Welcome to “Lautering With Intent”. This is the first in what will be a regular series of relaxed, behind the scenes chats with the people brewing the beer I’m incredibly proud to be able to offer you here.
Not so much your standard meet the brewer affair, more about what makes the small independent breweries and the lovely folk behind them tick. Giving you a little insight into the sort of people they are and why I love to work with them (hopefully vice versa). I honestly believe it will make you appreciate their beer more, as you’ll have a real connection.
Today we talk with Martha and Dann from The Brewery Of St Mars Of The Desert, a small brewery based in Attercliffe, Sheffield, complete with it’s own Koelschip. Cementing our mutual love of all things Belgian beer and in particular, De Dolle Brouwers.
Tell us a little about you and your brewery?
We have been brewing together as a couple for over a decade, in the USA and now in the UK. In the USA we built a brand called “Pretty Things Beer & Ale Project” in Massachusetts, brewing the beers together in a rented brewhouse and paying that other brewery to package it for us. It was a ton of fun and we were successful, but eventually we got burned out, and realised our dream of owning our own small brewery was only getting further away. So we sold up, went travelling for 2 years, and the whole time we were looking for the perfect brewery site. We settled in Sheffield in 2017, and built our little brewery here in Attercliffe, an old industrial neighbourhood throughout 2018, eventually opening it in late 2018.
Can you explain the reasons behind the brewery name?
On our travels we visited some magical places and almost bought a farm in France, in a village called St Mars du Desert. We loved it there, it was peaceful, beautiful, the farm had buildings for brewing and living, it would have been a dream: but a deserted dream! There weren’t enough people to visit and sustain a business there, so we had to move on. But we kept the name! In Attercliffe, it takes on a new resonance: the deserted areas, the post-industrial, crumbling scenery, and the hidden beauty of this neighbourhood really makes us feel like we are on Mars.
Briefly describe your beer journey, from your first drink through to brewing commercially.
Martha: I grew up in North Yorkshire and drank cask beer with my mates (obviously amongst other things…) but developed a real love of it at University drinking Adnams and then back up North, drinking Theakstons. When I moved to America to work, I didn’t really know what craft beer was, and it was a bit of a revelation I suppose, but really it was meeting Dann and starting to drink Belgian beers, and Belgian-style beers, that got me into “real” craft beer. Small scale, interesting, quirky, and with a lot of artwork involved. That’s when it all started to click. Pretty Things was supposed to be Dann’s way of getting a permanent brewing job, but instead it swept me up and away from my old career and I’ve never looked back.
Which moment in that journey are you most proud of?
I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved, we’ve always stuck to our guns, sometimes pushing through a dismaying lack of interest/ weird ethical issues/ financial restraints. I’m most proud of the welcome we give people, both through our branding and our physical presence. We work the hardest on making our beers fun, interesting, and truly creative, and then presenting them to people in a truly welcoming, open way. To me these are the easiest things to lose in a growing brewery, and therefore it’s these things I feel most pride in when I look back.
Martha: When you look back at our story, there should be many: giving up a really successful business, taking on “pay to play” in the US… But I can’t find any that I really feel regretful about. Life is for living!
What was the last beer you drank for pleasure?
Dann: Last night, we shared a Rochefort 10, in a warm house after a chilly day’s canning. Lovely!
What genre of music is usually rocks the brewhouse to get those creative juices flowing?
Dann: “It depends on the time of day. We mashed in to 1920’s jazz today. Later on it’ll 60’s garage, freakbeat or French stuff like Dutronc and The Liminanas.”
What do you think the biggest challenges for you will in the in the next 12 months?
Making money in the UK beer market in a very small brewery is really, really hard. We honestly never faced anything similar in decades of brewing in the USA. Mostly it’s down to beer duties, which are factors of ten (for example, 27x for a 7% beer) higher than in the USA. But there are a host of other costs and administrative systems we have to navigate here that we didn’t have in the US: VAT, business rates, it’s all stressful and costly. Every additional cost in the brewery has to be really carefully weighed, which brings a lot more workload and anxiety. It leads you to a mindset of being cautious, which for an entrepreneur is not where you want to be. I work hard not to let that mindset stifle our sense of creativity. And also, obviously the Big Bad Virus has thrown a lot of things we thought we could rely on into disarray. Survival for the next 12 months is going to mean brewing the right beers for the market, getting them into the right package (based on whatever lockdown we and other places are in currently), and getting them successfully out there into the world. And somehow still communicating fun to a country full of stressed out people!
Are there any particular beer styles you love or can’t stand, if so what are they?
Dann says: We wouldn’t be real brewers if there weren’t beers we thought soared in the heavens. We’re necessarily opinionated people – so there are also beer types that we don’t think much of. We try not to make and certainly don’t drink what we consider “novelty” beer, that is a good beer ruined with a jokey flavour addition. That’s just us. Also, I would say that we’re not so much into beers soured in the brewhouse.
Describe your most memorable “beer moment”?
(A point in time where everything fell into place, the beer, location, good company (or solitude), or whatever and you thought, YES, THIS!)
Martha: Drinking a pint of Theakston’s Best in a pub garden in early summer with brewer friends from the US, a magical moment drinking fresh Yorkshire beer and seeing their faces click as they got it: cask beer is great! Drinking Quebecois beers at the “festival bière et saveurs” in Chambly, Quebec shortly after I met Dann. Drinking lager from seidels in the garden at Brauerei Zehender in Franconia.
Who would you most love to collaborate with and why?
Dann: “Definitely De Dolle in Esen, Belgium. It was and is my biggest inspiration in brewing. There’s no chance in hell it would ever happen, so that’s part of the dream as well.”
If you could have one beer with someone dead or alive, who would it be with, which beer would you choose and where would you drink it?
Dann: That’s one of this questions that I thought I had an answer to but can’t remember. But how about Jesse Owens, THE great American Olympian? I’m not sure if he drank beer but I always loved that old black and white footage of him destroying the competition at the 1936 Olympics while Hitler squirmed in his seat. I’d say we meet in Munich and head to Hirschgarten to drink Augustiner.
What is your perfect beer snack?
Martha: The best beer accompaniment, hands down, is cheese. Comte, for me currently, but any great cheese will enhance a good beer.
My guilty pleasure is crisps, I blooming love them, but they rarely enhance a beer’s flavour!
What do you like to do outside of your beer life?
At the moment, mostly rescue my socks from the formidable jaws of our puppy, Grimbold.
Can people pop in to visit you for a beer?
Yes! At the moment due to Covid it’s all very complicated, but in normal times we have a taproom that is open from April-October on weekends. You can always send us an email and we’ll do our best!
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Thank you for selling our beers!!! And thank you to your customers for buying them! I think it’s easy to forget that you’re doing something really supportive when you drink a beer from a small brewery, but it’s a hugely positive thing to do. Cheers to that!