Lockdown: pouring beer down the drain
Added: Friday, January 29th 2021
In the next couple of weeks Nick Farr will have to make the fateful decision whether to pour around 40 casks of real ale down the drain. As a result of the lockdown, Farr Brew -- between St Albans and Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire -- has lost most of its sales and the five pubs it runs are closed for business.
“The current lockdown couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Nick says. As well as his own beers he had ordered lager and cider worth £3,500 for his pubs for the Christmas period.
“You have to order a lot of stock for Christmas but now our cellars are full of unsold lager and cider, which we had to pay for up front. Over the holiday period we would probably have sold 90 to 100 casks of our beer but suddenly no pubs were buying from us.”
The shut down has been a particularly bitter blow for Nick and his business partner Matt Elvidge as it has impacted on their flagship outlet, the Elephant & Castle at Amwell. They lease the pub from national brewer Greene King and they can showcase their award-winning beers there, including bitter, golden ale and pale ale.
Farr Brew has erected a giant marquee in the spacious gardens and developed a new children’s playground. The pub was winning praise for its imaginative food cooked by the former head chef at Lussmann’s restaurant in St Albans but sales of both food and beer have come to a grinding halt.
The brewery was launched in 2014 by Nick and Matt and is based at Samuels Farm, Coleman Green Lane. They have been remarkably successful, building good local trade, winning major awards and now running five pubs. They include the Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead, the Eight Bell in Hatfield and the Rising Sun at Slip End, all now closed. Only the Red Cow in Harpenden is open but only for take-home food sales.
“We will survive,” Nick says. “We’re ticking over, doing home deliveries and our taproom at the brewery is open Friday and Saturday for people to pick up draught beer they’ve ordered.”
To order beer for pick up from the brewery taproom or to arrange home deliveries go to www.farrbrew.com or call 07967 998820.
The 3 Brewers of St Albans is also based on a farm at Symonds Hyde Lane but it has a different business model to Farr Brew. The brewery was founded in 2013 and director Mark Fanner says they have no plans to buy and run pubs.
“Our dream wasn’t to sit in a van to deliver beer,” he says. “But we lost all our pub sales during the first lockdown. Fortunately the weather was lovely and we grew and grew home deliveries thanks to our loyal customer base. People enjoyed having beer at home.”
The current lockdown has been completely different. 3 Brewers has 200 pubs on its books and it can now only deliver to a handful of them. The brewery covers St Albans, the whole of Hertfordshire and has developed trade with new outlets in Cambridgeshire.
“It’s financially hard this time round,” Mark says. “Our brewer is furloughed two weeks out of four and we’re not profitable at present.”
But he and his small team, who produce Classic English Ale, IPA, a blond beer and a dark mild when the brewery is running, are not sitting back and bemoaning their fate.
As well as home deliveries, they are planning to build a taproom at the brewery. With the support of the farmer who runs the site, they are installing outdoor tables and benches for customers, with furniture generously loaned by the John Bunyan and other local pubs.
“We will observe the outdoor drinking rule of six people,” Mark stresses, “and the site will be Covid safe.”
At present the brewery is open for take home sales every Friday and Saturday, 11-3: www.3brewers.co.uk; 01707 271636.
•First published in the Herts Advertiser, 28 January 2021.