Monday, 1 October 2012

'Maybe I need to be more ruthless'

What’s it like to be the nicest man in British brewing? Andy Moffat laughs. He’s heard that one before. “Maybe I need to be a bit more ruthless,” he says, but the smile on his face suggests he doesn’t mean it.

His actions confirm that suspicion. If Moffat was more ruthless he might still be working as a banker in The City, which he did until his gnawing desire to brew became too much. That was in 2010, when he set up the Redemption Brewing Company in Tottenham. In the short time since, the brewery’s cask ales have become regulars on all the best bars in town. And last Friday, Big Chief, a punchy IPA made with New Zealand hops, was voted the South-East's best beer by the Society of Independent Brewers.

Such is the quality of his products that Moffat, 39, has not had to be particularly ruthless in selling his wares. There's that niceness again. “We don’t do any sales,” he says. “I don’t want to hassle people. I just think about how many calls pubs get from people trying to sell them beer. I think most good pubs in London want to have a nice spread of beers  - they know what they’re doing. They’ve got a clear idea of what they want.”

Which, more often than not, includes at least one Redemption beer. The softly-spoken Scotsman has the intelligence and clear-sightedness you’d expect of a banker, even if he has rather more heart than the tabloid stereotype would allow. That clear thinking is obvious when he talks. Listen to him, for instance, on the subject of kegged beer and why Redemption, who for the moment produce only cask ale, will not be joining the rush to put beer into keykegs.

“I think there’s good keg beer around but it’s too much investment for us,” he says. “I think that’s where the future growth is going to be but it would be a lot of work. We have a brewing consultant, a guy called Dave Smith, who comes down three times a year to do quality control here. [That shows how] We want to keep standards up:  if we were going to do the other things we might not do it very well and that would affect our good cask reputation.

“I know keykegs are the big things right now but the cost adds about £20 – I can envisage myself having a conversation with the pub: ‘oh, if you want it in keykeg that will be an extra £20’. They’d be ‘we’ll have it on cask!’”

Don’t get the idea, though, that Moffat dislikes change. The recent updating of Redemption’s branding illustrates how keen he and his five-strong team at the brewery (which includes his other half Sam in the office) are to reach a new audience. “If the beer’s good, the beer guys don’t care [about the branding],” he says. “But if you want to get other people interested, who might not otherwise try it in a pub, that helps.”

Moffat is clearly happy with where the company is. He says – and it’s easy to believe him – that he’s still pleased he made the jump from city-boy to brewer. The blossoming London craft-beer pub scene is opening up new avenues for those like him who produce good beer.

“The great thing about London is that lots of the breweries are doing different things ,” he says. “You’ve got The Kernel who are a bit more niche, Sambrook's who make good solid session beer, Brodie's doing all kinds of weird and wonderful stuff, Stuart [Lascelles] at East London is making good beer, it’s a real family business. We’re somewhere in the middle.

“One of the things we like about being in Tottenham is that there’s still an edgy, urban quality to it. You’ve got a contradiction in that there’s a brewery in a place where very little cask ale is sold. But it’s a quirky place, there’s an element that’s like Shoreditch 15 years ago – I’m not sure Tottenham will ever change like that but it’s an interesting place.”

It’s a long way from Moffat’s previous life working for Deutsche Bank, too. Moffat, though, insists bankers are not all bad. “I got on really well with the guys I worked with,” he says. “ We helped each other out.

“But there’s a minority, a large minority, I don’t know what the best word is to use [to describe them]! They don’t care about anything. You don’t just want to care about yourself, we’d be selling bonds to insurance companies and pension funds and you’d want them to be happy. There were some of us who were interested in more than just ourselves.”

Moffat admits it was a bit of a midlife crisis that led him to brewing (‘Some people gets a sports car,” he says, “I opened a brewery”) but he doesn’t regret it: “When I got out of banking, it was starting to go a little pear-shaped. It was going in that direction.

“[At the time] I thought, ‘There are lots of breweries up and down the country but very few in London’ – I tried to analyse my way out of it: ‘Oh, it’s a bad idea, if it was a good idea someone would be doing it already.’ The more I thought about it the more I thought it could work.”

It was the perfect time to make the leap: Redemption opened perhaps a year-and-a-half before London filled up with little breweries. The last year has been good. Moffat is now selling around 140 casks a week, as compared to 80 12 months ago. There are no plans for rapid expansion: home will be a Tottenham housing estate for the foreseeable future.

Moffat is cautiously optimistic. “There are many more people opening in London now but we’ve not felt [the impact of that] yet,” he says. “There’s still a big potential for expansion.

I’m fearful that there’s an element of faddishness with cask ale at the moment. I dare say that in a couple of years things might move on – to gin distilleries, perhaps, that might be the next thing.

“There’s always room for good beer. It has to be of the right quality, though.” 

Images by James Lambie for 'Craft Beer London' (Vespertine Press 2012)

1 comment:

  1. Insightful stuff. Andy seems to be a good role model for brewers or owners looking to get into the industry. *Adds bookmark*