future. Could you tell us a little bit about that please?

Andrew :

Yeah, we’ve always been interested not just in beer. And spirits is something we drink and enjoy, and we kind of always had a plan to take the business into a few other routes, and play with other flavors, and how we could kind of take our ethos from beer and put it into some other things. And we met a local gin company and got on very well with them and did a few events together and things, and we were chatting one day about an idea we had for taking the ethos and style of one of our beers and putting it into a gin. And they kind of said, “Yeah, we’d love to help you do that.” And so we came up with a recipe together, and they messed about with a few different ideas around it, and we came up with something that tasted really good, and that was called Sleepy Lemons Gin. And then we just released our second gin, which is based on another of our beers, and that’s called [inaudible 00:20:25].

Paul:

I like it. Very good. Just one question, Andrew. Who comes up with all of the names? You’ve got some pretty amazing names.

Andrew :

Yeah, it’s something we actually hate doing and we scour our brains and the Internet for certain ideas and concepts around different names and different ingredients that might lead to give us a bit of inspiration on a name. I mean we’ve just got a couple of specials coming out in the next couple of weeks. And when I told a couple of the team the names for those beers, they sort of shook their heads and walked off. So not everyone likes all the names by any stretch of the imagination. It’s a bit of a team effort really.

Paul:

Yeah, yeah. I think the names have an impact as do all of your products, of course. I think that’s very well aligned there. Okay, Andrew. Well, it’s been absolutely fantastic talking to you today. I’ve really, really enjoyed the conversation. You’ve clearly created a great culture within your company. You’ve clearly had fantastic growth. May that continue long into the future. I certainly wish you all the very best with all of your projects. And finally, could you just please tell us, if people want to find out more about the Wild Beer Company, where can they go to?

Andrew :

Thank you for all that Paul. That’s very kind of you. The website address is: wildbeerco.com, as simple as that, wildbeerco.com. And we’re also all over social media on Facebook, and Twitter, and Instagram with @wildbeerco is the handle. And there’s always lots going on, lots of events coming up, and lots of new beers to be released before the end of the year. So it’s exciting times ahead.

Paul:

Okay, brilliant. All right. Well, without further adieu, thank you very much, Andrew. It’s been a great pleasure and all the best.

Andrew :

Cheers Paul.

Paul:

Okay. Cheers. Bye-bye.

Well, very interesting interview there with Andrew Cooper from the Wild Beer Company as Andrew said the website, if you want to find out more is: www.wildbeerco.com. And, if you want to find out more about us, I’m Paul Urwin and you can find me at bigboxcontent.com. Thanks for listening and bye for now.