White t-shirt stories are…
A series of candid conversations with creatives, uncovering their values and style.
Leo Bell is..
Co-owner of Newcastle Brewing Ltd, brewing up a storm in the heart of the North East.
EON: It may seem odd to be interviewing a brewer about fashion, but it’s always really interesting to hear people's perspectives on the industry, especially when they describe themselves as ‘outsiders’.
A white t-shirt is indispensable in any wardrobe, but I know you prefer darker shades! So apart from a nice White T-shirt Co tee in black, what are your other wardrobe essentials?
LB: A cap. Since growing my hair long it’s so much easier to chuck a cap on. A good pair of shoes. In the winter you need a good pair of waterproof boots which is great for working in the brewery because then they sort of double as…
Image courtesy of Red Wing Shoes
EON: Splash resistant?!
LB: Yeah! Not that we throw a lot of beer around…I guess it’s all centred around warm clothes for me, I hate being cold. I’ve got a couple of thick woolly jumpers that I’ll probably wear for most of the winter. One’s a merino lamb wool mix and the other’s a big thick chunky cable knit.
EON: I’m impressed that you know the fibre content of your knitwear, not many people do! How important is it to you to know what your clothes are made of and where they’ve been made?
LB: I tend to just buy clothes that I like and if they happen to be made in this country or be organic then they are, but that’s by accident really, not by conscious choice.
EON: Are you particularly brand loyal?
LB: Not at all. When you’re younger you want to fit in by looking the same as everybody else, so you buy all the big brand names etc. Once you get older you want to be independent so you start to develop your own style. I probably buy fewer clothes but of a higher quality now so they last longer, but it’s probably because I’ve got more disposable income today.
EON: Have you noticed a marked change in the variety of clothing available for men in the last 10 years? It’s certainly a growing market…
LB: I always think that men get the raw end of the deal when it comes to clothes. If you look at the diversity that women have to choose from, men basically just get t-shirts, jumpers, shirts, trousers and shorts, we tend to have fewer options. I don’t think there’s really been anything else added to that apart from maybe when David Beckham wore a Sarong and sort of said ‘hey guys, it’s alright to wear skirts’!
I think the Internet has massively opened up a whole new area of shopping that wasn’t there for us before, there’s definitely more choice now.
EON: Do you enjoy sifting through or would you rather just have a few options?
LB: I quite enjoy it. When we need anything new for the brewery, my dad (Leo's business partner) normally picks the first thing that will do, whereas I like to look at all the options and assess which one’s best. And the same pretty much goes for the way I buy clothes
EON: So moving onto BEER. Have you have always been interested in making things?
LB: No! Up until very recently I was very uncreative. The thing that really got me started was a couple of years ago when I moved back to Newcastle and I had this nice big Victorian terraced flat with lots of space. I invited about 10 people round for Christmas lunch but didn’t have a table, so I decided to build one. After I finished it, I felt quite proud that I’d actually created something and that’s when I really started looking for something else creative that I could do.
EON: So why did you choose beer?
LB: I think beer chose us rather than the other way round! My Dad and I were drinking in BrewDog one night and ended up buying a home brew kit and giving it a go. The first try turned out a bit crap but we didn’t want to be defeated. We thought if other people can make decent beer, we’re just lacking a bit of knowledge and skill and a bit of equipment. We eventually brewed one beer and when we tasted it thought we’d be happy if we got a pint of it in BrewDog, so we decided to start selling it.
EON: How innovative you can be when brewing, are there certain steps that you must follow?
LB: Yes and no. There are a lot of different beer styles as well as key ingredients. The basic ingredients for beer are malt (predominantly malted barley), water obviously, hops and yeast. The water you can treat with different salts and additives to highlight different aspects of the beer. So if you want a really hoppy pale ale or IPA you change the water profiles so it increases the hoppiness. It’s like adding salt and seasoning food with spices when you’re cooking - it enhances the end product.
We focus more on the hops than the malt. We use British, American, New Zealand, German and Slovenian varieties. You can get a lot of detailed information on the hops, like what flavour and aromas they have.
EON: How do people choose which beers to drink?
LB: The way that most people drink is by having their favourite larger - so Fosters for example – and drinking it wherever they go. With craft beer and real ale, it’s completely different; people want to drink something different every single time.
The craft beer and real ale industries are growing every year ten fold. It’s still a small part of the market but while overall beer sales are dropping for the mass produced stuff, craft beer is really on the rise.
EON: Interesting, I wonder if fashion will take the same path. How interested are your customers in the story behind the product?
LB: People these days love the fact that they can buy a local product from someone who is interested in telling them about the story behind it. Stories sell products and the more real the story is, and the more genuine it is, the better.
EON: So, it’s about being authentic…
LB: Yes, exactly.
EON: People are far more interested in the provenance of their food today, is it the same for drink?
LB: Food’s got a good decade head start over alcohol but there are now craft beers, craft ciders, craft gins and craft whiskies coming though, all made in small batches and using much higher quality ingredients than the mass produced offerings. When it comes to beer, customers generally only care about the provenance of the hops themselves because they give an indication of taste. For example, American hops give a more citrusy and piney flavour to the beer.
It’s like some people preferring a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough in New Zealand to one from the Loire valley; it just has a different flavour.
There’s a slight problem with hop supply right across the world at the moment because there’s all of a sudden been a massive demand – as the craft industry has exploded over the last decade - and the hop farms are struggling to keep up with it. In the UK alone we’ve gone from a few hundred to 1700 microbreweries over the last decade. So if a hop farm or a hop area has a bad harvest, it puts all the prices up and when prices increase they never come back down again. That’s a challenge for the industry at the moment, keeping the hop prices low enough so as not to exclude the smaller guys like us. You often get some of the massive breweries buying up huge amounts of the hop harvest and then not using them just because they’re threatened by what other guys are doing. Often the larger breweries also own the distribution networks, so they can have a lot of control.
EON: Finally, I wanted to ask you thoughts on the concept of ‘peak consumption’. We must change our habits but how can we change them for the better?
LB: On the tangible side of things, we’re always looking to reduce the amount of waste we’re putting out and we recycle and reuse stuff where we can. Things like the spent hops and grain after we’ve finished brewing go to Ouseburn Farm which is a charity. They use it in their animal feed which means they don’t have to spend as much money on it. We’re also looking at using the spent grain to grow mushrooms. We’re quite in tune with the area and we’ve been asked if we want a part of a local tunnel to grow mushrooms in because apparently, it’s perfect conditions.
EON: So it’s more about looking at what you do with your waste and working out how to reuse it?
LB: Yes, but as well it's about supporting smaller boutique industries and starting to source as much as you can locally, instead of buying stuff that’s been mass-produced.
Find out more about Newcastle Brewing & their coming events and tastings: Newcastle Brewing Ltd
Interview conducted and editing for post by Eleanor O'Neill: www.study34.co.uk
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