In conversation with Mark Berry, co-founder of Gun Brewery in Sussex.
Having separately run their own businesses, friends Mark and Toby knew they wanted to work on something together. Something that would make them happy. Something that would put a smile on their faces. Toby bought and renovated a 140-acre farm at Gun Hill in the Sussex Weald, sinking a bore hole to the land’s incredible spring water source in one of the barns, and installing a filtration system. With that, an idea didn’t just begin to take hold; it was right in front their faces.
Mark says: “We had a barn with a spring water source and the desire to start a business together; it took about 30 seconds to work out what this should be.” The pair decided to start a brewery. So, that’s exactly what they did.
Gun Brewery sold its first pint – made with water sourced from that very same bore hole – in January 2015, but it was a long and colourful journey to get there. Mark and Toby began their journey by going on a brewing course. Though they always knew they’d have to hire a great brewer, the duo wanted to see how difficult it was and learn to do as much as possible themselves. They would eventually hire Pete Dakin before adding Damiano and Ben to their brewing team.
They then set out to get the lay of the land by visiting various brewers. Mark says: “We went to see a number of different breweries, including small one-man-band type things, and the more we saw, the more we felt like we could take a run at this.
“We had very little money, but we had time on our hands. Once we decided to go for it, we then spent a year building the brewery. The barn was here but we had to empty it out, install the electrics, all the plumbing, drainage, build a cold store. And across that time, we had a 60-litre test kit and all that time we were doing recipe development.”
Everything was going well. Mark and Toby were building a brewery alongside a bank of recipes and learning how to achieve the flavour profiles they wanted. It is often said that nothing good comes easily, however, and the pair hit their first major snag: They’d run out of money.
“We bought a mash tun and a kettle, but we couldn’t afford a fermenter,” Mark explains. “But then we started going to SIBA meetings, saying to people ‘we’re looking for a fermenter, have you got one?’ People were fantastic. We found one. It was actually Itchen Valley brewery, turned out they had one and said to come to take a look at it. And so, then we got going on that.”
Back on track thanks to constantly inspiring, friendly and welcoming nature of the UK beer scene, Gun Brewery was able to release that first beer in January 2015. Though they’d always gravitated towards hoppy pales and the traditional American-style IPAs, inspired by beers like Stone IPA and Dark Star’s Hophead, their Parabellum Milk Stout (one of the beers featured in Flavourly Craft Beer Club boxes this month) was the first to hit the taps.
Talking more about Parabellum, Mark says: “It’s the one beer that we’ve never really changed the recipe. It just worked right from the beginning. Most of our core beers – say Scaramanga, our Extra Pale, or Project Babylon, the APA – we had a base recipe but it’s only now, after five years, that those recipes are settled. Each iteration is tweaked slightly to bring it to where we want it to be. They’re pretty much always developing until a few years out when they become established.”
Being unafraid to change things, to adapt, all ties into the first of Gun’s two core philosophies: Absolute quality. “All the beer has to be as good as we can make it,” Marks says, and this extends beyond the first sip. Gun set out to make beers you can enjoy again and again, pint after pint.
“We wanted our beers to be sessionable in the sense that you’d want to drink more than one,” he continues. “One where you’d go back to the bar and say: ‘You know what? I think I’m going to have another one of those.’ Because you’d enjoyed it so much. That was our attitude to beer; it had to be as good as we could make it but super-drinkable.”
Gun’s second core philosophy speaks to how much of a passion project this brewery is to Mark and Toby, and why they set out on this journey in the first place. It’s always been about more than the beer, as Mark explains: “The second thing was about culture in the business. Both of us were determined to that what we wanted was a place that we enjoyed going to work.
“I want to work in place where people enjoy going to work, with a smile on their face. They’re not stressed. Beer should be fun. Have we achieved making a nice place to work and making lovely beer? We think so.”
Putting smiles on faces extends beyond those situated at the brewery, for Gun it applies to beer drinkers too. That means all beer drinkers. Their beers are unfined so, with the exception of the milk stout (for obvious reasons), their beers are vegan friendly. They’ve even opted to make a number of their beer gluten free.
“It was quite weird to have unfined beer down in Sussex, a cloudy pint,” Marks explains. “We want [our beer] to be for everybody and not exclude people.”
Couple this with Gun’s commitment to being green – they generate much of their own power from a solar array, use a wood-powered boiler and donate their spent grains to local livestock – and it’s clear that the team down there are doing things right, their own way. And when you crack open a can of Gun beer, you’ll find our they’re brewing things right too
WORDS by Kevin O’Donnell