Father and son craft brewing duo tap into nation's thirst for local beer
PUBLISHED: 11:03 07 September 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 07 September 2019
Launching new beers onto what some may consider a saturated market is not for the faint-hearted.
But that's exactly what ex-punk rock musician John Ridealgh and his former malt boss dad, Alan, have chosen to do.
The Humber Doucy Brewing Company, based at Bacton, near Stowmarket, joins a long line of craft brewing concerns to have emerged in recent years across Suffolk and Norfolk.
'Friendly' is not a word you often associate with competing brands jostling for space on shop shelves and in pub cellars, but the craft brewing scene - which has enjoyed a huge surge in popularity over the last decade - has managed to retain a relatively good-natured approach to the hard graft of keeping the business wheels on while turning a profit.
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Admittedly, say the Ridealghs, the craft brewing scene in Norfolk - John lives at Rockland St Mary, near Norwich - is bigger than in Suffolk, but that was precisely why they felt there was space for new brews which could tap into some of the continuing enthusiasm for local beer brands. Norfolk has "a very well organised craft brewing scene", explains Alan, while Suffolk's is growing.
Alan has a stellar 40-year career with Stowmarket-based Muntons under his belt and retains a part-time role as a company ambassador. John, now 32, has a long fascination with beer-making, running a home brew shop - Brewers Barn - in Ipswich for a number of years. He was always a keen teen home brewer who experimented with Muntons home brew kits, while at the same time touring venues around the region as a one-time rhythm guitarist with The Waxing Captors, an Ipswich punk band which produced five albums over its 10-years of existence - and a popular single called 'Dancing with a bottle in my hand'.
John studied accountancy at university, but quickly rejected it as a career choice, much to his father's relief: "I have some very good accountancy friends but it's the worst possible career I could imagine anybody going down," says Alan.
Craft brewers started plying their trade - more or less below the radar - from the 1970s onwards. But in recent years, the trade has really taken off.
Businesses like Humber Doucy are a far cry from the multi-billion turnover brewing 'big beasts' - such as Bury St Edmunds' Greene King, but John's Kingslayer bitter could be seen as a crafty sideswipe at - or possibly homage to - its rather larger Suffolk neighbour.
Alan's Old Gits Drinking Group
The clincher for the launch of the business was when a member of Alan's Old Gits Drinking Group - a band of like-minded beer enthusiasts who tour breweries - offered up a potential home.
Philip Jeffries, owner of Jeffries Isuzu dealership at Bacton, near Stowmarket, mentioned that he had a spare unit at a former site up the road. He also offered up an area for John's home brewing and beer shop at his salesroom, which is home to his Bacton Bears collectables store.
Launch of new home brew shop
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John ran his home brewer's shop on Norwich Road, opposite Coes, for six years from 2012 after spotting a gap in the market as there was no home brewing shop in the town. It immediately took off, but latterly, footfall had started to fall off and rents were rising. The new home offered up new possibilities - and a base for operations.
"All of a sudden things started to come together. John needed to relocate to another place," explains Alan, who at that point was handing over the reins at Muntons.
"That was in August 2017 and we formed Humber Doucy Brewing in 2018 from scratch," says Alan. "We set shop up in February 2019. The first brew was in May 2019."
The costs of setting up the business - launched this year - were around £100k, with £16k sunk into a waste water tank and about the same figure into a three-phase electricity installation - both of which proved challenging.
"We had a budget and we pretty much stuck to it," explains Alan, but already, as the business takes off, they have plans to move into a next door unit.
The brewery is supported by an enthusiastic band of backers, with 43 beer ambassadors who have invested money in the business. They go out to events and talk about the beer, which has already featured at a number of local events, festivals, and local pubs.
Branding was an important aspect of the process with Ipswich-based Firebrand Creative coming up with a striking look, and the name, Humber Doucy, inspired by the mysteriously-named lane opposite John's old sixth form school - Northgate High in Ipswich. There are various theories about the origins of the name, including that it is a corruption of the French 'ombre douce', meaning refreshing shade, or Humble Deuce, an old gambler's pub, or possibly 'amber dais' - an Anglo-Saxon treasure.
The craft brewing industry
At his new home brew shop, John also features other craft brewers. Although it has been a "huge challenge", the pair see plenty of opportunity to grow the business and expand the range - and enthusiasm from the public.
"I think people like - especially in beer - independent and smaller operations and they instinctively like supporting them," says John.
"It's a very friendly industry. We don't see each other directly as competitors because there's still a lot of market share from the big players, so we are not really squabbling and everyone's really supportive."