Brewing up a storm in the back garden at Burwell Brewery
Are you passionate about beer, have brewing skills and want a hobby that’s a world away from your day job? Then why not build a brewery in your back garden and live the dream.
That’s what Ricky Dolphin and Paul Belton did and Burwell Brewery was born - and it is thriving. Ricky is chief technical officer at Bottisham-based Cambridge Cognition, a leading provider of cognitive assessment software for clinical trials, research and healthcare provision, and Paul is a commercial director for Biotage, a global life science company.
But their shared passion is brewing and drinking beer. Paul says: “I moved to Burwell from Manchester and met Ricky playing football. We started brewing together 10-15 years ago. People kept asking ‘can we buy your beer?’ so we thought ‘why not?’ and decided to go for it.”
Despite no previous construction experience, the pair built a nanobrewery last year - with help from friends, some paid in beer - when they could not find suitable premises.
Ricky, who had brewed in his greenhouse, explains: “The reason we built in my back garden is we wanted premises suitable for brewing at a price point that made it viable and we needed something on our doorstep. Plenty of catering businesses run from people’s kitchens and a brewery isn’t much different - we keep standards of hygiene high and are sensitive to our neighbours.
“There’s no reason why there can’t be small breweries selling beer locally so long as you approach it understanding you’re not going to make a lot of money.”
Former chemist Paul adds: “We are both busy with our day jobs and brewing is an extended hobby. When we started we were prepared to put a day a month into it.”
They have been putting in longer shifts as drinkers in Burwell and beyond develop a taste for their brews. “There’s a farmers’ market in Burwell and we sell beer there,” says Paul. “And when we put something on Facebook to say ‘this brew is ready’, it’s gone within a week.”
Beer names have a local connection - Judy's Hole is a dark beer named after a spot where locals used to swim and Judy was, depending on your viewpoint, a wise woman or a witch. Bavarian-style Stefans' Mühle is named after Steven’s Mill, Burwell’s last working mill which celebrates its 200th anniversary this year.
Ricky says they were due to take eight firkins to the Cambridge Beer Festival in May - when it was cancelled, he gave a talk to beer lovers instead. “I did an online session on setting up your own brewery and debunked a lot of myths. There is a reasonable amount of paperwork but we found everyone was very supportive of our planning and licensing applications and councils want to help small businesses.”
Sales have been strong during lockdown and a new website, burwellbrewery.com, is widening their appeal. Ricky says: “The majority of the beer is sold within Burwell and the farthest afield is the Highlands of Scotland - a website is a wonderful thing.”
Supplying festivals, clubs, events and the public, the duo have expansion plans. Ricky explains: “I spend most of my days in meetings or Zoom sessions and brewing is radically different. On a Saturday, I’m in the brewery at 6.30am, I go there after work and I never think of it as a job.
“We are in the process of doubling our production to a two-and-a-half barrel brewery. If we can shift the beer, we will consider doubling again. The business is growing, we are having fun and we brew the beers we love.”
Find out more about the brewery at burwellbrewery.com.
Sign up to our weekly newsletter for a digest of the best stories straight to your inbox.