12th Apr 2017 | Interviews
Q&A: Buxton Brewery
Peak District-based Buxton Brewery produce some of the country’s most respected and sought after beer. Here we talk to the founder Geoff Quinn about the secret of his success, collaboration, and the future
You stared Buxton Brewery in 2009, which seems a long time ago by modern standards. Did you imagine the beer scene developing the way it has done?
In 2009 I think there were around 700 breweries in the UK and today there are around double that number. Many have also closed in the same period, some having failed quickly, others, which were more established, failed to keep pace with the quickly evolving market. So to have a net increase in breweries that large means huge change in the brewing scene. I don’t think anyone really saw this coming, and we’re still all on the trajectory, and it’s not yet clear what the short and medium term future holds. Many would argue that the diversity of beer available right now means it’s a great time to be a beer drinker, others might reason that there are now far more breweries than there are qualified, experienced brewers, and that standards have stagnated if not fallen, across the board. The next couple of years may well see a retraction in the market, and the number of breweries may fall. As long as the standard of beer being produced is maintained at a high level, then there is no reason why further growth can’t be enjoyed by the industry.
What was the ethos you started out with?
When I started the brewery, it was tiny, really tiny. Eighty litres, not much bigger than a decent home-brew setup, and it cost about £500. My ethos was to try and make good, honest, tasty beer. This is still what underpins what we do today, even though our batch size has grown to 3,400 litres, and we have the equipment, resources and people to make some spectacular beers. Back in 2009, Thornbridge, BrewDog, Dark Star and the like were the names that were on people’s lips in terms of beer that was interesting, delicious, progressive and well made. I wanted to shape Buxton into the same format. I started small and conservative, and grew organically as the market both permitted, and demanded. The recession was hitting hard and the the general economic outlook was gloomy. I lost count of how many people warned me about quitting the day job to start a brewery up. Slow, steady growth and continual re-investment led us to where we are today.
Many of your beers are named after local landmarks. Do you think the Peak District landscape influences your brews?
We do use the local landscape, and, in particular, local climbing areas to help name our brews. Whether the landscape influences what we do in a direct way or not, I’m not sure. We’re all certainly inspired by the beauty of the National Park, and love living and working among it all. There are beers we’ve made that have used foraged local ingredients and we’d love to do more of that in the future. Our real influence comes from the imagination and enthusiasm of the people who work at Buxton, and other beers and styles that we enjoy from other breweries around the world.
As well as a solid core range, Buxton makes a huge range of specials – how do you go about choosing what to make next?
We don’t really consider our range as ‘core’ and ‘special’. Rather we make the beers that are in demand, or that we forecast will be in demand, alongside scheduling new beers from the list of styles we’d like to try and make a decent interpretation of. The seasons influence choice of beers, often we’ll be brewing big heavy Imperial Stouts in the spring and summer so that we can age them in wood in time for release that winter or the following winter. The new year period often involves development of a new pale ale or IPA for release in the spring. Diversity of styles has always been at the heart of what we do, and it’s not unusual for us to make upward of 20 new beers in a year, which involves a lot of development and planning from the recipe and ingredients, scheduling, graphic design and roll-out plans. We’ll always be proud of launching a Double IPA called Two Ton one night in April 2015, simultaneously at 35 different bars across eight countries.
What do you think sets Buxton apart from other breweries?
I think we have a good reputation for making consistently good beers, across a wide range of styles, along with the much less ’sexy’ but nonetheless imperative, excellent customer service. We were (as far as we know) the first brewery to move away from direct sales and beer lists to offer all of our stock online to our trade customers to pick and chose from and build orders from what is available, including as yet un-packaged, and even un-brewed batches. Also, we’re not afraid to have a go at something unfamiliar or try something a little ‘left-field’. Pulling these kinds of beers off regularly, alongside maintaining a catalogue of well known ‘regulars’, is one of the biggest challenges we face. Having the team in place to plan and develop, then brew, package, sell and distribute them helps place us among the top end of breweries.
How do you see Buxton developing in the next year? What are your plans?
Having expanded into a new location and new brewhouse in 2013, alongside renovating and opening our Tap House, we’ve enjoyed a year or so of relative calm whilst we consolidated our internal practices and developed new ways of doing things, better and more efficiently. Continually working away on a steep growth curve is exhausting and draining both on the team, and on the cash flow. Having had a bit of a period of consolidation, we’re now developing our strategy for the next 3-5 years and making plans for how we shift up to the next gear. We have an amazing (small) team here who all understand how and why we do things and there is a shared ambition to see where we can help take UK brewing in the near future. Exciting times lay ahead.
Some of the beers have become modern classics. If there is one Buxton beer everyone should try what is it, and why?
It would be easy to mention something like ‘Axe Edge’ or ‘Imperial Black’ as these beers are almost becoming synonymous with Buxton and therefore ones to definitely try, however, some of our lesser known beers such as Trolltunga (a gooseberry sour IPA we brewed with Norway’s Lervig Aktiebryggeri) or Red Raspberry Rye (a raspberry Berliner) should be on the list. However, as ‘one beer you must try’ I’d suggest ‘Yellow Belly Sundae’ as this beer represents a time when we just nailed the base beer, it’s also a collaboration with Sweden’s Omnipollo. The barrels we aged the beer in were amazing, and the maturation and blending resulted in what I think is one of the best beers we’ve ever released. (Either that, or Battle Horse, Black IPA, or Very Far Skyline BA Berliner Weisse)….
Which other breweries are you enjoying at the moment?
I’m enjoying drinking brews from small local breweries when I find them in the Derbyshire pubs. I also love pretty much everything that To Øl and Omnipollo are doing (besides our collabs!). The Kernel are still one of my top picks for a really tasty, well made IPA or big stout.
And finally, gazing into a crystal ball, how do you see the beer scene developing in the coming years?
Onward and upward really. The rise in popularity of micro-breweries doesn’t look like slowing down. As long as quality and substance are prioritised over hype and trends then the craft beer segment should continue to enjoy growth and increasing engagement with the wider drinking public.