Published on February 12, 2019 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The waiting game
A Newcastle brewery should have been in full swing in its new premises weeks ago, but it isn’t because of ‘stupid delays’
The time invariably comes around when a brewery realises it has outgrown its original home and is almost compelled to move to larger premises. It happens so often that there should be a manual to follow, detailing the process step by step.
But by the sheer contrariness of the business, that will never happen. Every upgrade is different, every estimate has to be rewritten, every supplier has their own methods and timetables and every deadline comes and goes – except when it all fails to arrive.
This is where Box Social Brewing is at the moment. It’s year-long plan to move into a Newburn, Newcastle, industrial unit and a detailed specification for new kit have almost come good, but not quite. Without going into detail, the plant that father and son team Steve and Ross Holland took delivery of wasn’t quite what was promised in the brochure and there’s been a long wait for missing parts and delayed responses.
“We’ve had holdup after holdup and stupid delays,” says Ross, obviously wearying of going over the story once again. “We haven’t brewed at all on the new kit through waiting for parts and for people to turn up. We’re desperate to start a test brew and we’ll be ready to go as soon as that happens, but at the moment we’ve got no beer – except for what’s being brewed at the old place.
“As you can imagine, it’s hitting us bad. We’re doing cask beer at the old brewery and we’re really pleased we hung on to the site which is tiding us over. It’s a nightmare.”
The decision to move premises was prompted by the simple fact that Box Social continually sold out of beer at a remarkable rate. The challenge was then to continue business growth and production expansion with a bigger brewhouse and an in-house kegging and canning facility (Box Social beers in cans massively outsell their bottled beer as customers turn on to their ease of use and guarantee of freshness.) This then leads to larger volumes being required so beer can be sold all over the country and abroad to fulfill orders from China, Spain, Denmark, Hong Kong, France and the Netherlands.
“We’ve had nothing in can or bottle for the last few months,” says Ross. “We’re still managing, but not as much as we’d wanted to. The whole idea was that we’d be doing full runs in the new place by now, kegging more beer and packaging on site, so we need to be up and brewing soon.
“The most annoying thing is not being able to give people a timescale – but there’s very little we can do with what’s missing from the kit. All we can do is prepare as much as we can.”
On a happier note, the brewery tap, The Box Social on Forth Street in Newcastle, is going well and is fully established with a great following and regular faces appearing. And there are new recruits to the brewing arm – both called Callum. Cal Robb joined the company in November to tackle sales and marketing (“I’m easing into the job well”), while Callum Robson has been taken on as an apprentice brewer and is obviously champing at the bit.
A box social is a Victorian term for a social event where guests bring food and drink to swap among themselves in stimulating, sociable company. Curiously, they tended to be sober affairs with no alcohol involved. If this sounds all very relaxed and easy-going, it’s a bit different to the relentless production regime that should be up and running at the 15-barrel Box Social Brewing and its search for ever-more inventive beer styles.
That will come, as Ross Holland says: “It’s a much different ball game to what we were used to. We could be making ten times more beer than we are. When it’s all sorted it’s going to be good though.”