I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Cocksure Brewing Co. co-founders – Calum Doutch and Dan Snow – and was blown away by not only their approach to brewing but their approach to business. These boys are doing things differently in Bristol, and it’s an honour to share their story…
Calum Doutch and Dan Snow met, and became good friends, while working in the sales team at Bath Ales in the town of Warmley, South Gloucestershire. Despite both moving on to new things, they always kept in touch about their dream of starting their own brewery together.
“I was in London, Dan was in Bristol,” Calum tells me. “We were still working in the industry and I was having a bad day one day; I picked up the phone, rang Dan and politely asked if he wanted to start a brewery with me.”
The rest, as they say, is history but there’s so much more to the story of Dan, Calum and Cocksure Brewing Co. Like so many brewery stories before them, though, it all begins in a familiar setting.
“When Dan and I started,” Calum continues. “We were homebrewing in his one bedroom flat in Bristol with some recipes we’d put together with some friends. Once we’d done some testing, we then did a contract brew of our Pale Ale in bottles. We then got our own five brewers barrel kit and secure our premises in October 2016, then we started brewing on January the 7th 2017.”
The dream was quickly becoming a reality with a recipe and a kit to brew it on, but the limitation of their equipment wasn’t going to allow Calum and Dan to achieve their grand goals. That was never going to stop them, though.
As Calum explains: “We started on the five brewers barrel kit but, after a month, Dan and I realised that this wasn’t going to be commercially viable moving forward if we want to grow. So, we had a conversation about how we could get a bigger brewhouse, but we didn’t have thousands of pounds sat there to go and buy a brand new one.
“So, we hired a flatbed lorry and we drove up to stainless steel graveyard just outside of Manchester and we bought a couple of tanks which are now our copper and our mash tun, which we fabricated and built ourselves.”
Ingenuity and elbow grease got them the brew house they needed to set a course for greatness. Now, it was time to start brewing the beers they wanted to brew, making the mark on the industry they wanted to make. They set out with a different strategy to many of their contemporaries.
Introducing the world to craft
“We were in the trade for quite a long time in the customer-facing side of things and we felt we had a good insight, and good feedback, into what people want,” Calum says. “What we wanted to create was beer that’s offering something for everyone and that is why we created the Pale Ale initially, and the rest of the core range followed suit. Designed to be well-balanced, in terms of the hop profile and the malt bill, everything within it is designed to be a balanced beer. We don’t hop for the sake of hopping because we think beer should be
“Most of our friends were lager drinkers,” Dan follows on. “The Pale Ale is designed as a hybrid to tease them over but, also, it’s a great beer to chuck in a bucket with ice and have with a barbeque.”
The idea of approachable and accessible beers that introduce mainstream beer drinkers to craft, while providing seasoned beer geeks with classics to enjoy over and over, is nothing new – but the overall goal at Cocksure may well be. They don’t brew gateway beers to introduce people to Cocksure, they do it to promote the craft beer industry as a whole.
“The beer market in the UK is huge but, still, mainstream lager brands are the ones that dominate the market,” Calum says. “A lot of our close friends were lager drinkers, and they typically wouldn’t go and try a pale ale or an IPA or anything like that. We just thought there’s definite scope in the craft beer marketplace for breweries to create more accessible beer to introduce people like that to the sector.”
“If we can create a product that tempts some drinkers over into the craft beer world, and they go off and drink sours and saisons and imperial stouts or whatever that may be from another brewery, then we feel that we’ve done our job.”
Following on from their initial Pale Ale, Cocksure went on to cultivate a superb core range that really does have something to entice beer drinkers from all sides of the bar to the end with the craft taps. Now, though, it’s time for them to unleash their wild side.
The African Series
“We’ve worked hard to get where we are,” says Calum. “With a core range of five, almost six beers now, which give us that base to go on now to the more creative, higher ABV, flavoursome, hype beers that are a little bit different, and a bit more niche.”
Inspired by their commitment to supporting sustainable development in Africa (more on that later), Cocksure Brewing Co. have launched their African series: a set of beers to be released throughout 2019, inspired by the flavours and ingredients of Africa. The first three beers in the series have landed and they are a huge departure from Cocksure’s core beers; these beers are bold and bursting with unique flavours.
There’s the African Mango and Orange Pale Ale which is packed with a juicy punch from real fruit added straight to boil. Up next is the African Hibiscus and Honey Golden Ale which is sweet with rounded bitterness and lightly tart tang up front. Last, but by no means least, their African Blackberry, Raspberry and Gooseberry stout is pure, fruity, zingy decadence.
“With regards to the taste profile and why we did the Hibiscus and Honey Golden Ale etcetera,” Dan explains. “We basically researched traditional African beers. We took a load of inspiration from all these beers that’d already been done and basically created our own.
“The stout, for example, with the three berries in it, we wanted a thick, full-bodied African stout and you’ve just got to look at the big boys. Guinness do a very thick, 7.2% stout over there in Nigeria, it just shows that they want full flavours, full-bodied, and that’s what inspired us.”
The African influence and inspiration hasn’t only made its way into this special series but also the latest addition to their core range – Latest Haze New England IPA – by complete chance.
“While I was over there,” Calum tells us. “The locals brew their own sort of homebrew with a kind of hop that grows there locally, and they call it shiny leaf buckthorn. After seeing all these leaves being dried at the side of the road, I was asking our guide ‘what are they doing?’ And they were telling me it’s for brewing beer. I was like, that’s ridiculous!”
Cocksure’s African Series is tasting great, but there’s so much more to come. Dan tells me: “We’ve got another seven recipes that include a wheat style beer, one of them’s a very traditional maize beer with a slight modern twist, a beetroot stout using fresh whole beetroots in the boil – so yeah, we’ve got a few things up our sleeves and they will come out during the year.”
Give a cock a home
Taking inspiration from Africa may not be the norm in the beer industry – with most looking to Europe and the coasts of America – but it all stems from their commitment to supporting sustainable development on the continent. And while this specific charitable venture was one that came to the fore over time, Calum and Dan always knew they wanted their business to stand for something, to make a difference.
“When we started the brewery initially, we always said we wanted to have a cause that we backed,” says Calum.“We both knew that we wanted to give back. There are so many good charities, in the UK and globally, it was hard to pick the route we wanted to go down. But, at that time, I was working for a soft drinks brand and they donate all their profits to fund water-related projects across sub-Saharan Africa.
“While I was there, I was lucky enough to visit Malawi twice and witness myself first-hand how crucial to Africa, as a continent, sustainable development is.”
The guys at Cocksure have partnered with Send a Cow, a charity who over the last 30 years has been helping families to grow their own food, confidence and aspirations. Send a Cow doesn’t ask communities what they need – they ask what they’ve got. They help to identify and value resources already there: their land, their families, their communities and capacities, because, together, communities build a vision of a better future.
Then, through training in farming, and by tackling social issues such as gender inequality, they enable them to acquire both the hope and the skills to get there. Send a Cow are known for delivering distinctive programmes that blend gender equality and social development training, alongside farming systems and business development.
“After working in the charity sector with One Water”, Calum explains. “We wanted to engage people by making them laugh, so once we have them engaged, we can then talk about the seriousness behind the charity work Send A Cow do. Hence the name ‘Give A Cock A Home’. We help to fund cockerels, chickens, coops and feed to families in need.”
Through the aptly-named project, Cocksure donate £1 from each keg or cask sold, and 50p every time they sell a case of bottles. Speaking to Calum and Dan, it’s obvious how passionate they are about doing their bit to help.
Ending our conversation, I’m blown away by Calum and Dan’s attitude to brewing and the more important things in life. There’s nothing selfish there. Cocksure Brewing Co. is their way of doing something they love, getting the UK drinking better beer and doing what they can to make the world a better place. We can all say cheers to that.