THE Freedom Brewery has just toasted another 12 months of success. After years of organic growth, it now has beer in 170 pubs across the country. Advertiser reporter JOHN CROSSLEY went to the Crown in Elford, between Edingale and Whittington, to get a taste of the company’s latest venture matching beer with food. The husband and wife team behind the brewery talk craft lager, pubs, and the state of the brewing industry.
IT has been a whirlwind few years for Ed and Susan Mayman who took over the freedom Brewery, in Bagots Park, near Abbots Bromley, in 2008.
Ed came from an engineering background and Susan previously worked in marketing.
But months later there was controversy.
The brewery was thrown out of the Campaign for Real Ale’s (CAMRA) summer beer festival at Burton Town Hall in September.
Bosses from CAMRA’s head office would not let the brewery take part in the festival in Burton because it used carbon dioxide to force lager out of the keg, rather than compressed air.
It was Freedom’s first time at the festival and it made front page news in the Mail, something Mr Mayman now looks back on with a wry smile.
“It gave us a boost we weren’t expecting and we got so many orders off of the back of it,” he said.
“The support from the Burton branch of CAMRA was great. We still laugh about it now.” Fast forward two-and-a-half years and the brewery is going from strength to strength — it now employs 10 full-time and two part-time staff.
Only last month two of its beers scooped gold medals at the highlycoveted Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) keg beer competition.
The freedom Four brew won the Champion Pale and Golden Lager category only a year after it was launched.
The freedom Dark Lager also won gold in the Champion Speciality Beers category.
So a quick sample of each of these was definitely in order.
Freedom Four is a big-hitter, yet so easy to drink. It’s a light pale lager at four per cent alcohol by volume, packed with flavour.
The dark lager has a great malty edge, and it is easy to see why it won that top prize.
The brewery’s latest venture is to match their beer with food in a bid to get lagerdrinkers trying something different.
“We want people to experience everything that we do,” said Susan.
“You don’t tend to get that mentality with lager drinkers but that is something that we want to change.
“The hardest thing is getting our beer to stand out at the bar. But once you make that investment the pubs and customers do then tend to be loyal to you.” Trying something new and experimenting with food and beer fits into this ethos, she said.
It was time to tuck in.
First up was a bucket of mussels served with chilli and Freedom Four lager.
Fish in a Freedom Pilsner batter was next. The batter was so light, it felt like it was melting on the tongue. The tastes were phenomenal.
Then chicken pie which had been cooked in a stout. It was slightly creamy, yet it had a distinct kick to it — chicken with added edge.
Steak pie cooked with Freedom Stout was, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.
Freedom might well be on to a winner and it will not be long before the recipe cards are being given away to its customers for free.
After I had polished off four plates of food, Susan and Ed sat down to talk beer and brewing.
Freedom now has beer in 170 pubs across the country, but Susan said that the brewery did not want to try to make a break for Britain’s supermarkets.
“For our on-trade customers it allows them that exclusivity which fits in with what we do,” she said, before adding it meant they also did not have to pay for a costly marketing campaign.
They are now gearing up for launch of a brand new beer next month. They are hoping this fills a gap in their portfolio of products.
The first batch of the new 4.6 per cent ‘middle- of-the-range’ lager is only weeks away from being ready.
However, like many others in the industry, they are waiting nervously to see what Chancellor George Osbourne has in store in the Budget.
“We are calling for the Government to take it easy on the duty when the Budget is announced,” Ed said.
“The cider industry seems to get away with it every year.
“With people being able to sell beer so cheaply in the supermarkets it’s no wonder that people aren’t going into pubs anymore.
“People are going out less, but what they do want is a better experience from that night out,” Ed continued.
“They want more bang for their buck and they are becoming more discerning — but that is something that we can offer.” He said it was a ‘great shame’ that so many pubs were shutting down. Around six a month are closing their doors across the country, according to CAMRA.
However, this may offer new opportunities with craft beer and real ale sales looking to be resurgent in the face of economic doom and gloom.
“It is all happening at once because of the recession,” Ed said.
“A lot of micro-breweries are opening and doing well at a time when pubs are closing.
“Having a pub associated with the brewery gives the chance to showcase the beers as well as being a good revenue stream.” He said the Burton Bridge Brewery, in Bridge Street, Burton, was a great example of this. But would they ever think about going down a similar route? “If the right person knocked on our door we would think about it,” Ed said.
“Holding our hands up, we don’t know enough about running a pub to do it ourselves.
“A Freedom pub could showcase our beers — it would be something we would consider, but we are so busy as it is running the brewery and it is growing so quickly. You will have to watch this space on that one!”