I’m standing in a lush green valley, the sun is shining and life is good. I look up at the mountain rising above me, as it disappears into the clouds that shroud the unattainable peak in mystery. I could turn around, walk away and relax in the long grass but something tempts me to start walking the paths of the foothills. There are many paths and I don’t know which one to take; I’m walking but not ascending, the peak just as distant as before. I try different paths but none seem to lead anywhere and there are no clues to guide me. I don’t have a map but actually I don’t need one, as I don’t know where I’m going.
I’ve never been on this mountain before, I have no sense of orientation and I don’t know what lies at the peak. The valley below is exerting its magnetic force on my whole body and I know that if I stop for just a moment I will be consumed by its allure. My growing passion and deep purpose are all that protect me from the irresistable pull of the comforts of the valley. I realise suddenly that I can’t do this alone, that discipline and doggedness won’t be enough. I need a guide and I need to let the mountain subsume me because the pull of the valley can’t take me down if I’m a part of the mountain.
That scenario pretty much sums up how I’ve been feeling during this first week of Going into Orbit. Sitting at my computer, alone in the wilderness, I’ve at least learned a few things about premises, brewing kit and the competition. I have so far counted 45 breweries within the M25, which seems far too many for my liking, but I’m probably still missing a few. Researching brewing kit has taught me that the sum of what I know and what I know I don’t know, doesn’t get close to what I don’t know that I don’t know. If you know what I mean.
A small breakthrough on premises though. My philosophy has shifted from halving my costs in the sticks to paying premium for footfall. I need a place where plenty of punters can peer at my beers and pop in to purchase a pint. I’ve also realised that it would be folly to be mean with the space I need for brewing, fermenting, conditioning, storing, working, selling and playing. This ain’t gonna be cheap but I reckon it’s gonna be worth it!
All of this was jolly interesting but I knew that I wasn’t going to learn to swim from a correspondence course – I had to jump in the deep end, explore the network, let the mountain consume me. I figured my best bet was the youthful (and useful) London Brewer’s Alliance (LBA) – where else would a prospective London brewer go to find allies? My email prompted their response and my phone message triggered their reply, which gave way to a most illuminating conversation.
Paddy began by giving me some very good reasons to make my way back to the valley. I mean, why would someone who’s never brewed beer, worked in a pub or run his own business enter the market at a point when it’s never been more saturated? That lush green grass bathed in sunshine was starting to look more appealing. Ignoring the danger signs for the road ahead I continued to walk with my guide. I was heartened when he confirmed my gut feeling that I needed to have a brewery with a shop out front. I brightened and lightened at the news that I would have absolutely no problem attracting a brewer. Indeed I might find that the queue stretches right down Camden High Street, so the trick will be finding the right one. This is a task that I shall commence forthwith…
Then came the advice that I could have anticipated but was perhaps afraid to face. His sage words cautioned me to set aside all thoughts of how large or small my brewery should be, what type of kit I should purchase and what my cool logo should look like. My priority must be to understand the market, its shape, its players, its scale, the competition, the customers and most of all the reality of driving enough sales to keep my brewery afloat. Great advice but how on earth do I do that?
If you’re a student on University Challenge you need two things to lay the foundations for success – great people on your team and a starter for ten. My starter for ten was kindly offered on a plate by Paddy who invited me to attend the forthcoming social meeting of the LBA on 13 August. If I’m going to have anyone on ‘my team’ then I need to shake some hands and share some beers in the coming weeks. My homework wouldn’t happen at home; I needed to do some field research, but this time without Brian.
So, while my internet research will continue in earnest, the priority is to visit some breweries, connect with some brewers and begin the task of collecting the wisdom that I will need if I am to make a successful ascent. This is where the virtual stripe I earned touring sixty Scottish breweries might earn me a guest pass into the world of London brewing. Tales of my journey with Brian and my soon-to-be-born paperback version of the TLP are the currency I can use to gain entry. I still can’t see the peak, I’m lost in the foothills and the temptations of the valley remain but I’ve taken my first steps and I have some paths to follow. Onward…