Co-founder of The 3 Brewers of St Albans, Mark Fanner, talks about turning real ale into real business, ahead of the Meet The Brewer event at The Grove on 22 October, which coincides with the launch of their craft beer on draught at The Stables next month.
As a lifelong real ale enthusiast, former marketer and St Albans’ boy Mark Fanner is no stranger to good beer. So, when the chance came to turn that passion into a local business opportunity with one of his closest friends, he was ready and willing to jump in with both feet.
“The idea to start a micro-brewery came to us back in 2012, when I was drinking with my friend Petar (Zivkovic),” he explains. “We were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives and we both knew we wanted to do something different and exciting- we just weren’t sure exactly what.” As it turned out, they were sipping the answer as they spoke. “After a while we floated the idea of making our own ale and started to do some research. Pete had a friend who had started his own brewery on a farm near Peterborough. Once we visited we knew exactly what we wanted to do and The 3 Brewers of St Albans was born.”
In his previous roles in marketing, Mark worked with several major food and beverage companies and knew exactly how the brand should look. “We wanted to launch a sustainable micro-brewery to provide excellent beer to locals in the area we’re from-St Albans,” he says.
While Mark had extensive knowledge of food and beverage compliance laws and good marketing practice, Pete had strong business skills- with experience setting up his own building company. “Pete is great at all the practical stuff and I have the F&B knowledge from my former roles,” says Mark. “Our skills really complement each other in that sense.”
Research and hard work
After extensive research, they chose to launch the brewery in a former potato store on a farm on the St Albans/Hatfield border, with their recently purchased second-hand brewing kit. Describing the process as a ‘steep learning curve’, Mark says that the early days of the business were especially challenging. “We needed to work out what we were doing from sorting out the drainage and pipes to the electricity. We also had to make major amendments to our kit to produce the products we wanted.” After all that hard work, the team spent four months experimenting with beers to ensure the product was exactly right before it went on sale. “We held taste tests with local publicans. They were the people we wanted to sell our beer to and we wanted their feedback,” he explains. Before long the demand was up, and the boys hired Matt Sutton to join the team as head brewer.
Sustainability is a key USP for The 3 Brewers and both Mark and Pete wanted to create a high-quality product that could be enjoyed locally. “Part of the beauty of our set up is that everything we use to make the beer comes from nearby, even the water is from the farm’s borehole, just 100 feet underneath the brewery.” Thanks to their commitment to recycling all materials, they have developed excellent relationships with local farmers, who they provide with free fertiliser and cattle feed, made from waste materials and grains.
Working with the best
The 3 Brewers ensures that it works with local partners, choosing the best pubs and hotels in the region to sell their beer. “There’s two aspects to reputation; one is to have a great drinking experience and the other is the actual beer itself,” says Mark. “We choose places that we know can store and serve our products properly and will provide customers with a great experience.”
Of course, setting up your own brewery comes with its challenges. For Mark and Pete, consistency has been one of the most difficult things to get right. Due to the use of natural products, every harvest can yield different results- meaning recipes have to be carefully adapted to get the same flavour. “Things like temperature can also make a huge difference and getting a consistent quality product that tastes the same every time is an exact science.” From power cuts to frosts, Mark believes they’re over the hardest hump now and know how to face the problems they come up against.
As an avid fan of hiking, cycling and watching live bands, Mark’s lifestyle fits in perfectly with his new career- and he’s happy to end a long walk up a mountain with a pint of real ale. “We always wanted our core market to be local and produce beers that people in the St Albans area would really enjoy drinking. When I go to a pub I’ve always really admired and see someone drinking our brand, it feels fantastic. It’s been a long journey but 100% worth it.”
Join us at The Grove’s for our Meet The Brewer event hosted in the Players Lounge at The Stables on Sunday 22 October, 5 – 9pm. This complimentary event celebrates the launch of craft beer on draught at The Stables, inviting guests to sample Mark and Pete’s best ales!