Derby Telegraph: New brewer Jon Archer gets his feet under the table at Repton’s Boot Brewery
by The Derby Telegraph
When Alan Shepherd left Bespoke Inns earlier this year, the Boot Brewery, based at the company’s Boot pub at Repton suddenly needed a new brewer.
That could be a daunting prospect for a small brewery. The transition needs to be seamless, the quality has to be matched, the pubs that are supplied – mostly Bespoke’s own three successful pubs in this instance – can’t have a spell without beer.
Feelers were put out. Among those asked if they knew anyone who might be up for the challenge was Midlands Craft Brewers, an informal group of serious home brewers who get together to swap ideas.
One member is a chap called Jon Archer, from Lichfield. He thought it was just the sort of opportunity he’d been looking for. He had no commercial brewing experience but what he’d been doing at home way beyond what your average home brewer might try. He was ready for more.
Four months now since Jon first turned up for a trial day at the compact plant in the outbuildings of the thriving pub, both parties are pretty sure they have landed on their feet.
Jon, who is 52, takes up the story: “I’d spent 34 years – my whole working life – with a global IT company,” he says.
“I’ve always been into home brewing. I started out adding extra sugar to Boots kits and wondering why it didn’t come out as I expected.”
Clearly, he has moved on a long way from there.
“My home brewing had gone from strength to strength,” he says. “I’d become semi-automated with my 100-litre plant, with a proper control panel. I built it all myself. It had allowed me to explore and experiment with different beers and develop my own recipes.
“To do it commercially was the obvious progression, it was ‘where do I go next with this passion?’ I’m at an age where if I didn’t do it now, it might be too late. And through the Midlands Craft Brewers, I heard about the opportunity at the Boot.
“I think I was a risk for them and when I saw it I thought ‘blimey!’ But the thing that appealed was that it was the full end-to-end responsibility. It didn’t daunt me. Running a business didn’t faze me, I’d basically been doing that. Brewing didn’t faze me. And the scale didn’t faze me. I came and did a day brewing with them. They said ‘you can clearly do the job’ and took me on. And then Alan did a great job with the handover.”
Once in place, Jon knew his first priority: “How do I maintain the quality? A changeover is always an opportunity for a dip. And the regular drinkers of a beer know when there’s a subtle change in it.
“That said, I didn’t just want to replicate the existing brews, I wanted to make the brewery my own, too.”
The first result of that is Reboot, an American pale ale at 5.2%. Jon says he aimed for a soft hoppiness, not overly bitter. If he hadn’t told me that, I’d have guessed on first taste and I don’t consider myself an expert. Reboot is a fabulous beer, smooth, with a lovely aroma, one of the very best I’ve tasted this year. It simply doesn’t hit you stupidly hard with its flavours, as so many of this style do. I suppose that’s what you call balance.
I think it’s little publicised that the Boot is a great pub for beer. It’s up for awards for food and for accommodation, while its sister pub at Willington, the Dragon, has a notable reputation for food.
But the Boot, rightly in the Good Beer Guide, has seven cask beers, six of them from its own brewery, running the gamut of styles. A range of craft kegs and bottled beers is being expanded – a beer menu is at the printers.
There are also ciders from local producers. One from Three Cats, at Morley, was just finishing when I visited, this week there’s one from Oakfield Farm at Stanley Common.
Food might dominate the Boot’s business but there’s an area of the pub set aside for drinkers and wet sales are rising. This is how it should be. You will find Boot beers at other pubs – but not too many.
“The biggest constraint is capacity,” says Jon. “The brewery stands on its own two feet and has the luxury of a captive market in Bespoke’s three pubs. (Harper’s at Melbourne is the third).
“But there is a handful of pubs it’s going out to regularly and it’s often at Camra events. It will be organic growth.
“We will only go into pubs we can trust to look after it well. The main growth will still be in our own pubs and we’re seeing that.
“But I’m not really driven by business, by money-making. I’m driven by passion for the beer. Perhaps that’s the problem with bigger brewers.”
If Jon’s passion keeps on producing drinks as good as Reboot and the existing Boot ales, business and money-making will look after itself, something I’m quite sure his delighted employers know very well.
* Meanwhile, things are going so well at the Boot Brewery that Jon Archer is already looking for an apprentice. And there are no constraints when it comes to age or experience.
“The work volume is increasing and it’s a brilliant opportunity for someone to learn a new trade,” says the Boot brewer.
“I’m looking for someone perhaps with some beer experience already but they need not be any particular age and it could be someone looking for a change in career.
“The chance is there to be involved in every aspect of the brewing and keeping and selling of beer, from design to development, to how good it is when it’s coming out of the pump, how it’s kept in the cellar – everything.”
By Colston Crawford of The Derby Telegraph
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