Hitting the right notes
PUBLISHED: 11:49 07 October 2014 | UPDATED: 11:49 07 October 2014
Martin Chambers meets a young craft brewer putting together a tasty band of beers
Roots are very important in agriculture. So when Matt Hammond returned to his native Suffolk, and the family farm near Eye, it was to fulfil his dream of growing a business in his home county – a craft brewery rooted in his love of music and fine ale.
Matt grew up on Shortts Farm in Thorndon, farm life providing him with an interest in food and drink and good living. His grandfather, who lived on the farm for the 100 years of his life, helped develop his love of good beer by taking him to the pub.
Matt did what most teenage boys do growing up on farms in Suffolk – he went to Otley College to study agriculture. But he came out wondering whether that was really the life for him.
“I started to crave the city life,” he said, “and started labouring to earn money to go travelling. That was where I got my interest in building, and started an apprenticeship in carpentry, getting qualifications in carpentry and joinery. I did a bit of travelling and that worked well with the trade. When I was about 21, I decided to buy a round-the-world ticket – South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, America, and the Caribbean.
“When I was abroad I was still interested in food and drink, and looking for ideas to bring home.”
When Matt came home, he continued with the carpentry, met his partner, Ellie, at a music festival, moved to Brighton and worked in the building trade for six years.
Although as a child he wasn’t really interested in farming he used to dream about what he could do on the farm.
“I always felt like a country boy when I was in Brighton and missed the open spaces and the closeness to the earth, seeing where your food came from,” he said. “Ellie was thinking the same way as we talked about settling down and having children.
“We used to go to quite a few music festivals and were really into music, going out to see live music, and also into real ale. People used to tell me how old-fashioned I was. It wasn’t fashionable 10 years ago, but the beer was better than in young people’s pubs.
“It is more fashionable now with people getting into how and where beer is made. We were at a music festival a few years ago and I was wondering why you could not get a decent pint of beer there. Low quality lagers had taken over and were a monopoly.
“That’s when I thought about the farm and the area around here, which is a massive arable area, and we have some of the best malting barley in the world.
“Ellie said maybe we should start a bar at the festivals we go to, and start sourcing ales to make this work, and then we thought we should get into brewing on the farm. It was a way of diversifying which my parents had been pushing. It is as small as a working farm gets and we had always thought we needed something else to keep the farm going.
“They liked the idea of producing beer here, a product where we produce our own barley, hopefully in the future, and the beer would be from field to barrel.
“We had this romance with the idea of brewing our own beer, and then we came back here to settle down. We missed going to gigs, but it gave us the chance to look into things.”
Matt and Ellie, who now have a year-old daughter, Florence, live in Bury St Edmunds. Matt commutes to the farm and his business, Shortts Farm Brewery, in Thorndon.
Matt had to learn about beer making from the bottom up, perfecting his craft by working under an established micro-brewer.
“I had a passion for brewing but had no qualifications, so I decided that the only way to get training was with on-the-job experience. The local breweries were helpful but not forthcoming.
“I saw a story on the internet about a chap in Devon, Paul Hunter, of Hunter’s Brewery, who had started a brewery five years ago with no qualifications and was doing quite well. I got in touch, we hit it off and became friends. I worked with him for a year or so. I was looking at systems to use and then he phoned to say he was selling his system to expand.
“We agreed to buy it, with him helping us set it up. He helped me, solidly on the phone, through the first six months. I feel a lot more confident now in what I’m doing.”
And so Shortts Farm Brewery began, two months after setting up, with Matt using his carpentry skills to create different brewing rooms in one of the family farm’s outhouses. The dream is to grow the barley for the malt on the farm, although that is a way off. The brewery has introduced solar panels to try to keep the carbon footprint down, to compensate for the energy used on the cooler systems.
“My family is interested in trying to keep the farm as self-sufficient as we can,” says Matt, “and we are trying to go down that route as far as we can.”
The brewery supplies beers in cask to pubs around the region, and has now taken on a bottled range.
After going to music festivals around the country, Matt and Ellie came up with the music and beer theme. The lack of decent beers at the festivals was what prompted them to make their own and they now produce four beers with a musical theme.
“We do tend to be more towards indie music rather than chart music, and that’s something we thought would appeal to a wide range of people – and one of our beers is called Indie,” says Matt. “Skiffle is a traditional malty-rich beer, named after traditional pub music years ago, so we thought that was a good name. Strummer – people tend to connect it to Joe Strummer, but it is also because people play guitars. Our latest is Blondie, a summer ale with lighter flavours. We have used the Blondie Parallel Lines theme for the pump clips.”
The business is growing, up from 12 to 20 barrels a week, supplying about 60 pubs in the region, mostly on rotation, but with some now keeping them on the bar all the time, and now the bottle range is making an impact
The brewery now supplies Beautiful Beers in Bury, and the Suffolk Food Hall in Ipswich.