Why the people behind the Boot Brewery feel ready to kick on now
By Colston Crawford, for Derbyshire Live
Jon Archer, head brewer at Repton’s Boot Brewery, is a man with a plan – or, more accurately, he’s a man with a whole stack of plans.
It is 18 months or so since Jon stepped in as head brewer, dropping his long-term job in IT for a new career he’d dreamed of.
Now, with the brewery well established and with a growing, excellent reputation, Jon is ready to spread his wings, not only on a personal level as a brewer, but in terms of growing the business.
Initially, the Boot Brewery, in outbuildings at the Boot pub, in Repton, existed largely to provide beer to Bespoke Inns’ three pubs – the Boot, the Dragon, at Willington, and Harpers, at Melbourne.
However, an expansion to a 10-barrel plant now offers the opportunity to brew more often and they are starting to work with wholesalers to get the beers further afield.
James Bevan, 23, has come on board as assistant brewer having completed an apprenticeship in food and drink through Derby College while working at the Boot, an excellent example of the sometimes maligned apprenticeship schemes working as they should.
James has a career in brewing now and is studying for his general certificate in brewing.
A part-time sales rep, Kelly Jennings, is also starting to help get the beers out there and, encouragingly, says Jon, the message often coming back is “oh yes, the Boot, we’ve heard about you, yes we’d like some.”
It is an interesting, challenging time for microbreweries. There are an awful lot of them, there is pressure on price, pressure to come up with something different and to sell enough of it.
Let’s not beat about the bush, some are not going to keep up.
It’s a situation Jon is all too aware of and ready to meet head on.
“We’re so fortunate that we have our own pubs to supply,” he says.
“We know our beer is good, people like it and it will sell. Breweries, at the end of the day, are businesses and have to operate commercially.
“I do think that there are still lots of opportunities in the market – but not for the 2,000 breweries that there are currently. I think the number of breweries will fall and, ultimately, for those which survive, it will be about quality.
“I get the impression there are a lot of people who will try something different and if you can do it right and do it well, there’s a lot of interest out there.
“In some ways, the headache is that you have something in mind that you want to create and then the craft is to produce the beer you actually have in mind.”
He admits to a feeling of relief, as well as satisfaction that, for example, his first lager, called Valhalla, a nod to Repton’s Viking roots, has come out just as he wanted it and is selling by the bucketload in its first couple of weeks at the pub.
Jon has come up with a string of new beers – he ran a new American-style IPA, Wild Warrior, past me and it was excellent.
I’d need another column to describe them all.
But, if you’re a fan of the existing Boot beers, you will not find them disappearing.
That’s the balancing act and the expansion in brewing capacity will go a long way to helping him do that.
“I have a clear direction for the business in my mind,” he says. “But I can’t just switch off people’s favourite beers. I love Boot Bitter and Clodhopper and they’re not going anywhere, they’ll continue to be our top selling beers.”
He recognises the freedom working for a small independent brewery gives him.
“This freedom – it’s why I jumped at the job,” he says.
“It’s an absolute joy to be able to be dynamic, to have an idea and go with it or to talk to customers who might suggest something and, within a couple of weeks, I can find a slot to give it a try. Big brewers would take months to do that.”
Thus, just to name a few, there’s been an English mojito sour beer, made with cucumber, mint, lime and apples (“it bridges the gap between wine and beer,” he says), one called Ernest, named after its hop, a recently-revived English variety; and he’s now working on a low gravity beer of between 2.8 and 3%: “It’s the hardest to brew. You really have to do some stuff to give a beer of that gravity lots of flavour.”
It has taken 18 months for Jon to reach this innovative stage, but it was all part of the plan.
“When I came on board, the first thing was to consolidate what we had, then to establish myself and now it’s time to develop the business,” he says.
“Now it’s ‘how do we get out and about?’ I’d like to get Boot beer all the way across the region. The big thing that will drive sales will be people getting to know who we are.”
You get the impression they will.
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