Worker Bees – Beer Buzz Meets Beatnikz Republic

This is an extended version of the version which appears in Beer Buzz January – March 2019.

Grimsby born Paul Greetham is the founder of Beatnikz Republic Brewery, based on Red Bank in Manchester’s Green Quarter and  their eponymous bar on the corner of Tariff Street & Dale Street in the Northern Quarter. Beer Buzz met up to quiz him on his beer journey so far….

Where did your beer journey begin?
At Big Hands and Sandbar in Manchester.  I came to Manchester to study a Leisure Management degree, swapping to English after a year. At Big Hands I discovered the newly imported Brooklyn Lager while Sandbar offered Fruli, the Belgian Strawberry beer. I particularly remember being blown away by a bottle of Schneider Aventinus Eisbock that somebody bought for me in Big Hands. I had never tasted such complex flavours.

From there I slowly built a love for beer. I moved to London in the late noughties and not long after Kernel were setting up and became a regular visitor in the early years of the Bermondsey Beer Mile. Work began taking me to the USA and New York in particular, where The Rattle & Hum, a back street German inspired boozer became a favourite. They  introduced me to a new world of hop flavours including one seminal night where first tasted Bear Republic Racer 5 IPA – wow!!!!

That was the night I first decided that when I returned to the UK I was going to start brewing. I announced this to my friends who thought it was just the beer talking.

So did you start brewing?

Yes – from the kitchen of a one bed flat in London I brewed my first Simcoe & Citra IPA shortly after that trip. I then brewed constantly every Saturday, quickly progressing to double brewing with multiple fermenters to fill. We held an increasing number of barbeques to get people round to drink the beers. Overall, I must have done 100 brews in the first year in that flat.

In 2015, I was one of the early members of UBrew, the crowdfunded shared brew plant, where I brewed my first commercial beer, Beach Bum, on their 100 litre kit. I hawked the bottles around bars in South East London and didn’t look back.

A year later, I was gypsy and contract brewing my recipes wherever I could find capacity – my beer was brewed as far afield as Hartlepool & Scotland. However, I was often unhappy with the way the finished product turned out – I wasn’t in control. It was clear that to make the beer taste like I wanted it to, I needed my own brewery to keep control – which brought me to a railway arch in Manchester in January 2017.

Why Manchester?

My wife Dagmar was working in Huddersfield, commuting from London two or three times a week.  I knew Manchester from being a student here and know if had an expanding beer scene so it made sense.

I found the railway arch on Red Bank online and put a bid in on it without ever having seen it. I did a course at Dave Porter Brewery Installations to learn how his brew kit worked and started planning on installing a 10 barrel kit backed by investment from friends & family.

Unfortunately one of the investors dropped out so I had to downscale to a 4 barrel plant but with 8 barrel fermenters.

When you moved to Manchester, what were your ambitions?

Being honest – to get to a point where I could create recipes and get someone else to brew it. My interest was in recipes and the business side.

Brewing as a one man band was damned hard work. When I started in Manchester, I had never done a full size commercial brew from start to finish. I learnt by my mistakes and strived to make each batch better.

As we got established in Manchester, I had great support with listings with supportive distributors including near neighbours Blackjack Beers and Bury’s WDS. Fifteen months in, I’d reached my targets but the physical work was taking its toll on the body. I decided that I needed to employ a brewer but to pay a wage on top of my own, I knew I had to increase my volumes.

Was that where you started producing cask ale?

Not directly. In my time in London, cask wasn’t on my radar – it didn’t feature majorly in the bars I frequented. The only cask ale I can recall drinking and loving was a pint of Five Points Pale in the Southampton Arms in Highgate – I remember tasting it and thinking “wow, that’s really good”. However, other bars might have had cask available but they also had so much more to entice me so I didn’t partake.

When I arrived back in Manchester, I started drinking in The Pilcrow, The Marble Arch & The Smithhfield where cask ale was prominent and as I tried them, I discovered the cask beers were every bit as good as the keg beers and often better.

I was loving drinking cask beer, but when it came to brewing it, I couldn’t afford to invest in the hundreds of casks I’d need to sell it so kept on brewing for cans & keykeg.

Eventually,  industry friends put me in contact with rental company KegStar who offered me a pallet of rental casks. I grabbed the opportunity and planned a brew to fill them. That pallet was pre-sold before it was brewed, as were the next two pallets and the next….

Although I’d never brewed a beer for cask, even in my homebrew days, I was given some pointers by friends and quickly learnt to brew cask ale on the job. We’ve had very few problems since – the odd cask gone wrong but few and far between.

Now between 60 & 70% of our production is cask. It doesn’t yield the same margins as our keg production but it sells more steadily and more quickly giving us a stable base.

What’s the brewery capacity?

We’ve expanded to five fermentation tanks and three conditioning tanks doing double brew days four days a week. We’ve got three full time brewery staff – head brewer Lewis Birch who came to us from Magic Rock, Lee Coates who was previously with Blackjack and James Ardwick who is a recent graduate from Heriot Watt – plus Rosie who runs sales & operations and a part time delivery driver

You closed the brewery tap room not long after it opened – why?

It as a lot of work running the brewery on my own and the tap room just added to that work. I got somebody in to run it for me to reduce my work, but it still meant work to prepare the brewery for opening every week. For whatever reason the location just didn’t attract enough foot fall on a consistent enough basis – we had some great days at the tap room but other times were quiet. Ultimately the numbers meant it just wasn’t worth the effort for the income it generated. We now have a cold store where the bar used to be.

But now you have a bar. How did that come about?

It wasn’t really in the plans but a friend who is a commercial surveyor kept talking to me about properties he was seeing in the city. Out of nowhere, I was contacted by an investor who wanted to invest in the brewery. I wasn’t interested in sharing my equity in the brewery so I turned them down. However, I then got thinking on what I could do with investment so I pitched opening a bar – they got straight back to me and agreed.  

A few days later the deal was done and we started looking for the right site.

How was the process?

All things considered, not too bad.

We lost out on our first site which would have been perfect due to legal delays with the landlord sorting out the lease. The site on the corner of Tariff Street and Dale Street was only the second site that we seriously viewed and when I walked in I knew it was right – good space, great neighbors in Idle Hands coffee and in a part of town which is on the up.

Our first choice of bar fitters didn’t work out but once we got past that, our solicitors were great with sorting out the lease, we found a good architect who completed the design and planning and the licensing was straightforward. Our contractors Lancaster Construction were amazing, working day & night to turn a 12 week fit out around in 5 weeks.

The bar has been really well received by our customers. Even when we were in our soft opening phase when we didn’t have proper seating or toilets at the bar, feedback was good. Now it is fully finished we are really pleased with it. We started with a Burning Sky takeover for our soft opening and then had Overworks for our full opening weekend We are developing a regular programme of events including a games night on the last Sunday of the month and DJs on Fridays & Saturdays.

What’s your favourite beer or brewery?

Of my own, it’s Beach Bum – it was the first beer I brewed commercially & it was the first beer I canned. I hadn’t actually drank it for a while but I had a pint a week or so back and I’d loved it – I love the Mosaic & Azzacca hops.

I believe Burning Sky are the top brewery in Britain today – everything they do is great. Internationally I think Garrett Oliver at Brooklyn can do little wrong. I was fortunate to meet him once, he was so down to earth and I still heed the advice he gave me as a fledgling brewer – hit your targets and keep it simple.

What does the future hold?

We’ve just started exporting with a pallet of casks shipped to Sweden. We had to double check taht they really wanted casks.

We’re going to start canning again in January and we’ve already got enquiries for cans from Italy, France & Holland. We expect that canning will take up all of our remaining capacity so growth by some means or other is on the cards.