It’s 10.35am on Tuesday and I’m about to sink my first tipple.
Hold on! No need for an intervention just yet. I’m visiting Claire Monk, manager of Welbeck Abbey Brewery, at The Brewery Yard set inside the beautiful Welbeck Estate.
It’s an inspirational place. The yard, once a farm store, has been transformed into starter units for an array of local artisan food and drink producers, including an independent coffee roastery, a winery and even a handmade marshmallow company.
Pints of ambition
But Claire was here first. With a degree in microbiology and biochemistry under her belt and a passion for brewing (which, she tells me is ‘basically’ microbiology), Claire went in search for a job. As luck would have it, Alison and William – who own Welbeck Estate – had decided to set their own brewery up and offered Claire the job on the spot. Within minutes, the recent graduate had achieved what most students can only dream of: an unlimited supply of beer.
“For the first six months I learned how to brew. Then I was able to slowly build my own team, which has been great. I really enjoy my job and feel lucky I was able to choose that path,” says Claire.
Fast-forward four years and the team of six at Welbeck Abbey Brewery produce 15,000 pints of ale a week, 90% of which is sold within a 25-mile radius to a group of satisfied repeat customers. As I’m rapidly considering a career change into real ale brewing, I ask Claire the secret to her success.
“The first year was incredibly difficult. It got very tough,” says Claire. “We entered the market at a time when there were lots of other breweries setting up.
Within minutes, the recent graduate had achieved what most students can only dream of: an unlimited supply of beer
“For the first six months I learned how to brew. Then I was able to slowly build my own team, which has been great.
“We quickly realised the only way to get business is talking to people – picking up the phone and popping in to see them. But it was difficult when every pub you ring says ‘well I already deal with 30 other local breweries, I don’t need another one’.”
“However, once we managed to give someone a free sample and sell someone some beer, they really liked it and wanted to try it again. Soon we really established our customer base, and we’re always gaining new ones all the time.”
As she checks an order being packed onto the van, which is out delivering all day every day, Claire continues: “The personal relationships are really important to us. We don’t sell wholesale where you’re sending off pallets of beer and don’t know who’s receiving them at the other end.
“We’ve expanded the brewery over the past year, so we now have a little more capacity. Once we’ve filled that capacity we’ve decided that we don’t want to get any bigger. We don’t want to lose our ability to have those personal relationships with our customers.”
Working with Center Parcs
And it’s been that passion and customer understanding that forged the relationship between Welbeck Abbey Brewery and Center Parcs. If you’ve visited Foresters’ Inn at Sherwood Forest recently, you may well have come the fruits of Claire’s labour.
“Rob Allen [Operations Manager, SSP] who looks after the Foresters’ Inn at Sherwood Forest and Elveden Forest had heard about the estate and just came by to see me one day. He tried a couple of the beers, like them and discussed the possibility of getting them listed in Foresters’ Inn. He’s been the driving force behind this, which has been great,” says Claire.
“For us there’s a natural synergy because the Welbeck Estate and Sherwood Forest are right next to each other. Center Parcs is a company that cares, a company that knows its customers and is really bothered about what they’re selling and who to. So there’s a real synergy there between us and Center Parcs. It’s the ideal place for us to sell our beer.”