Not just a famous name

Date:

Hidden away in a fold of Cranborne Chase outside Shaftesbury, Gritchie Brewery is crafting a fine reputation. Laura Hitchcock reports

Inside the Gritchie Brewery
All images: Courtenay Hitchcock

Ask North Dorset residents about Gritchie Brewery and you get one of two answers. The first is usually: “Oh, LOVE their beer!”
The second is: “oh, that’s Guy Ritchie’s, isn’t it?” – and to be honest, it’s often said with a mildly belittling tone.
Because yes, this IS film director, producer and screenwriter Guy Ritchie’s company.
But it’s very clear that this is no vanity project. Beyond the local area, where people know that Guy Ritchie lives on the estate just north of Shaftesbury, the Gritchie branding is never advertised with Guy Ritchie’s name. The beer is expected to stand on its own merits (though perhaps with a little A-List movie advertising help – watch the opening scenes of The Gentlemen closely, and you’ll see Matthew McConaughey enjoying a pint of Gritchie’s English Lore before he leaves the pub and passes a Gritchie delivery van) – and the business is entirely self-supporting.
‘It’s a bit frustrating in some ways’ says Gritchie Brewery’s Nick Brown, who spent nine years as a police officer in Dorset before emigrating to Australia with his wife to serve in the Australian police. They returned to the UK as COVID restrictions lifted, and, looking for a change in career, Nick applied to Gritchie Brewery. Now he’s overseeing sales and running the brewery’s busy schedule of attendance at events – their horsebox bar is a familiar sight at shows and fairs across the south.
‘Everyone thinks it’s a massive boon to have this famous name behind the brand,’ Nick continues, ‘but actually it’s almost like we have to work twice has hard to have the beer taken seriously by some people. So many celebrities just put their name on someone else’s product and await the financial return. But Guy’s a very exacting boss. He is in the office most days that he’s here in Dorset – he’s really hands-on with the business’.

Outside, Gritchie Brewery own all their own kegs to allow recycling

Field to firkin
Working from Gritchie’s Ashcombe estate, tucked away in the chalk hills behind Shaftesbury, the Gritchie Brewing Company staff have a daily view that many would envy. Standing in the yard, surrounded by the usual rural sounds of birds, running water and a distant tractor, there is no hint that a busy brewery is inside the buildings surrounding the peaceful courtyard.

The view into the brewery from the oldest part
of the farm complex


‘We do everything here except canning and bottling,’ says Nick. ‘We did try bottling ourselves, but the machinery takes up so much space. Economically it was better to outsource it. But the Maris Otter Barley is grown on the Ashcombe estate, we draw water from a bore hole on the estate, we brew the beer here, and everything is packaged in these buildings by the team. We even do all our own deliveries where possible, serving all the local outlets ourselves, right along the south coast, plus weekly runs to London for Guy’s Lore of The Land Pub in Fitzrovia.
We literally follow the product from field to bar.
‘We have a huge drive to be as environmentally conscious as possible. Even the kegs are ours, so they can be constantly recycled and reused.’


Head brewer Alix Blease explained the basic brewing process, starting with the sacks of barley arriving back at the farm as malt. It is poured into the mash tun with hot water to create a mash. After 45 minutes, the sweet liquid wort is washed into a kettle, or copper, where it is boiled for an hour, and the hops are added at various stages depending on which beer is being made.
‘Local hops would be cheapest, obviously, but British hops tend to be dark and musky flavoured. Great for traditional British bitter ales, but a modern IPA needs a bright, zesty flavour, so we have to go further afield.’
The now-redundant grain isn’t wasted. It’s collected by a local farmer to use for animal feed.
Gritchie brew 4,100 litre batches – limited by the size of their tanks. Every part of the equipment and process is carefully selected and controlled.
‘We’re all about consistency.’ says Alix. ‘We believe in Do it once, do it right. An independent craft brewery lives and dies by the reputation of its product. Because we’re making relatively small batches, we can be really responsive and brew to demand, which also means very little wastage.’
Nick agrees: ‘It’s no good us selling the beer into a pub, and having the landlord tell us the customers don’t like it this week because it’s not as good as last time. They trust us to always provide the same product. If their customers like it, the landlords will buy it. If we’re reliable in our product, we get loyalty from our customers in return. It’s good for everyone.’

Flexi-brewing
It’s been a tough year for beer. There has been a 40 to 50 per cent increase in raw material costs since last summer. Heineken recently announced that they are increasing their prices by 15 per cent in January. But Alix is feeling positive.
‘Because we do so much ourselves, a lot of our costs are negated, using our own water from a borehole, for example, and selling more cask beer which doesn’t require CO2. We don’t plan to raise prices at all if we can possibly help it.’

The Break Room – the ceiling is made from old cheese store shelving


Nick feels they also have some business advantages over their bigger competitors.
‘We don’t have their scale, obviously, but we’re a small team of seven; three in production, two on deliveries, Sally in the office and me.
And no matter what our official job is, really we all do everything – we were all labelling this morning, getting product packaged up. But that means we have a very close relationship with our customers and can react quickly to their needs.

Gritchie Brewery’s head brewer Alix Blease


We’ve been able to offer local pubs smaller casks, for instance – many of them are reducing their opening hours due to their own staffing and cost issues, so they don’t want a large keg opened which they only have three days to sell through. We can also respond swiftly – we can generally get stock out to them within 24 hours, often same day if they’re not far. And we’re always on the end of the phone for advice and a chat.’
The whole team is aware of the need to balance the cask ales and traditional tastes of their rural heart, while also serving the city palates of their London fans. Alix is constantly looking at new flavours and ways to develop – but for now keep your eyes peeled for the new Galaxy New England IPA. We finished our tour in the Break Room (opposite top) with a swift half of the new beer, and it’s light, slightly citrusy, explosively smooth and astonishingly delicious.

There are worse places to work …

You can buy Gritchie Beer at the following local outlets:
Dikes supermarket: Ansty PYO Farm: Shaftesbury Wines: Udder Farm Shop: Shaftesbury Abbey: Morrisons Shaftesbury: or online at gritchiebrew.com/shop Or ask your local freehouse landlord if he’ll stock it.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:

More like this
Related

Feed the Soul

It’s a slice of wellness in the Dorset downs:...

Rolo Tiffin

This simple recipe is perfect for family get togethers,...

The BV Magazine wins prestigious NMA’s Regional Publication of the Year 2024

We are thrilled to announce that The BV has...

Feltham’s Farm Wins Best Organic Cheese at the Artisan Cheese Awards 2024

Feltham’s Farm Organic Cheeses triumphed at the Artisan Cheese...