Draft Beer Plan Works Wonders
Published on 5 May 2015
It's been 15 years since the King and Barnes brewery was closed, having been taken over by Hall and Woodhouse. Yet Horsham still has a vibrant mix of breweries, with the likes of King Beer, Hepworth's and
Firebird all rising from the ashes of Horsham's historic Bishopric brewery.
Another business created from the brewery closure was The Beer Essentials. Gareth Jones was the brewery shop manager at King and Barnes for nearly 13 years, and opened his own shop after being made redundant.
Little has changed in the shop in the years since – the bell on the door still rings a few seconds longer than it really needs to, and Gareth still uses the same barrel rack for his draught beers at the shop in East Street – yet it's been a continuing success.
Gareth said: "I ran the King and Barnes brewery shop from 1987 through to when it closed in 2000.
"It started off as a traditional off-licence selling the brewery's bottled beers and then turned into more of a wine shop. In 1996, we started selling draught beer and it really took off.
"I remember the smell as much as anything. It was quite intense, so you either loved it or hated it. I found it appetite sharpening! It was a really busy shop and I had some good times there. There are various schools of thought about why it closed but all I'll say is it was a shame. It is sad, because it set us apart from other Sussex market towns as we had a special thing.
"Many people in the town lost their jobs but out of the ashes came other opportunities. We started to look at a few places to open a beer shop and this site had the character to fit in with what I do, as parts of the building date back to the 14th century.
"To start with, I called around a few breweries to see what was out there. Andy Hepworth was setting up on his own, and some people from King and Barnes went to a place called The Beer Cellar, so we had links there too.
"Gradually, it has all just sort of evolved and now there are a huge number of breweries. They're all banging on the door, looking for an outlet to sell their beers."
'It's like a new Harry Potter book, but for book fans'
Every year, The Beer Essentials organises the Horsham Beer Festival, which has become hugely successful.
It started as a small event for Gareth's 40th birthday at the Old Town Hall with friends, family and regular customers. The day went so well that the festival moved to the Drill Hall.
In 2005, the festival was extended to two days to meet demand, and a year later, a third session was held on the Saturday evening. Now in its 13th year, the demand is so high that when tickets go on sale people queue outside of The Beer Essentials. Last year, 650 tickets were sold in just 40 minutes. Gareth said: "It's like Waterstone's when a new Harry Potter book comes out!"
The festival features 50 beers from 50 different breweries, with 350 people attending each four hour session during the event, which has become one of the key events at Horsham's Food and Drink Festival.
Gareth said: "Compared to when I opened the shop, there is a lot more choice in terms of breweries and there is a real craft beer renaissance. It is fantastic to see younger people taking an interest in craft beers too. It is now the case that people are drinking to enjoy themselves, as opposed to simply getting drunk.
"Most pubs used to have the big name lagers on draught, and they all had a similar taste and style, in that they were cold and fizzy and suited binge drinking. Now, beers have similar alcohol content, but these beers are
different in terms of their complexity and flavour.
"I now see so many more craft beers on the pumps in local pubs as that is what drinkers demand. The beers maintain the traditions of what ale drinking is all about and I think that has brought about a reduction in binge drinking, which is great news."
Iron Maiden or Madness Beer?
The walls of The Beer Essentials have been wallpapered with an ever expanding array of beer mats.
They include Murray's Mega Mix, a special blend created by Dark Star and named after Gareth's dog, a fixture at the shop!
There's also a selection of empty bottles going up the stairs, including an 18.2% stout from BrewDog which Gareth drank on "a good day." Another bottle is labelled as Birthday Brew and was made by Andy Hepworth to mark the second birthday of The Beer Essentials.
On the shelf, there are beers from the local area and across the whole country. You can pick up Gardener's Tipple from the Hogs Back Brewery in Farnham, Heart of Gold from the Oakleaf Brewery in Gosport, Scottish beers from Brewmeister, and Longman Brewery Beers from the South Downs.
For novelty value, why not try Piledriver, a Status Quo beer from the Wychwood Brewery, or Trooper, an Iron Maiden beer from the Robinson's brewery. Ska music fans will be pleased to know they can enjoy a Madness-approved tipple!
Those who like a drink whilst enjoying feature length nature documentaries might enjoy March of the Penguins, a creamy stout from the Williams Bros Brewing Company. You can also find a very good selection of locally brewed beers by the likes of Welton's and Hepworth's in Horsham, and Dark Star of Partridge Green.
Gareth said: "If I like a beer, I tend to just take a bit of a punt and see what happens. If it doesn't work then I won't buy it again, but most of the beer is reasonably well received as we do sell good quality products. In this locality, we are very fortunate to have good breweries. Dark Star make a sensational beer. For me, they are one of the top five breweries in the whole country - they are that good. I have Dark Star Revolution on draught at the moment, which is a 5.7% beer and yet it is very drinkable.
"I don't feel an obligation to stock local beers. But customers do like to support local breweries and logistically it makes sense. There are beers I would like to bring in from further afield but it doesn't always make business sense.
"We do have regulars on draught. I always have Arundel Sussex Gold on but the others change week on week andon a busy Saturday I might even need to change a barrel within a day."
You Won't See Table And Chairs Outside
Don't talk to Gareth about 'café culture.' In recent years, the creation of many restaurants along East Street has led to it being dubbed 'eat street' and for a council-led promotion of a continental-style café culture.
The street was re-paved to encourage pedestrians to use the street and delivery times were restricted so that eateries could put tables and chairs in the street. Whilst the idea was generally supported, it was not good news for Gareth.
He said: "The changes have been a nuisance for me but the council had an idea in their head and regardless of the practicalities they've gone ahead and made changes. It has caused problems for me, because of delivery and collection. People want to pick up heavy boxes from outside the shop and can't do it practically during the daytime.
"What I find quite amusing is that you can come down here on a Friday night when the road is open - supposedly for loading and unloading - and you can't actually park for that purpose because people just park up and go into the restaurants. None of the loading bays are available!
"I said all along that they should shut East Street in the evenings, so that when the sun is out in the summer you can have that cafe culture and there will be no delivery trucks. But they didn't listen. They wanted this cafe culture because it works in other countries. But that's because it's hot in other countries! We have a few nice weeks, but generally we don't sit outside because it's not Spain.
"But it's happened, and I carry on. I'll just keep doing what I'm doing - growing slowly and steadily.
"I see people now who come in every week who used to come into the old King and Barnes shop. We have a lot of regulars, so there has never really been a time when it wasn't working out or there wasn't a market for a beer shop. So long may that continue!"
Visit the shop at 30a East Street or visit the website at www.thebeeressentials.co.uk