How did the brewery start?
The brewery initially came about whilst Rich Burhouse (the founder and owner of Magic Rock) was working for his Dad’s company Rock Shop, based in Huddersfield. The brewery’s name is a nod to his Dad’s business, who deals in selling semi-precious stones and rocks. A fair amount of these rocks and stones are sold in the alternative therapy market, some are seen as Magic.
Beer is a common thread in Huddersfield and Rich started getting into cask ale in early 2000’s. Then, as he was still working for Rock Shop, he setup a company called My Brewery Tap, which was quite ahead of its time- an online bottle shop where you could buy beer. He was importing a lot of beer from America and James Clay, a local wholesaler. Beers like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Stone IPA, which were hop-forward beers, really started to capture Rich’s imagination.
That interest started to gather pace as he was discovering more and more new beers and having holidays in the States. He saw people like Thornbridge and BrewDog in the early days and thought he’d like to turn his love and interest of beer into a job and setup a brewery.
In 2011, Rich got to know a brewer from Sheffield called Stuart who had worked at various places and was brewing hoppy American style beers and pale ales that were quite new in this country. Rich approached him with his idea of setting up a brewery and talked about the styles of beer he wanted to brew.
From there, Rich setup brewery along with his brother Jonny Burhouse. The first site was based on the same site as his Dad’s business in a warehousing area, and that’s when they approached me to design the brand as he’d seen some of the work I had done whilst working in London.
How important is branding?
Early on it was really important as Rich wanted to create really flavoursome beers but also wanted it to be packaged well. This is always important- no matter what industry you’re in. If it looks good, people are going to be engaged immediately. At the time, we felt a lot of the beer design around wasn’t as strong as it could be. People tend to buy with their eyes, so we thought if we could engage with people from across the bar, then it might put us one step ahead. Obviously, that needs to be backed up as the most important part is the beer! The two need to work together, but the beer is the foundation.
Design wise, we wanted to move away from the stigma- the traditional side of labelling and pump clip design. We are both fans of the League Of Gentlemen and the darker side of humour. My rough brief was a circus theme and the names Rich had already come up with were a starting point for the illustrative style: Cannonball, High Wire and Bearded Lady.
There are a lot of other breweries out there at the moment, who do you keep up?
Rich could probably answer this better than I can, but I think we’ve always been interested in making the best product we can. I guess that always starts with buying the best ingredients: if you put bad stuff in, you’re going to get bad stuff out.
We got into barrel-aging things quite early on, putting things into wood and seeing how things developed. Bearded Lady is an imperial stout which we barrel-aged into different types of wooden casks. We were always developing the beers we already had to make them better-improving recipes and trying new things. It’s good to keep people engaged and interested in what you are doing; delving into things like sours and brewing beers like Salty Kiss (a German style gose- which was pretty rare at the time). Bringing stuff like that to the market has been interesting for us, especially now we have the taproom. People can try new and different things. Beers like that are a really good way in.
What keeps us current is having the foundation of producing quality beer from the first point. This keeps people coming back as they’re already confident in what you’re doing. If we keep that consistency and quality throughout, both beer and branding, people will keep coming back and trying new beers. It’s like when I see a new Beavertown beer- I’m always inclined to take a look at it and try it.
We are also thinking about bringing a little pilot kit in to the new site so we can experiment with smaller batch stuff a bit more. Experimentation is great but you can only do it so much due to production level. This will allow the brewers to play with more ideas. It’s important to be creative in work, we feel it creates and good and healthy work environment.
Tell us about the new brewery and tap room? It looks amazing!
The taproom came about when we moved from the old brewery. We have been in the new unit around a year and it’s taken a while to get used to it, but it is an on-going process. It was actually harder moving brewery than the initial set up, due to the production lines and trying to keep on top of everything. We have doubled the capacity so doubled the work load. We’ve only been brewing here a year but have ran out of room already, so we’ve have had to take on a new unit just for storage.
We’re now settled in to the Tap Room but it still surprises us how the space can be used. We’ve had 3 food and drink festivals, 2 beers festivals a bike day and a local trouser company setting up a little trouser town. It has a really vibrant and varied demographic from families, dog walkers, cyclists, young folks and older folks.
How important is Marketing and how do you guys use merch?
We don’t really do much marketing as such. When we first set up, the big thing for us was social media. We knew it was going to be strong so we built a lot of it round that. Instagram wasn’t around then, but things like Twitter and Facebook really helped. Conventionally, it’s hard to answer as what is marketing?! We’ve built a following by talking to people, word of mouth, and it’s been done in an organic way. We don’t make plans or strategies, we feel it works better like that. Each to their own I guess but we do it in our own way. We tend to work with people we know and who we’ve built relationships with.
In terms of merchandising, stickers and badges work really well. They get put out in various places like on the bar and at events and people are always picking them up and taking them. People love freebies I guess! We have a constant stream that we give away. I was in France riding my bike and took a load in the back pocket as they’re really good to keep on you to hand out. I constantly see UK brewery stickers on travels across Europe. We also use banners for events and are looking into some different merch options at the moment.
If you could only have three beers for the rest of your life, 1 of your beers and 2 from elsewhere, what would they be?
Rich: We’ve got a new beer coming out called Inhaler. It’s a juicy pale and the percentage is perfect for any time drinking.
Pipe Wrench by Gigantic Brewing, Portland. This is gin barrel IPA which holds a fair amount of importance in my life as it’s what me and my wife drank after she said yes to marry me.
Lastly Orval but it would have to be drunk at their abbey as you could also drink the green version there.
Dunc – A favourite from here is an easy one, my go to is Salty Kiss gooseberry gose. It’s a love/hate, marmite effect beer and I really, really like it! It doesn’t taste like marmite but it’s a weird one. I use it as middle drink, like a palate cleanser.
My other one is from Bellwoods in Toronto, called Jutsu. It was one of the freshest beers I’ve ever tasted, so I brought that back with me.
Another one is Mexican Cake by Westbrook. That tastes like a chocolate Mexican cake in a drink. Spicy, chocolate and 10.5% so similar to the Bearded Lady.
Finally, where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
Hard to say really- in the more present day, would be investment in new technology for the brewery. This will allow us to be super consistent with the beer that we’re making and stove us to make the beers that we brew even better. Also, we will have some new beers coming out so that should be fun. We just want to keep it an enjoyable working environment. Where we’ll be in 5 years, who knows.