Whether it’s the funky bar area, recently expanded in anticipation of visitors returning, which overlooks the brewery itself or the ridiculous amount of brews created each week, or a mixture of the two, Firebird Brewery feels like a place that does more than “makes a few Sussex beers”.
It’s of no surprise then that the brewery was set up by two men with a stunning beer heritage. Bill is a fifth generation brewer who learnt his trade at King and Barnes in Horsham, the family firm, and Richard worked with Courage. The men first met at The University of Birmingham’s Brewing School (which sounds like a place full of magic, frankly). Once they’d completed their MSCs in brewing science and technology they went their separate ways only to be united over, you guessed it, a few beers back in 2012.
Richard explains over the background hum of a brewery in action from the bar, which, due to Covid regulations has become his temporary office, how the two came to work together, “Once we’d chatted for a while we knew we wanted to work together. So we found the converted brickworks site in Rudgwick, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
Heritage was the first commercial beer sold at the end of June 2013, and now, eight years later, Firebird Brewery produces a large range of Sussex beers, many of which come from Bill and Richard’s love of experimenting.
“We enjoy having a go at new ideas and flavours and basically love a beer, so if it’s something we’d like to drink, we make it. Generally speaking, even if the beers sells slowly, it will sell eventually because the customers who come to us expect an exciting range of differently coloured beers – they’re like kids in a sweet shop when they come through the doors and they love trying different things, which means we don’t hold back on brews.”
Currently fermenting in the brewery, sending wafts of banana to Richard in his “bar office” is Firebird’s Vice beer, a 50% wheat beer which is cloudy, and reminiscent of brews you can enjoy in Germany. Or, according to Richard, for breakfast.
“It tastes really good with eggs – the beer has a creamy mouthfeel and is delicious when paired with eggs; a vice beer and a soufflé would be perfect,” he tells me, half-jokingly I suspect, but later when I enjoy a bottle of it myself at home, at lunch with an omelette, I’ve got to admit – it’s a delicious combination. And I don’t usually enjoy omelettes.
Even though the pandemic put numerous plans on hold for Richard and Bill, they pushed on to enlarge the bar area which sits above the brewing plant.
“We can’t wait to have our customers back and for the place to come alive again. Although we’ve been able to brew and sell our beers – in a safe way of course – what we have loved, and been known for, are the Fridays and Saturdays when customers can come in and enjoy a glass or two in the bar. We’ve had a lot of laughs over the years in the bar and we see so many familiar faces, it’s more like a family. Pre the pandemic we used to get seriously busy and we decided we should expand the bar area in preparation of visitors again.”
The new-look bar area includes some thoughtful touches, including booth seating, a screen identifying the beers available, as well as the option to buy beer straight out of the tap.
“You can drink the beer straight from the tap and it’s the best lager you’ll ever taste,” Richard explains exuberantly.
As well as the new look, the lessons learned from the pandemic remain strong for the Firebird Brewery team, “We began a delivery scheme last year, which we’ll continue to do – it’s meant we’ve been able to keep our customers, as well as grow the customer base and when we reopen the bar we’re going to continue to offer table service as our customers seemed to really enjoy that aspect,” Richard adds, “but you’ll also be able to come to the bar. We want to make the experience as enjoyable as possible for everyone.”
One of the primary concerns for the brewers from the start was for the brewery to not gain a reputation as a “bloke’s drinking den”, instead they wanted to ensure mass appeal, making the place welcoming to all.
Richard continues, “The fact the bar is part of a brewery is good – people have become a lot more engaged with what they’re buying, they want good quality and they want to know it’s local, and they’re willing to pay a little extra to have that, but it’s also important the bar is its own space and identity. We have music, comfy seating, separate loos, which all goes a long way to welcoming in anyone.”
To that end, the brewery offers vegan beers, gluten-free beers and are dabbling in a non-alcoholic offer, not that they’ll be shouting about any of it.
“We want people to enjoy their Sussex beers. If something’s important to you, for example, is it vegan, then we’ll let you know which ones are. If it’s not important to you and you just want to enjoy a beer, that’s your choice too,” Richard says, over the din of a loud whooshing sound from a busy brewery in action.
They even, shock, offer a wide range of non-beer essentials both in the bar and at the shop attached to the brewery, including local gins and wines provided by Taurus Wines. Richard and the team have also lined up a food offering across the summer to include insane chicken burgers from Barnyard Birds, curries from the Real Curry Squad, wood-fired pizzas and specialist burgers including vegan ones, from Flip.
Contributed by Lisa Brace
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