It’s been 12 weeks since any of us have been able to go to the pub, so naturally my pub reviewing has been non-existent. I did have some places ready to write up (The Boundary and The Last Crumb), but it just didn’t seem right to write them up, because who knows what pubs are going to look like when they open again. I’m imagining lots of perspex screens and widely spaced tables. It’s going to take a mind shift to re-review. I’m not the only reviewer struggling with content. Edible Reading has filled the gap very nicely with weekly interviews and a weekly diary. The interviews are going strong, and I don’t know how he keeps finding things to put in his diary – if it were me, I’d get to Thursday night and think “oh no, I’ve run out of things to say. I’ll have to talk about my toenail problem”1. Rather than get into that situation, I’ve stayed quiet. That is until now when I’ve got something truly interesting to talk about. A socially distanced trip to visit Reading’s newest brewery – Dolphin Brewery.
1 This is poetic license. My toenails are awesome.
For those of you who are not aware, Dolphin Brewery is a brand new microbrewery in Reading, started by husband and wife team Andy Barnes and Laura Dolphin. Laura is the genius behind the social media and the execution of the branding (she claims Andy has all the ideas and she just puts them into action. I suspect she is being modest). Andy and his dad are responsible for the brewing, which like many breweries has started in a garage.
Running a brewery in a garage may sound a bit like “just homebrew” to some people, and indeed Andy started his brewer journey making homebrew back in 2013. But after a Master’s in brewing science, he’s taken his passion to the next level. And starting in a garage is exactly the same journey as many breweries take. For example, that’s how Double Barrelled began, and in just 3 years they’ve gone from experimenting in their garage to being one of the most popular breweries in Reading.
Andy and his dad have done a stunning job of fitting a commercial brewery into a single garage, and everything is incredibly neat and organized. Andy walked me through the 195 litre kettle (takes half an hour to boil – not too bad) and the mash tun – the silver cylinders in the photo. Then an incredibly sexy looking fermenter where his fruit sours spend many days.
After the fermenter the beer goes into the 140L bright tank for a week before it’s ready for bottling – which is in itself a 2-day job. With the fruit sours, in order to really extract the fruit flavour each one spent a month end-to-end, producing at most 140L of beer, which explains why there were only just over 600 bottles for sale in the first batch! I am assured other beers are faster thankfully. Andy is incredibly focused on the beer quality, but I’m sure he’ll also be looking at doing more beers in parallel as he nails down his recipes.
And the recipes seem like a labour of love. Andy told me how he put £70 of raspberries in his Juggler beer. And then he put another £70 in because he just felt it needed more. His uncompromising attention to the flavours have won him many fans, not least of which was the Grumpy Goat, where he won a competition for his Nectarine Sour. I don’t want to spoil his surprises, but he’s got a completely different type of beer in the fermenter at the moment, again with meticulous focus on the fine detail of the flavours.
It’s not trivial fitting an entire brewery into a garage – even a micro one. Andy specialized in microbiology in his course, taking time out to study wild yeast in breweries. Perhaps because of that, he has an entirely healthy obsession with neatness and cleanliness that shows in just how organized the whole setup is, with everything in exactly the right place. This meant that there was very little adjustment that Andy had to make as part of the COVID-19 adaptations, other than sadly not really getting to work side by side with his dad as he’d like to. The pair of them have tag-teamed the work in a way they never imagined when they started the brewery.
The thing that was most clear when talking to Andy was just how surprised he was at the success of his beer. He had planned to primarily sell in local shops like the Grumpy Goat and the farmers’ market, and then sell any leftovers on the website each month. But in the end he sold out all of his website stock in under an hour, and people were calling the Grumpy Goat asking to buy some before it even got there. The shock of selling out so quickly is definitely encouraging him to think about what comes next, and is a credit to the amazing work Laura did on the branding and publicity.
As Andy and I sat (2m apart) in the garden after the tour, one of the nicest things to hear was just how supportive all of the other local breweries have been as part of this process. Every single local brewery got in touch to either wish him well or to see if there was anything they needed. That great support network between the local businesses is one of the things that makes Reading such a great place to run a brewery, and I can’t wait to see Andy and Laura move to larger premises to share their beer with even more people.