A thirst for the unusual

17 October, 2008

Quench in Broughton Astley, Leicestershire, is benefiting from the resurgence in local brews. Kelly Smith

discovers a beer lovers' oasi


There are just under 600 different bottled beers

lined up on the shelves at Quench, from pale ales and pilsners to stouts and smoked beers. Customers don't just buy beers from this shop - they browse through

them as if they were books in a library. Fittingly, the shelves are ex-Oddbins

bought via

eBay .

E very bottle in Quench's encyclopaedic range is hand

-picked: 342 from microbreweries or small regionals across the UK

and the rest from all over the world, imported directly or through wholesalers

such as Waverley TBS. The only

non-beer offer is a selection of country wines, which are as diverse in flavour as some of the beers.

The boom in local brews is clearly helping to drive trade. In fact, the shop is part of Bells Brewery

& Merchants, a business which owners Jon and Helen Hutchinson have been building for three and a half years. They opened up in Broughton Astley, near Leicester, just five months ago, after outgrowing their original pitch four miles down the road in Ullesthorpe, where they still brew their own ales exclusively for the shop.


took a break from serving to chat about the business.

Why did you choose Broughton Astley for the shop?

Much of our custom was Broughton-based anyway, but we moved here because it's easier to access from Leicester and Hinckley. This is also one of the biggest villages in Britain and it's very affluent. Having said that, most people go over the road to the Co-op for their Stella and Carling. We're here for the discerning beer drinker.

While the majority of custom comes from within a 15-mile radius, people do drive to us from Birmingham, Leeds, London and even Edinburgh. We have a guy from Manchester whose brother lives in Cardiff and he reckons this is on the way .

The specialist bottled beer market is bucking the trend -

is that reflected in sales?

Our margins are at least double that of a typical off-licence. We've not been here that long but weekly turnover is around the £1,500-£2,000 mark and growing.

So the economic downturn hasn't affected trade?

Sales have been a bit flat during the holiday weeks, so we don't know whether the credit crunch is going to bite or

not. But quite often, when you see a recession you see people trade up as well as down.

Average spend per head?

About £12. But it varies with the seasons : for example, the Saturday before Father's Day was mad - we took a week's takings in one day. And we get a lot of people coming in because they're going to visit friends somewhere else in the country and they want to take some local beer with them.

What are the shop's best sellers?

Our own beers. That's because we're the local brewery and we don't sell to anyone else. I can't remember when we last sold beer to a pub. The margins are too low, you travel quite far and it takes too much time. We brew enough to supply the shop

- here we sell about 100 litres (a quarter of our weekly volumes) a week

- and the beer festivals and events we do, which are a big part of the business.

Also popular are beers from Potbelly in Kettering, Northamptonshire, and Tunnel in Ansley, just down the road in Warwickshire, and Thornbridge's Jaipur from Derbyshire goes really well.

The supermarkets are catching on. Asda asked us to supply them, but we said no. We talk to brewers up and down the country who have done it and they say it's an absolute pain.

How else does being a brewer benefit the shop?

It helps with our homebrew kit sales, which make up 30% of trade. All the guys know they can just phone or email us if they have any problems.

Tell us more about Bells.

We have five standard brands and then we brew weird and wonderful beers, up to 12% abv . We recently cultivated our own yeast for a Trappist beer, which flew

off the shelves. People want something different

and our customers will buy it to try it. To them, it's worth £2.50 to find out. I'd say we're more American-style than British. Our bestsell er is Arapaho, a 5.3% abv steam beer brewed with lager yeast - it's a bit like Anchor.

How do you select and build your range?

Stock varies from week to week and depends on what we find when we're out and about. Some customers will give us lists, which helps. We've built relationships with breweries across Britain and because of our geographical position there is a lot of choice. Every few months we get all the Midland brewers to drop off to one brewer from where we pick it up. If you want the rare stuff you have to go and fetch it.

One thing that's working well is swapping with other merchants. There's a similar shop to ours near Oxford, and also one in Leeds, so we've got the whole country covered. It often gets us 20-30 new beers every couple of months.

What part of the range would you like to expand?

Our world range. We're expecting more from America and we'd like to stock some West Indian beers, such as Dragon Stout from Jamaica.

What are the emerging trends

Tastes are broadening. Surprisingly, a lot of the stronger beers sell well here. We do two 12% abv beers and they just fly off the shelves.

But people are not knocking them back - they're for sipping not supping. Pale ales and IPAs tend to be the most popular. For example, Titan IPA - drinking this is like eating raw hops but they buy it by the case load.

The biggest growth we've seen is in flavoured beers. We stock banana, raspberry, cherry, blackcurrant, gooseberry and

fruits of the forest, which is very nice.

And what's interesting is that we sell a lot of glassware. Particularly for the Belgian and German beers, we try to have a glass for each. If a customer has had the proper experience on a night out in Bruges, they want to buy the glassware to recreate it at home.

Any other plans for the future?

We're extending the events side of things - we do our own beer and music festivals as well as supplying several others - and we're getting a lot more into fitting temporary bars. Because we're dealing with brewers all the time it's easy enough to get cask.

What's the best idea you've put into place?

The website

- bellsbrewery.co.uk

- and online ordering system work

well. As opposed to just being functional, we decided to have a laugh with it. There are


along with news about our fundraising initiatives. We also do an email newsletter to keep customers posted.

So can you recommend a good beer?

My favourite is Atlas Nimbus, a Scottish pale ale (we do about 50 Scottish beers). It's very fruity and refreshing.

Quench's 10 best selling beers

Arapaho (Bells) 5.3% abv £2.05

Baz's Bonce Blower (Parish)

11.5% abv £3.45

Beijing Black (Potbelly) 4% abv £2.35

Inclined Plane (Langton)

4.2% abv £2

Jaipur (Thornbridge) 5.9% abv £1.75

Old Home Wrecker (Milestone)

4.9% abv £2.10

Ratae'd (Dowbridge) 4.1% abv £2.05

Temptation (Durham) 10% abv £3.60

Thud (Bells) 12% abv £3.25

Wide Mouth Frog (Bells)

3.8% abv £1.85

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