We were recently looking for someone with a large nose and big ears. At least I assumed that those were the criteria attributable to someone operating as an acoustic and odour consultant. This search for a cross between Dumbo and Pinocchio came about because we recently received notice that our B2 planning application had been accepted. My joy turned to despair when I realised that there were four conditions attached. Three of these were insignificant, but one required us to submit a report on the likely noise and smells from the brewery. We had explained in our submission that these would be minimal and virtually undetectable by the nearest residents. We made many salient points in our defence, but the main one was “THERE’S A MASSIVE RAILWAY GOES RIGHT OVER OUR BREWERY!” This was, of course, to no avail.
We also finally received permission to brew from Madge aka Her Majesty. I’m very grateful to have been given the privilege of furnishing ‘Lizzy’ with her lavish cut of everything we sell and look forward to reading the 108 page guide on how one goes about this task. Amazingly the returns are all done by paper and snail mail, filled out by hand and then sent back – every month, the same pro-forma, to and from the UK Duty office and every one of the UK’s 1200 breweries. The VAT folk are no better. Before you can use email, you have to sign something saying you accept the risks of this evil new technology! I wonder where HMRC get their quills and inkwells?
In other news, we have finally ordered our second-hand reefer (refrigerated container) and the hauliers have figured out how to deliver it. Part of the delivery logistics requires us to cut back the huge tree that overhangs from the allotments next door. (In neighbourly spirit, we first gained approval from the current and former chair-people, who kindly took us on a guided tour of their precious plots.) The reefer will arrive the very next day, to be offloaded by a crane lorry. The exact same day, we expect delivery of the last four brewery vessels, to be offloaded by a forklift truck. We’re really hoping they don’t all arrive at the same time.
For some weeks now, we have been watching over the progress within our robins’ nest. After two weeks of mum sitting on the fragile, speckled eggs, tiny bald, blind babies magically emerged. For the next two weeks, both parents shuttled non-stop from nest to allotments and back to fuel their brood. Soon, the tiny creatures sprouted feathers, grew exponentially and the worm deliveries went into overdrive. When we saw the orange colour on their breasts we knew it would soon be time to fledge. We’d resisted power washing the yard pending their maiden flights and were rewarded when one morning all that remained was the empty, fluffy, bowl-shaped nest.
Our bottle labels are all but done and we have settled on a name for our Pale Ale – Ivo. We wanted something that related to music, was transatlantic and fitted with the other two names. We love many 4AD bands (Pixies, Throwing Muses etc.) and Ivo was the name of the founder of that label. We also noticed that Ivo Pale becomes Pivo Ale when you switch the ‘P’. Pivo is of course Czech for beer. Spooky huh? So, our three (unborn) beer babies are called Nico, Neu and Ivo. Cute.
There are many strange activities involved in the creation of a brewery – some less obvious than others. For instance, we are presently searching for a farmer who wants half a ton of free spent grain for his animals each week. You’d think they’d be lining up for such a treat, but we’ve been struggling. Our best contact so far is ‘Pig Farmer Bill’, but he wants it all in bite-size bags, so we’re still looking. Another new experience was ordering barcodes – never had to do that before. It’s scarily easy, but, as usual, not at all cheap. Then there was the tortuous experience of signing up as an employer and registering Mario as my first employee. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to the stage, HMRC! To be fair, this does happen electronically and they do provide free payroll software. Navigation is a challenge and, incredibly, this payroll software doesn’t do payslips. Grrrr.
When we do have a spare afternoon and the sun is shining, we embark on a sales trip. This is basically a pub-crawl, but without drinking any beer (usually). The reception we’ve had so far has been very positive and they love our logo and business cards, as well as our plans for doing a couple of German beers. Tonight I’m off to the British Guild of Beer Writers AGM, which will no doubt be every bit as dull as it sounds. However, I’m going to take advantage of being a ‘writer’ and a ‘brewer’ to see if we can stir up some interest in Orbit Beers.
Since starting this blog entry, our last four vessels have arrived, as has the container. The latter was expertly put in place with great precision using a remote control device controlling the extendable crane arm as easily as you would play a video game. The vessels needed some muscle to stand them up – a commodity that neither Mario nor I can boast much of. So, there we were, a proper strong bloke and us two, suspending this 2,000-litre vessel at 45 degrees when he says: “hold this up lads, while I reverse the fork-lift”. The first second of his absence was enough to bring screams of pain from Mario and I as we were slowly being bent double by the weight, before being rescued just in time from an untimely ‘death by fermenter’.
Looks like we might now be just a week or so from finishing off the brewery installation, testing the kit and preparing to brew. It’s been seven months since I first saw the arch and less than five since I took possession. In that short time we’ve transformed the floor, the interior, the electrics, the yard and especially my brewing acumen. A hundred projects – from tiny to Titanic – have been planned, changed, executed, changed again and finally finished. I’ve used dozens of suppliers and contractors, dealt with miles of red tape and spent about £200,000. It feels like it’s going to be worth every penny.