Member Feature - Ferry Ales Brewery

After randomly meeting at Newark train station back in 2010 and immediately becoming good friends, John Cussons and Mike Holman began planning their business concept for brewing quality craft ales and lagers.

Fast forward to 2016 and the plans were put into reality as Ferry Ales Brewery sprung to life.

Select Lincolnshire caught up with John from Ferry Ales Brewery to find out how two business men came together to build a brewing business in rural Lincolnshire….. and it’s quite a story. A great read for budding entrepreneurs in the industry.

So John, how did the concept for Ferry Ales Brewery come about?

Mike and I first met in 2010 at Newark train station whilst commuting to London, but it wasn’t until a commute years later in April 2015 that we shared our plans for starting our own brewery business. From then on, those early morning and late night commutes became our planning meetings.

Both of us had bought brewing equipment, read endless books on the subject and attended courses to learn the craft of whole grain beer making. We then set about perfecting the styles of beers that we are passionate about using smaller 20-40 litre all grain brewing equipment.

What were your jobs before all of this?

I worked in London in the world of Corporate Law - although I’m not a lawyer, and Mike was a Project Manager and running a web design and e-marketing company in Lincoln.

So how did you put the wheels in motion? In early 2016 we applied for a grant through the Lindsey Action Zone to fund our equipment and although the Brexit vote held up the decision, we were finally successful in getting the grant in July 2016. Work then began in earnest to turn a redundant barn on our small holding into a brewery. We also partnered with ABUK who provided all the equipment and in October 2016 the first brew was produced. We launched the beers at a beer festival at the Inn on the Green, Ingham later on in the year.

What are your main products? We currently have four core beers. Just Jane is our session bitter at 3.8%. We have our Best Bitter 49 Squadron at 4.9% which is named after the squadron of Lancasters that flew from the nearby airfield. Witham Shield is an American style pale ale at 4.5% and Smokey Joe is a lightly smoked porter. We also have some special and seasonal beers including a Pilsner style lager called Lincoln Lager and a Rye Beer named Slippery Hitch.

How do you create them? We research. We also talk to friends and family about what the kinds of beer they like or don’t like. This often requires us to taste a number of beers - a tough job but someone has to do it. We look into the types of grain and hops used and then start to develop ideas to put our own twist on it. For example when we developed Witham Shield, the focus was on producing the American pale ale style but with less hop as feedback told us that many people found this type too citrusy.

Are there any regular challenges that you as a business face? One of the biggest challenges facing all brewers is getting hold of the hops that we need.

How do you source ingredients/components of your products? We currently source our grain from a small malsters as they still use a traditional floor malting process. They are the oldest malster in the UK and because of their size, they are happy to work with smaller breweries. We use a mixture of UK, European and North American hops, but other products are sourced more locally including Murphy and Sons in Nottingham. We always look for local companies to partner with and this was one of the key reasons for joining Select Lincolnshire - to build relationships with other local producers. We are always interested to discuss ideas with people.

Do you engage with any other community groups e.g. education, charity? We are extremely keen to try to support the local community in different ways. Mike grew up in Nettleham and my wife grew up in Cherry Willingham so we both have a strong connection to the area. Our site is actually located close to a former Lancaster bomber airfield, and because of this we partnered with the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre who are currently restoring the Just Jane Avro Lancaster NX611, to create our ‘Just Jane’ beer. Every 10p from a pint sold will go to the charity.

Have you any tips for using your products? Currently our bottled beer is conditioned in the bottle which means there will be a little sediment in the bottle. It means that you need to leave the bottle to stand for a few hours and then pour it gently and leave a little bit in the bottle so you don’t get the sediment. Also, one of the great things about producing beer is that it allows you to experiment with flavours. Mike has produced an excellent fish and chips using 49 Squadron in the batter and he is working on a recipe for steak and ale pie using Smokey Joe.

What are your plans for the future? We are installing a bottling machine which will improve the quality of the shelf life of our bottled product as well as improved efficiency. This will then allow us to supply a great range of shops, restaurants, hotels, markets and our own web sales. The bottling machine will also allow us to fill a variety of keg sizes which will be great for customers holding parties who want real ale on tap. We currently sell growlers which are refillable 500ml bottles from the brewery. However, we are looking to also stock 1 or 2 litres in the future.

What is your ultimate goal? To grow the business to employ more staff locally and to build an onsite tasting room in the future. It would be great if the volume of sales means we need to expand the existing equipment. We also are excited to help build on the reputation Lincolnshire has for high quality products.