Setting up a brewery can be quite a daunting task at the best of times, let alone when you have a full time job. That didn't put off the three intrepid brewers at Three Blind Mice Brewery near Ely. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to spend a bit of time with them to get to know why and how they did this as well as what their plans for the future are.
On a sunny but blustery Saturday afternoon I dropped my partner off in the historic market town of Ely, so that she could go and enjoy the wool shops, while I headed over to meet the guys, Dan, Stu and Alex from Three Blind Mice Brewery. I have previously tried a number of their beers in the pubs of Cambridge and was very excited to get a chance to meet them and get to learn a bit more about what they are up to.
Where did the name come from? "Well it was all a bit of the blind leading the blind, and as there are three of us it really works. Hopefully we are a bit more informed now though!"
How did you guys get started in the world of brewing? "The three of us were a bit skint so decided to try home brewing as it worked out cheaper than buying it from the shops. We started with a kit and thought it was a bit bland so rapidly moved onto extract brews and then full grain brews. One thing led to another and over a three year period where we must have brewed about 50 different types of beer, building our experience the whole time, and sharing our brews with friends and family and receiving some great feedback. Then one day we were in the pub sharing some brews with friends when the landlord tried some, and couldn't believe it was homebrew. He then told us we needed to be making this stuff and selling it."
What challenges did you face in setting up? "[laughs] Where to begin? Getting the kit we bought from China off the back of the lorry was hard enough as we couldn't even get into the container! Then we had no forklift to get the thing out of the container and over to the unit and no pulleys or crane to lift into place. We muddled through and managed to get it all into place without any damage. Our brewery is a 6 barrel brewery, brewing about three times a month to produce 15-20 barrels a month. HMRC and Public Health were really open with us which made the whole process easier but, completing a HACCP plan (Hazards Analysis and Critical Control Points) was a bit more difficult due to our lack of experience. It can also be really difficult to scale from 40 pint to 1000L and keep the same flavours so we had to experiment with that a few times to make sure we were getting the same flavours in the beer. Also we didn't realise our second biggest expense would be the casks! and that we required a hop supply contract for a year in advance."
Launching must have been fun, how did you announce yourselves to the public? "Our aim was to make our debut at the Ely Winter Ale Festival 2014, with a single hop Amarillo called Pale Ale No.1. But it was a bit touch and go as to whether or not the beer would be ready in time. As well as helping organise the festival, doing a day job, building a brewery, we had a new baby join the group as well. So there wasn't much sleep going on! It all worked out well though and our beer was well received. One of the main things when starting out was that it is tough building a reputation but once people get to know who you are then it starts to become a bit easier and a bit more self sustaining. It also helps that we have won some awards: a Gold Medal for Best Beer from a New Brewery at Peterborough Beer Festival 2014 for 'To Pea or not to Pea'; second place at Cambridge Beer Festival 2015 for beer of the Beer Festival with Table Liquor and a silver medal at Peterborough Beer Festival 2015 in the Specialty Beer Class for Half wit."
So seeing as you mentioned your beers, what is your inspiration and what do you try and brew? "We have a gas heated boiler instead of an electric one. We find it gives us a better depth of flavours and some caramel hints as well. We have also recently had a chilled fermenter installed meaning we can now brew lagers. Our beers range from our sessionable English Pale Ale Table Liquor (2.8%) to Dirty Goulash a Stout (8.2%) and everything in between. We tend to try everything Black IPA, Double IPA, English Bitter, American Blonde Ale, Witbier, Porter and an Irish Red Ale. So long as it's good we'll brew it."
What are your future plans? "Some of us are looking to become full time brewers now that we are up and running. We are also looking into the possibility of buying or renting a bottling facility or canning plant to get our beers into the hands of more people. We'll continue going to local beer festivals, but really our main aim is to just keep on brewing really good tasty beers where we try and use as many local ingredients as possible. Local providence is a big thing for us."
I was thoroughly impressed with the passion that these guys have. The fun and their enjoyment really shines through in what they do. I wouldn't exactly call it the blind leading the blind anymore, if anything they are a leading light showing the way for other local brewers in the area.