24 June 2015
“You only live once, so don’t waste your time.” So says the founder of The Little Beer Corporation, and a year ago Jim Taylor took his own advice by leaving a successful career to become the full-time brewer at his Guildford micro-brewery.
Jim’s decision to give it all up for beer wasn’t taken in haste, however, for the former global marketeer has long been interested in brewing on both a personal and professional level. During the last 10 years of his marketing career (which he refers to as his first career), Jim worked with beer brands and also started home brewing, reading voraciously about craft beer production. It was after a 2009 holiday in the Rockies, during which he sampled “a great many” craft beers, that he made up his mind to start his own micro-brewery. And so was born The Little Beer Corporation, whose strapline is, appropriately, ‘Live a big life, drink a little beer.’
From the outset, Jim decided not to go down the route of making session beers for local pubs because, he says, “Although it is a good market, it’s not the only market.” Instead, the innovative brewer started producing bottles and kegs with the emphasis on quality, variety and creativity, all of which are underpinned by sourcing the best hops from around the world. The brewery now makes 10 ‘core’ beers and pilsners as well as a limited edition ‘innovation’ range.
Brewers buy from a global marketplace, explains Jim, who describes Oregon in the US as the hop capital of the world. He makes no apologies for not sourcing hops from the UK. “The climate here is fine but no-one has been driving a breeding and innovation programme,” he says. “Farmers can’t start a breeding programme without governments and universities [to support them]. It’s a shame we have been left behind in the hop game.”
While he feels the UK has some way to go before producing hop rock stars, Jim is supportive of fellow Surrey brewery Hog’s Back at Tongham, which is cultivating an historic hop variety that lost favour some years ago because of its American flavour and, says Jim, “no-one wanted American at that time.”
British hop production may have some way to go to win his business, but in the meantime Jim sources in a small way from his own backyard – or, more appropriately, other people’s. “We have an arrangement with about 100 families in Farnham who grow First Gold hops in their gardens and once a year they harvest simultaneously and we make a Green Hop Beer,” he explains.
Involving the community in the brewery is very important. As well as higher investor shareholders, known as Class A (including Jim and his wife, who together own 67% of shares), The Little Beer Corporation also has what it calls “Class B” shareholders. This latter group forms a body of beer lovers who are encouraged to get involved with tasting events and generally have a fun time being stakeholders. “They come to the brewery regularly and show their friends; they buy a bit more beer as well,” says Jim. Class B shareholders are rewarded with beer rather than dividends and it costs around £10 to join during the annual January intake, though interested parties are invited to enquire at any point during the year.
While The Little Beer Corporation has a growing band of enthusiastic stakeholders, Jim is chief brewer. All those years of home brewing and research have paid off. “In terms of brewing, I have no formal qualification but at the same time I think I probably know more than a lot of brewers out there because we brew lots of types, including difficult ones like Little Rosy, a raspberry wheat beer. Imperial Pilsners are very difficult too,” confides Jim. “They are more extreme in terms of ABV. It’s much harder to brew strong beers and they require more care with the yeast, also when you start putting raspberries in beer the yeast goes crazy and clogs up your machine.”
Do things ever go wrong? “Oh yeah,” admits Jim. “In a brewing sense you are always messing up basically, like when you are doing a boil and accidentally leave the lid open at the top and have a shower of beer coming at you when you circulate, or leaving valves open and ditching hundred of litres onto the floor.”
Brewing at this level for bottles and kegs is complicated stuff and The Little Beer Corporation hasn’t shirked from investing in technology. Jim mentions his Zahm & Nagel instrument for measuring carbon dioxide levels, and it’s no surprise when a quick Google search reveals that Zahm & Nagel, established in 1908 in Buffalo, New York, are world experts in such apparatus.
Production currently stands at some 60,000 litres a year, and there’s room for this to double – a significant quantity but still small enough to be termed “micro” and miniscule compared with production at a major brewery.
With so much hard work and expertise being poured into the brewing process, it’s no surprise that the vessels which carry the beers and pilsners are also carefully considered. At present, they go into luxurious Italian bottles which reflect the quality of the premium brews within. However, as the business develops, there are plans to market part of the collection in less expensive bottles for the wider market. However, even these bottles – sourced from Holland - sound pretty impressive. “They are jet black, so still premium and different,” says Jim.
And it’s not just a case of what’s inside the bottle, but who’s on the outside, for The Little Beer Corporation likes to feature stakeholders on the labels. Jim himself appears on Little Icarus. He laughs as he explains, “When we first brewed it we had it sitting there and hadn’t worked out who to put on it and needed someone on the label, fast.” So, when you enjoy Little Icarus (‘bright and sunny as Icarus himself’), think of Jim, living his big life and, no doubt, drinking a little beer.
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