Features: ‘We do what we want to do’
A converted ambulance – now known as the ‘canbulance’ – is parked outside the Moor brewery in St Philip’s. Normally used to transport Moor owner Justin Hawke and his close-knit team to beer festivals across the UK and Europe, its purpose this weekend is to sell glasses and tokens for the brewery’s tenth anniversary celebrations.
On Friday afternoon, Hawke intercepts friends who have travelled to Bristol from across the globe, ensuring that they don’t have to part with cash for their own Moor-branded pint glass and tokens.
The party has also spread from the brewery to Wapping Wharf where Box-E on the first floor of Cargo 1 hosted a beer-matching dinner and can bar, and to the Exchange for music from some of Hawke’s favourite bands.
Many of the international visitors are from the breweries whose wares are on draught at the brewery, where beers from Spain, Belgium, Italy and France are for sale alongside the full Moor range.
It’s also of great credit to Hawke that nine Bristol breweries have also been invited to take part in the celebrations, with a Bristol bar located in the centre of the Moor brewery, and a special collaboration brew, the kellerbier Uber Keller, created for the weekend with Brislington brewery Lost & Grounded.
“I promote Bristol a lot,” says Hawke, who earlier this year became vice chairman of the Society of Independent Brewers. the industry organisation seen as the voice of British brewing.
“I don’t see us (and the other Bristol breweries) as competitors. We have a bond, a friendship and we all grow together. Just look at the explosion of breweries who have grown up around us.”
Ten years ago, when Hawke bought Somerset brewery Moor, the only thing of value was the name – which he kept. “Drink Moor beer is just such a great slogan,” he says with a smile.
The Somerset Levels was a long way away from Hawke’s previous life in the US military, where he met his wife Mary Ann, also now working full-time in the business where any profits made are ploughed back into the brewery and there has never been any outside investment.
Hawke describes taking on the original Moor brewery as like “resurrecting a rotten carcass”. Everything apart from the name changed, with Hawke taking the German naturally hazy philosophy, and combining it with the American flavour-forward approach and the British secondary refermentation tradition.
It’s an approach that has led Moor to be the first brewery to be given Camra real ale accreditation for their cans, which can now be found for sale in establishments including Bristol’s own Casamia and other Michelin-starred restaurants.
“Knowing you are just a small part of places like these, it’s moments like that when you think you must be doing something right,” Hawke says.
“It’s all still just for fun, the punk rock stuff, the Star Wars stuff, the canbulance. We do what we want to do.”
Walk from the tap room to the brewery and there is a corridor in which almost inch is covered in certificates from numerous beer festivals at which Moor beers have triumphed.
Hawke only had limited brewery experience before taking on Moor, and his lead brewer Tom Scrancher has also learned on the job.
“It’s been a difficult journey at times,” Hawke admits. “But I have got a great team around me. I always call it a family. I always wanted to build a place where people can build their careers.”
Today there are more than 20 people employed at Moor, and if one of the team is not working behind the bar over the birthday weekend they will be more than likely found propping up one of the trio of bars.
“This whole thing is totally just a crazy idea of somebody who moved half-way around the world to make it happen,” says California-born Justin, as he reflects on his extraordinary journey while sat in front of the brewery near the canbulance, as fans and friends continue to arrive for the birthday celebrations.
“I wanted to make hoppy, flavourful beers. Ten years ago, nobody wanted an unfined beer. Through sheer stubbornness, we achieved.”
Moor Beer’s 10th anniversary party takes place from June 16-18. For more information, visit www.moorbeer.co.uk/i-want-moor-fest/
Justin Hawke is one of the panellists who chose their favourite places in EatDrink24/7, Bristol’s first truly independent food and drink guide. which is now available to read online.