It is one of the great truths that in brewing, in particular independent craft brewing, the vast majority of people you meet are wonderful. Not just everyday wonderful, but out of the ordinary wonderful. Then occasionally, you come across people like those behind Norfolk brewery Duration, who take this to a whole new level. Yes, slightly OTT in the compliments dept, but let me explain why.
At The Tuppenny, we are aware enough to understand where we sit in the industry. Perhaps it is something borne from being from Swindon, a place that constantly punches below its weight, but we know we are not a major player in the beer world. Not yet at least. We are a small (but damn near perfect) little cog in the big machine, with no real financial clout or influence. Sure, we are a key part of the local market, but that is not huge and it sits like a strange little hoppy oasis in the craft desert in between beer hubs like Bristol, Reading & London.
Duration on the other hand, despite existing way out east in far flung Norfolk, have swiftly become big noises in the industry despite still having a relatively small brewery and output of beer. They command a lot of space in industry blogs and twitter feeds, way beyond the short lived and temporary title of “next-big-thing”, and all of it is universally positive. Despite this, and the fact that with a tiny team they manage to produce a staggering range of high quality beers and even more staggering amount of excellent marketing (have a google of “Duration log beer” – genius or accidental viral marketing at it’s best) they have still taken time to acknowledge us, get to know us, and ultimately, respond to our requests for a chat for this blog with astonishing speed. Remarkable people then. But, enough puffing up, we came here virtually to chat beer, brewing and 2020 with them, so onto the results of that.
We would love to be able to paint a picture of the scene in your mind, especially as the brewery location looks to be stunning in the pictures we have seen. But, this is early 2021 and in-person chats are verboten. So sadly our conversation with co-founder Miranda takes place via email and I am sure you really do not want to hear about the aesthetic glory of our back bedroom office space…. However, even via the medium of typed words on a screen, Miranda comes across as the sort of person you really would enjoy getting to know and having a beer with. One day guys, one day…
The village of West Acre is home to Duration, a beautiful little settlement in West Norfolk’s Nar Valley. The brewery itself occupies a historic old stone barn right next to the river Nar, a tributary of the Ouse, in a spectacularly tranquil setting that couldn’t be further removed from the railway arches of Bermondsey or the trading estate homes of so many other rated brewers. Despite this, Duration remain at the cutting edge of modern beer craft, and it is a setting that informs everything that they do, as Miranda outlines to us:
“As a family brewery we embrace beer enjoyed in that setting and at source. Our brewery site is pretty idyllic, horses in the meadow, barn owls perched on top of our historic medieval stone barn. Our barrel store in an old converted cart shed. The ideal place to enjoy beer at source, family style and field to glass. As such our ethos is to be a brewery connected to a sense of time and place. By that I mean respectful of where we are and what went before us, both in beer terms and as a business we strive to put back more than we take from our moment in time. Sustainable practises govern our work and a sense of history govern our modern beer making practices.”
This is the sort of ethos that is not totally unusual in brewing, with a lot of other rural brewing enterprises (including the one I work for) following similar paths. But most of these are more traditional brewers, turning out classic British cask beers, not the array of styles from across the world that Miranda, co-founder and partner Bates and their team produce with such gusto. A glance across what they term on their website as their “beer library” is a trip through every beer niche you can think of then a load that you hadn’t, through classic styles oft forgotten through to modern, cutting edge brews and includes the stellar ‘Remember When The Pub…’, a proper old school West Coast pale ale which was, on an overall vote among the team, our beer of the year for 2020. So, in a time when so many craft brewers are chasing the same thing and brewing variations on a theme, often with little imagination, how did this diversity and ethos come about? Miranda explains:
“Duration Brewery came about following Bates time at Brew By Numbers which during his time was very experimental and diverse in beer styles. Lots of saisons, hoppy pales and barrelled beers. Bates had taken me to visit Hill Farmstead, Sierra Nevada and The Alchemist in the states and we marvelled at their beers and the connection these places had to place. We wanted to take brewing back to it’s agricultural routes in Norfolk to see UK beer escape the city confines to make Beers That Belong. Bates always wanted his own place and so we decided to just go for it and we Bet The Farm!”*
We mentioned earlier how small a set up they are so asked Miranda on how things worked and they could manage to be so productive, especially at a time when other business have struggled and been cutting output. It is here you realise what a clever business team they make; strengths are taken advantage of, workload and responsibility is delegated accordingly and, like most other businesses that have succeeded through the pandemic, they were responsive to change and fast acting. Miranda elaborates:
“Bates and myself are owner operators. He’s over the brewing and I’m the companies managing director. I lean towards marketing and enjoy being front facing, where Bates tends to prefer thinking creatively about the products we present so it works well. We have 4 other full time team members and one part timer. Two on the brewing side with Bates and 2 and the part timer over the rest of operations. Retail and warehouse dispatch became really important while pubs have been closed much of this past year and instead of wholesale on trade we sold more direct to consumer and to off trade, so we’ve grown the team quicker than anticipated in different departments then we planned. I love our team, and we are pretty much 50:50 representation on the women and men so that’s good too!”
So, with such a broad selection, where would be the best place to start sampling Durations output for a newcomer to them, or someone not versed in the full scope of the beer world? Miranda is quick to have the answer to this, a question she must get asked frequently:
“For newcomers to Duration ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ is a must. It’s a soft, tropical and really well balanced American Pale with a mix of new (Mosaic) and old world (Hallertau Blanc) hops. It’s certainly a peoples favourite and our most popular beer, but then I’d say ‘Doses’ is a pretty solid Pilsner too, crisp, dry and delightfully floral and just a perfect summer crusher. Bates apprenticed in the US making Pilsners and West Coasts so expect a lot of those styles from us! ‘Sweeping Coast’ would be another good one to go – it’s got a little more bitterness and slight resin than Turtles which is more on the East Coast vibe. We also make lots of Belgian and Mixed Ferment beers but I’d say those 3 give a pretty good overview of our fresh beers.”
Conveniently, we currently stock ‘Turtles All The Way Down’, which is one of the few beers to not only be stocked on a regular basis, but that we have had both on the bar as a draught product, and in the Fridge of Dreams ™. It sits alongside ‘Sweeping Coast’, which like Turtles is asuperb examples of it’s style, and very very drinkable. We also have some bottles of ‘Time Marches On’, a dry farmhouse beer with floral hop aroma, delicate bitterness, and a light biscuit malt undertone. A mixed fermentation Biere de Garde; complex as a young beer to drink fresh it can be aged in the bottle (as time marches on) to develop more rustic barnyard depths of grass and leather. We took the wise route of buying two ourselves – one for now and one for some time in the future.
Speaking of the future, after such an uncertain year of difficulties and change, what do the Duration team foresee for themselves and their business? As is typical, they are as focused on what the future post-covid holds for their customers as for themselves, as Miranda says:
“I hope the future sees us all well and safe and beer being enjoyed in company down the pub comes back. As much as I can dissect beer, what I love most is the occasions and memories we make over a beer. Our industry especially the on trade has been hit hard while supermarket beer brands have seen demand skyrocket. I love the expert care and service our wonderful pubs and micro pubs give our products and you can’t replicate that point of service in a multipack! I really hope that this summer kegs return for good and we all get to be out, vaccinated and restriction free (or as close as in the new world we find ourselves in). As a producer adjusting to the fast changing market has been a pretty tough juggling act, can shortages, wasted keg stocks, so some sense of normalcy would be fantastic. We hope to open a little al fresco tap room and want all our publicans to come up in a minivan with all their customers so we can look after them for a change, first round will certainly be on us! Hopefully this is going to be their busiest season yet and supporting them is supporting us. So cheers to on trade reopening and good beer flowing!”
Duration are certainly one of the breweries you are going to continue to see plenty of at The Tuppenny. We love their beer, their philosophy and we are confident you will too if you have yet to experience either. They are one of those breweries whose personality and passion shines through in everything they do, making them perfect beery companions for us. In fact, the only problem with Duration is that they are too far away to visit regularly.
*Before pedants start writing in about our transcription abilities, Bet The Farm is capitalised on purpose as it is a cheeky pun – they brew a superb continental pale called Bet The Farm…