There’s no knowing what the aura of celebrity might do for a brand. There are those who might like drinking a beer with a famous name attached to it. Others might be turned off by the very thought.
So Adrian Peskin, head brewer at Gritchie Brewing Company, is feeling pretty pleased with the reaction to the ales he’s brewed for film director Guy Ritchie.
“I drink in a few of the local pubs we sell to and the biggest compliment I’ve had is when I heard that drinkers were switching to Gritchie from national cask beer brands. Drinkers round here tend to get hooked into one brand of beer.
“Some will be drawn to our beer because of the Guy Ritchie connection but there are others who are simply unaware of it. They just like the beer.”
And the celebrity connection, in this case, extends well beyond the label.
How did you get here?
Adrian Peskin, head brewer - "It has taken me several years with lots of travelling, listening, hard work and learning from great people to bring me to where I reside today. I have been on a mission to discover everything there is to know about beer and it’s an ongoing process. It is gratifying to be in a position to brew here at Ashcombe Estate with Guy. It is every brewer’s dream to work at a brewery that grows its own barley and it makes me feel more connected to our beer, seeing it through every step of the journey from grain to glass."
Jordan Mace, sales and commercial director - "I work with the brewery team to make sure beer lovers can get their hands on the growing portfolio of Gritchie brews. I work closely with Adrian to define the needs of the brewery to support the creation of beers. I’ve worked in the brewing industry for most of my adult life, starting as a dishwasher at my local pub in Norfolk at the age of 15, before managing bars and moving into a sales role in spirits with Bacardi and Jack Daniel’s. Working for Fuller’s focused my passion on the craft beer market."
Ritchie shot, literally, to fame more than 20 years ago now with his British gangster caper Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and has just released his latest contribution to the genre, The Gentlemen.
Between those blockbusters, he opened a pub in London’s Mayfair – the Punchbowl – and introduced his ex-wife, pop superstar Madonna, to the delights of a foaming pint of cask beer.
‘Madge’ briefly became an unwitting and unlikely ambassador for Timothy Taylor Landlord, her favourite brew.
The couple also bought a farm in Wiltshire, and it’s here that Ritchie decided to set up his own brewery in derelict outbuildings overlooking a misty green slice of quintessential English countryside. This is no sanitised Hollywood retreat. Ashgrove is a working farm with proper mud and fields of Maris Otter, the barley most prized by brewers of British-style ales.
It’s the perfect location for Gritchie’s 20-barrel stainless steel brewhouse, which sits alongside a splendid beamed building that will eventually become a destination taproom and venue.
Day-to-day operation of the business is entrusted to Peskin and commercial director Jordan Mace.
Both have serious pedigrees. Peskin has worked for London brewers Weird Beard, Beavertown and Fourpure, plus a stint with Harbour Brewing in Cornwall, while Mace was at Fuller’s for six years, where he launched Frontier lager and managed the Chiswick firm’s import portfolio.
The first Gritchie beer, a traditional cask ale called English Lore, hit the pumps in December 2017, and was followed by the New World-hopped Moon Lore.
Two seasonal ales have also been produced, the aptly named summer ale Summer Lore and Winter Lore, a stout.
“We’re driven by Guy’s love of beer in a particular style, English bitter,” explains Peskin. “It’s a style that suits the local market, too. He’s not someone who’s easily swayed by the latest trends.
“Guy is emotionally attached to the brewery. He frequently visits to keep up to date with any new developments – and he’s always happy to help out with ‘quality control’.
“We like to discuss different beer styles as a team, and we have a fridge on-site so we can collectively review new styles and formats.”
The Maris Otter barley swaying in the breeze outside forms the malt foundation of these beers, fulfilling Ritchie’s ‘field-to-beer’ philosophy, and helped attract Peskin to the company.
“As a brewer, you want close control of the product and, because we grow our own barley, I’m in constant communication with the farmer, I know about how seasonal changes will affect it and the way the beer is brewed.”
The branding, too, featuring exquisitely drawn arch angels, is straight out of the Ritchie playbook, reflecting a fascination with historic lore also seen in the 2017 film King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
“Some celebrities may just put their names to a product, but Guy takes a real interest in the beer,” adds Mace. “He doesn’t claim to be an expert, though, and trusts us to take a lead.”
The opening, last year, of the first Gritchie-tied pub, the Lore of the Land in London’s Fitzrovia, prompted a move into craft keg and two new beers, a Helles lager called Angel’s Lore and an IPA, Session Lore.
Brewing capacity was expanded too, with a pair of 40-barrel fermenters added to the original set of four 20-barrel vessels, plus a bright beer tank and filter system.
The installation of a new steel keg filler brings everything on-site and will, according to Peskin, “give us more control and better quality”.
He adds: “We initially put the new beers in non-returnable plastic kegs but steel is best from an environmental point of view.”
Three dinky five-barrel fermenters are designed for experimental brews, sub branded Brewer’s Trial, and available only at the Lore of the Land.
“It was a conscious decision to brew keg for the pub,” the brewer continues.
“The London market is more keg-driven, and there are advantages from a quality point of view.
“Locally, though, we can have a better control over the quality of cask, and we didn’t want to scare people.
“It’s been measured progress for us. We could have gone crazy with the styles and flavours but we’ve been careful and we’ve considered our local audience. They know what they like and we’re mindful of that. Not everyone wants vanilla and chillies in their beer. There’s an element of creativity but it’s about achieving balance.
“I sense people are coming around again to the kind of easy-drinking beers we’re making here. Classic styles don’t have to follow the latest trends.
“We’re almost an anomaly these days, though, starting with cask only and then slowly moving to keg,” he says.
“We do want to be flexible and open to change, but we’re not going to chase the latest trend. The local pub market is important to us.”
Mace confirms: “We’re not blinkered, we’re aware of what’s going on around us in the wider market, but the focus is on the quality of our cask beer,” invoking Ritchie’s “ethos based on tradition”.
“We want it to be perceived as a premium product. There are so many brewers now doing so many different things, but our focus is on balance, that’s really important to us.
“We’re designing drinkable beers – the market is a little scared of anything over 4% ABV.”
Gritchie regularly delivers direct to 30 to 50 pubs within a 30-mile radius and works with wholesaler Nectar Imports, based half-an-hour’s drive down the road, to cover the south-west and London. Since Christmas, another wholesaler, Dayla, has extended distribution north, into the Midlands.
“We’ve already built up a lot of trust among the local pubs, and it’s all happened by word of mouth,” Mace explains.
“Until now, we haven’t had any sales people on the ground.
“Our customers are welcome to come here, taste the beers and see what’s going on, and once we’ve developed the taproom later this year, we want to host events, and further into the future open it up to the public.”
Mace envisages the core range growing to five, plus four seasonals, during the course of 2020.
“At the moment, there’s a gap in our portfolio for a stronger pale ale of around 4.5% ABV, so we’re producing one for cask and keg.
“That will be one of between four and six Brewer’s Trial beers we’ll do this year, and we’ve also got scope to introduce seasonal ales for the spring and autumn.”
And from mid-February, Gritchie will also be bottling its beers for the first time.
“People have been asking for our beers further afield, so bottling them means we can get them to places like Manchester, Leeds and Scotland.
“We thought about canning, but the brand lends itself more to bottles, and bottles are a better fit when it comes to putting our beers on restaurant tables, another market where we think we have potential.”
There’s an area in the building set aside for barrel-ageing beers, which will give Peskin a chance to flex his creative muscles.
“We won’t be doing any milkshake IPAs but we do want to do something for the connoisseur, and we want to brew beers that can connect with the kind of food we are serving in the Lore of the Land. Food is another passion of Guy’s.
“We also want to make better use of the amazing space we have here. There’s been a lot of attention to detail paid to a building that was once derelict, and it will make a fantastic destination taproom – but there’s no rush on that.
“Our priorities now are getting to grips with the new expanded brewing set-up, putting our beers into bottles for the first time and making more cask beer available to the local market.
“We got to the point before the expansion where we were having to turn down orders, which is a difficult thing for any business.
“We’re still a small brewery, though. The maximum we’ll produce this year is 2,800 hectolitres. We don’t want to get too big too quick.”