Hopes & Beers

October 3, 2022

Testing… testing, one, two… is this thing on?!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on this website. I can assure you while I’ve been on sabbatical from brewing The Jesus Beer, I’ve been hard at work behind the scenes planning for world domination… or something like that!

My travels recently took me to a new brewery in the heart of North London.

Congregants with deep pockets and passions for craft beer

Hackney Church Brew Co is an impressive space.

Situated in a railway arch down a bohemian alleyway, alongside other hipster neighbours, and with passersby that range from American tourists to unsavoury locals that wouldn’t seem out of place in a modern reinterpretation of some Dickensian novel, I’m sat across from two entrepreneurs – Luke and Ryan – recording a podcast about beer and the Bible.

After a round of beers and the third inquisition from yours truly, Ryan Robbins – a tall American with slicked-back hair and a stylish beard – offers to show me around the brewhouse.

It’s an impressive piece of kit.

20 hectolitres (that’s 20,000 litres, or 40,000 pints to you and me!), German built and fully automated, with a water filtration system and a hop rocket that Elon Musk could climb into himself, it’s evident that the church from which the brewery forms a part of – Hackney Church – has congregants with some seriously deep pockets and a passion for craft beer.

While sharing woes with Ryan from the past 18 months and quizzing him extensively on their financial arrangements, he takes a moment to ask me: ‘Well, what size do you want to be?’.

It’s a good question… one that I’ve been extensively avoiding.

Because the answer is, I don’t know!

When I left The Sheffield Brewery Company a year ago, I had no idea how Emmanuales would pan out, or – if I’m really honest with myself – even if I really wanted it to. I just knew deep down that I needed to be doing my own thing, independent from the brewery I had give myself and my baby to for the past several years.

And now, here was Ryan saying things like, ‘Because, you know, you really ought to go in at the size you want to be from the get-go. And for a set up like this, you’re talking about a million… minimum!‘.

It was easier not to engage with questions like that. Because actually seeking answers to those questions goes beyond the realms of Micky Mouse money down the rabbit hole of investors, venture capitalists, banks and bootstrapping.

Surveying the room, it was everything I’d ever dreamt about.

Red brick walls in a railway arch (my 7-year-old self… who am I kidding, 37-year-old self squealing with excitement at the rattle and hum of passing trains above) with timber beams reminiscent of a Methodist chapel; 150 year old pews taken from the local church where St John himself once brewed beers for pilgrims; shiny stainless steel vessels; the aroma of boiling wort and hops; and the smell of freshly cooked artisan food wafting out of the kitchen.

Only, in my mind, we’re not under Hackney Central… we’re under the long abandoned Sheffield Victoria: a relic of the great Northern Powerhouse that linked the city of seven hills to Manchester through a series of rolling peaks, forests and the Woodhead tunnel.

All it will cost you (well, me, that is!) is a cool million.

(Know any investors with spare change, anyone?)

Two haunting questions

And yet, I came away with two haunting questions: ‘Do I really want this still?’ and ‘What would I do if I had a million pounds?’.

The latter was easy to answer. I’d go and buy my railway arch and start a brewery tap house that made beer for Jesus and the locals of Sheffield; regardless of what religion, race, gender, persuasion and political view they held, they’d be welcome… even if they supported Sheffield United!

But the former question – Do I really want this still? – has been much harder to answer.

The last three years have been exceedingly tough for a variety of reasons. Major life changes, going deaf in one ear, and deconstructing my faith kicked a lot of the fight out of me that I had for brewing beer myself. It’s an exceedingly tough industry to be a part of and I learned some valuable life and business lessons through it.

But deep down, there’s been this nagging sense that God hasn’t finished with Emmanuales yet. That’s there’s still life in it, and it’s worth fighting for.

I’ve probed around for the last year trying to decipher the code and make best laid plans for taking the future. Do I contract brew – that is, get someone else to brew my beers for me? Do I look for a business partner to take on some of the load?  Should I just call it quits and concentrate on my other ventures? If I put the beer out to tender, how would I sell the vast quantities needed to cover the margins and be profitable?

Every avenue holds an unending realm of further questions; you can tie yourself up in some serious knotts trying to answer these questions.

In the end, I decided a different approach.

I decided to start with the One.

The One is not Ninety Four

The One isn’t on step ninety-four, which is usually where I am. The One isn’t mentally off brokering deals for export with the United States to get beer into the hands of thirsty liberal Christians in America. The One isn’t even figuring out how to convert his cellar into a residential nano-brewery.

The One is simply taking the equipment that I’ve amassed over the past 6 years out of the cellar, cleaning it down and starting somewhere… anywhere!

And that is what I’m doing.

The Hopes & Beers

I’ve talked long enough about ‘When I resurrect Emmanuales…’, it’s about chuffing time I actually did it!

My hope and prayer is that come Christmas we can do a soft re-launch with Hopes & Beers: Carols for the Thirsty somewhere.

I haven’t figured out a venue yet… or how I’m going to dispense that beer… or how I’m going to pay for it all… I haven’t even worked out what I’m brewing beyond next Friday (and even that is sketchy!).

That would be going beyond the One.

All I know is that the One has called me out of darkness into marvellous light to carry on spreading the Good News one beer at a time, while staying true to our core value of never forcing religion down people’s throats: just beer.

And if you’re thirsty and would like to taste and see that the LORD is good, then I invite you to step into the One with me…!

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Hop Forward Ltd T/A Emmanuales
70 Cromwell Street, Sheffield, S6 3RN

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