‘Decide your own life, don't let another person run or rule you’ is an old Hobo saying which could easily apply to any micro or small business start-up, and this is the guiding principle behind Gun Brewery in East Sussex, an independent microbrewery and brainchild of two friends, Toby Smallpiece and Mark Berry.
On a warm, autumn day in October, we paid Mark a visit at their brewery situated on a 140-acre organic mixed farm on Gun Hill in the beautiful Sussex Weald. It’s a pretty idyllic setting by any workplace standard, especially if you’re interested in brewing, craft beers or simply drinking beer in general, which is a sizable percentage of the UK population.
It’s the rural life we love. I feel lucky to come to work here every day
Over recent years, there’s been a quiet revolution in the way people drink and make beer and Gun Brewery is part of a growing movement. Small brewers, working with enthusiasm and great ingredients and without the constraints of large corporations, have sprung up all across the UK, and East Sussex has become a destination of choice for independent brewers. The lower set-up costs, compared to other parts of the South East, and grants available to buy specialist kit, along with the close proximity to London and Brighton are part of the county’s appeal. As Mark says, ‘It’s a great location, we’re just close enough to the city as we need to be, It’s the rural life we love, and I feel lucky to come to work here every day’
Gun Brewery started just three years ago, when both friends decided to leave the daily hustle and bustle of city life behind them, following the discovery of a spring source deep below the organic land on Toby’s family’s farm. After some deliberation about what they could do with a water source, the pair, with their only brewing experience being Mark’s experimentation with home brewing during his University days in Southampton, set their sights on setting up their own craft brewery. They soon sourced brewing expertise in the form of “Pete the Brewer”. Pete learnt his craft in the mecca of UK brewing, Sheffield, with time spent at both Thornbridge and Magic Rock.
The brewery itself is in a converted barn, which took the best part of 18 months to renovate. The complexity of the pipework and water filtration system, which Toby designed and installed himself, is testament to the friends’ skills and dedication, and their obvious passion for what they do. The natural spring water is micro-filtered and UV treated to ensure its purity without the need for chemicals. It’s crystal clear and tastes great.
Sustainability is clearly important to Mark and Toby and they tread lightly on their natural surroundings. The brewery is powered by solar energy with additional heating from a wood boiler, and the spent grains are used to keep the local livestock happy.
It’s a great location, we’re just close enough to the city as we need to be, but it’s the rural life we love. I feel lucky to come to work here every day.Mark Berry Co-founder of Gun Brewery
One reason why craft beer is better than mass-produced beer is that it just tastes nicer. Craft beer is all about combinations and subtleties of flavour. Big breweries produce the equivalent to an Olympic-sized swimming pool of beer daily, but you won’t find any boring watered-down lagers cleaned with isinglass (an agent made from swim bladders of fish to make the beer look clear), at Gun Brewery. 'We don't think that's the way to go, our beer is naturally hazy, unfined and suitable for vegans', as Mark continues 'people are happy to drink hazy beer these days anyway, it's just yeast.'
Once you’ve tasted quality, it’s hard to go back
We were lucky to be taken around the grain and hop stores to sample the zesty, floral aromas and delicious grains and malts that make up Gun Brewery’s special blends including their signature extra pale ale, Scaramanga. They recently won a top award in the SIBA South East Independent Beer Awards for their Imperial Whisky stout, packaged in a 330ml can, a format growing in popularity with independent craft breweries across the UK. Described as having flavours of dark chocolate, coffee, black treacle and hints of Bourbon Oak, it’s a big and full flavoured beer – and at over 7% not for the feint hearted.
Mark agreed that it’s a great time to get into the brewing business. Their beers are targeted at the rapidly growing local and national craft beer market, driven by demand from a younger generation. ‘Once you’ve tasted quality, it’s hard to go back’, says Mark. We’re becoming a far more sophisticated nation of foodies and drinking buffs, which means good business in small communities. Mark would like to see more brewers set up locally and would encourage anyone to get into the brewing business if it’s a dream of theirs. ‘We need competition to create a market. It’s healthy’.
As you drive down the long winding lane towards the brewery, you’re met with curious wooden symbols nailed to posts. Mark explains; “It’s an old hobo sign that means Man With Gun Lives Here. A hobo was simply a migratory labourer: he may have taken some longish holidays but sooner or later he returned to work. To help cope with its uncertainties, hobos developed a system of signs, which they would chalk on walls to provide directions, information and warnings to others.”
But fear not, says Mark, ‘our beer won’t force you to raise your hands any higher than your lips.’
As Gun Brewery embark on the next phase in their growth journey, Locate East Sussex is pleased to be helping Toby and Mark to bring their beer to a wider audience. We’ve supported them from the early stages with business advice and grants to purchase highly specialist brewing equipment and to help with training to use the machinery. They’ve also purchased a delivery van and more casks for their products to reach over 1,000 pubs across Sussex and London. Overall, they have hired five people, including their head brewer Peter Dakin, packaging and canning operator and brewing assistant, and added to the economy of East Sussex. Most recently, they have acquired their own canning facility to meet the new demand for canned craft beer.
To find out how Locate East Sussex can help your business, email us.
Image Credits: Caitlin Lock