Published on July 5, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Boxing clever

Box Social Brewing celebrated its third birthday earlier this summer. Now regarded as one of the region’s most innovative brewers, the Newburn, Newcastle-based brewery run by Ross and Steve Holland is poised to move into larger premises, simply because of the demand for their beers.

The inclusion of Box Social Brewing in the Northern Powerhouse collection of beers is quite a coup for you. Has it affected business in any way?

“The project has been great for us and we’ve done really well off the back of it. We’re really grateful to Wylam Brewery (the instigator of the project) for the opportunity to be part of it and for the exposure. It’s given us a lot of publicity and some people are finally coming round to us. For example, we’ve been talking to some distributors – including one from London – for three years now and all of a sudden they want to take our beers. That would mean we cover most of the country, then we need to hit Scotland.”

Brewing at your current premises and getting your new unit at Riverdale Industrial Estate (also Newburn) must involve a bit of a juggling act. How are you coping?

“Keeping on top of everything is a bit of a job. The new brew kit arrives on the week commencing July 16 and production should start soon after – the second week of August. Hopefully it’ll be a case of plug and play. We’re trying to think ahead all the time; not like at this place where you can come in in the morning and think ‘what shall we do today’. But we’re running at capacity and can’t make any more beer. We’ve got to be more disciplined at the new place.

“It’s been a stressful time with drainage and cooling and all the little extra things which have taken longer than we thought. We thought the kit – 15-barrel capacity manufactured by Hoplex in Aberdeen – would be in in February but the time has given us so much experience brewing on other people’s equipment that it’s been really worthwhile.

“We’re putting a malt mill in as well, but everything is in hand and taken care of; the plans are all complete with phase two of development planned for the back end of the year – as you say, it’s a juggling job.”

Will the new premises involve creating new jobs?

“We’re recruiting a new business development manager who will also help out on sales and the export side. We’re starting a new apprentice from Out There Brewing and Roger Cowgill will move from his part-time role to full-time brewer which should be a huge help. Everyone will have their own roles with defined objectives and it should be a great team.

And new beers?

“We’ll be working with new yeasts, experimenting with bacteria, and looking at new fruits such as blackberry purée through our Newburn Native Ales arm, our experimental, mixed fermentation and barrel-ageing project. I was chatting to the guys from Fermentis at last month’s Brewers’ Journal lecture who suggested we try using lager yeast for producing ale at a higher temperature. Although there are problems with producing sulphur we might give it a go. It’ll be good to do things like that and things like an IPL – India Pale Lager hybrid – in a collaboration with someone. Everyone we’ve contacted wants to work with us – Twisted Barrel from Coventry, Brew York, Elusive Brewery from Berkshire –which is great.

“We’re canning four beers in 440ml size and the core range in 330ml. I emailed details of a new beer to bars around Newcastle – Coconut Mojito Pale Ale – and half the casks were presold in an hour. It wasn’t even in the tank yet.”

Your brewery tap in Newcastle city centre appears to be working well. How are things there?

“The Box Social is going well and we’re very happy with how it’s developing. The staff have organised regular beer tastings, plus Scandinavian brewery cask takeovers and a Hepple Gin event combined with a one-off Juniper Saison beer which should be interesting.”

You seem to be pulled in all sorts of directions – what else is in the plan?

“Distributors are taking a pallet of 18 casks at a time which is almost a full brew. That’s great but it’s wiping our stocks out. We don’t want to let anyone down. Scandinavian export initiatives are starting to bear fruit and last year’s trade mission to China looks promising with trademark registrations now being prepared. We’re looking at Spain next. It’ll at least give me a chance to go to Barcelona. I’ve never been.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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