If you’ve been out and about in Manchester recently, you might have already heard the name ShinDigger, or even got your hands on a pint or bottle of their Pacific Pale (4.5%). I picked up a bottle from The Epicurean on Simon‘s recommendation and, later that afternoon, I settled down and poured myself a glass; it was good! A lovely pale ale with beautiful aromas and lots of body, this is a beer I’d happily enjoy a few pints of. Last week, at The Dockyard in Media City, I grabbed a pint of Pacific and sat down with George and Paul, the guys behind ShinDigger, to find out what they’re all about.
So what’s the story – how did ShinDigger get started?
When we were living together as students at Manchester University in 2012, we decided to buy a home brew kit, basically with the intention of making very, very, cheap beer at a time when we were very, very, poor. The first few goes were a bit of a disaster, but after a while we got the hang of it, and started developing our own recipes. We got really into brewing and developed a passion for really hop forward, American styles, packing our brews full of flavour. Then our friends started to drink our beer and we started selling it at house parties. That’s when the first idea of an actual business was conceived – when we realised that our beer was actually good enough that people wanted to buy it, and would choose to drink it over a macro lager. The next step happened when Paul did an Enterprise masters at university, based around setting up your own business. We applied our craft beer dream to Paul’s degree and managed to get a loan from the Government start up loans scheme in Spring 2013, which gave us the capital to get things moving.
Eventually we managed to find a micro brewery who were happy to let us brew there, as gypsy brewers. Outstanding Beers, based in Bury, had done contract brewing before, and they believed in us. We launched our first beer, Pacific Pale, in October 2013, initially on keg, then a cask batch, and as of last week it’s been bottled as well. We launched our second beer only about a month ago, but now we’re going to be able to release beers much more quickly. We’re launching our third beer at Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, and after that, well, the first port of call is getting out the old home brew kit and testing some of our ideas; we’ve got plans for a black IPA and a rye beer. We want to end up with a spectrum of beers, so if you’re new to craft you can start off with something very light. We’re even planning on producing a good quality lager, infused with a subtle hint of lemon and lime.
What’s your favourite dispense method for your beer?
Definitely keg. It’s like a hybrid, you get the chilled and refreshing nature of lager combined with the flavour of ale; the best of both worlds, basically! Sometimes cask can be a little flat, a bit room temperature, and we’ve found that people tend to want a refreshing drink.
How many pubs, bars, and beer shops can we currently find ShinDigger in?
Beer shops are new to us, as we only started to bottle very recently; we’re in six or seven places. Our beer features as a guest in about fifty places at the moment, and that’s growing all the time. We’ve got about four permanent places where our beer is on all the time, otherwise bars tend to take a keg every week or so. We’re mainly based in the City Centre and Greater Manchester, although we have a few customers in Chester, one in Sheffield, and we’ve even had a keg in Liverpool quite recently, so we’re starting to spread our wings! Our biggest problem as gypsy brewers has always been meeting demand, so we’re currently focusing on supplying existing customers, rather than actively going out and selling. We’re brewing a lot of beer in a couple of weeks time, which will provide us with a platform to go out and talk to some new bars, rather than just keeping up supply to our existing customers.
How often are you in the brewery?
We’re there all the time, but not necessarily to brew. We’ll go along whenever we can to help out, muck in with their brews, drop off empties and chat about our new recipes. To actually brew our own beer, we’re in there about twice a month. It’s been really useful working with brewers who have more commercial experience than us; in a way, they’ve been mentors, giving us experienced advice about the beer industry. That’s been great for us. If anyone was considering starting a brewery, we’d advise them to start off as a gypsy brewer, as it lets you tap into the knowledge and experience of your established brewing partner. It’s a good process to go through.
What do you think about the term craft beer?
We think it makes sense. It basically describes any small brewer who’s independent and making good beer. We can see why people might not want to label it, but to us, it’s a quick and useful distinction. The problem with craft beer at the moment is that there’s a knowledge gap caused by its pretentious image. When they’re still new to good beer, people find it daunting to go to a bar and be faced with barrel-aged offerings when they want something light and easy. A very simple definition will give the average person on the street a base to work from, and hopefully that little bit of education will help break down the gap, filling in the grey area. We think that will only help push craft beer forward, helping casual drinkers to understand and embrace that side of things, which will allow the market to grow and flourish.
What are your favourite beers – and to descend even further into geekery, favourite hops?
Punk IPA has that really fruity, tropical flavour that we want in a beer, the same with Jaipur, Hawkshead IPA, and Beavertown Gamma Ray. They have this massive aromatic citrus punch on the nose, cramming in huge aromas; they must be dry hopping the shit out of them! In terms of hops, New Zealand has the edge over America; the tropical stuff like Nelson, with that huge passionfruit hit, although, Citra is a favourite of ours. Our West Coast IPA is straw coloured and packed with citrus-based hops, Citra, Cascade, Amarillo… It went down really well, so we’re about to spend loads of money on Citra to see us through to the next hop harvest!
Have any breweries particularly inspired you?
One brewery that’s been a massive influence for us is BrewDog. They’ve created a brand which reaches out to people who might not otherwise try craft beer. They aren’t just trying to be another craft beer brewery; they’re actively trying to get people who are drinking lager into craft beer, and that’s a big inspiration for us. That’s what we want to do. We feel there’s potential to get normal people who drink macro lager, put a craft beer in front of them, say “try this”, and they’ll enjoy it – so far, that’s been the case.
One of the things that’s a big inspiration for us, more generally, is that we’re making beer, beer makes people happy, and we’d like to think that therefore, we’re making happiness. Our motto is “Enjoy the moment”. When you’re drinking a beer with your friends, you’re having a good time, and the fact that we’re part of that through creating a beer for that experience is enough to motivate us. We get up every day and do what we’re passionate about: making good beer. Our name, ShinDigger, embodies the ethos that beer is about having fun. Our goal is to get as many people as possible enjoying beer, and also enjoying the best possible beer for them. You could go to a pub and drink bland lager all night long, but why not have a good time with your friends, in the same environment, while drinking a really nice beer that’s been designed especially for you?
Are there any beer festivals you’re particularly excited about this year?
We unfortunately missed Craft Beer Rising this year, though we went in 2013. What we like about festivals like Craft Beer Rising and IndyMan is that they’re putting a new face on craft beer. For our generation, beer can sometimes be seen as an ‘old man’ drink, so this new type of beer festival with an urban vibe, DJs and street food is giving beer a more youthful image. Coming up, we’re looking forward to Stockport Beer Festival at the end of May, where we’ll be launching a new beer, and we’re doing the Allgates beer festival. We’re also really looking forward to Love Beer Festival at Dulcimer. Our first ever beer festival was the Love Beer festival in Chorlton last year, and the guys at Love Beer are getting a lot of really interesting beers in for this festival; our West Coast Pale Ale‘s going to be there. We only made ten casks of that, so it’s hard to get your hands on at the moment, though we’ll be brewing it again soon.
Moving away from beer festivals, we think it’s important for craft beer to have a presence at music and arts festivals. Our beer’s going to be at Fat Out Fest in Salford, which is a music, arts and culture festival, we’re going to be at Sounds From The Other City music festival, and we’re also going to have a presence in the VIP area at Parklife. With all of the light, refreshing, yet full-flavoured offerings available, we think there’s definitely space for craft beer to be a staple at festivals.
I asked my Twitter followers what they would like to ask the guys, and below are a few of the questions I was sent.
How do you try to differentiate yourself when so many young craft breweries are hoppy pale, IPA, impy stout dependent? (From @SoHoptimistic)
We have a brand which is an extension of our own beliefs and values, and we put that in front of people. We aren’t trying to out-beer anyone, we aren’t trying to make the weirdest, coolest, most ‘craft’ product; all we do is make beer for people like ourselves. We’re making good, easy-drinking, fairly low ABV beer for people to enjoy with their friends in a beer garden.
Where is it important to stick with tradition, and where might it be important to break with tradition? (From @MagdaKnight)
We never try to brew in accordance with tradition, we just try and create the best possible quality product. That’s why we prefer to keg our beers, because we think that’s the way they taste best. We use New World hops, rather than English hops. When we started home brewing, we weren’t really paying attention to what others were doing, we were just doing it for ourselves. We aren’t too keen on paying attention to industry trends – we’re just trying to make the perfect beer for our generation.
Where do you see yourselves in 5, 10, 15 years time? (From @TotalCurtis)
We don’t want to give too much away right now, but a few things that spring to mind include: Owning our own brewery… Sticking with our ethos of getting people to enjoy the moment, and reaching out to more people… Oh, and more dry hopping!
Cheers, chaps! You can get your mucky paws on a pint of ShinDigger at the Love Beer Fest at Dulcimer Bar in Chorlton over the Easter weekend (17th-21st April), or send the guys a tweet over at @ShinDiggerCraft. They also have a Facebook page, you know, if you still use that sort of thing, and a website where you can keep up with their blog.