Sometimes when you walk into a company you can tell immediately that it was born out of love. That its founders have given it all of themselves and built a family of other people around them who love it too. Walking into Firebird I had that feeling.
With Dave Clark
I remember the first time I met Dave I was completely in awe of him to be dealing with his Parkinson's with such courage and grace in front of an audience of people as the host of Sky Sports' darts programs. After meeting him that awe grew because he was such a decent, good-hearted bloke and had a way of making you feel like you had been his friend for a lifetime.
Located in a pretty industrial estate about 25 minutes drive from Horsham in Sussex Firebird Brewing Co. is the baby of Bill and Richard. Bill greets us warmly at the door of the little shop adjoining the warehouse and takes us through to where the magic happens. The warehouse itself is beautiful, with cool graffiti art depicting beer kegs with wings along one whole side of its walls. We are taken up to the bar area which is all raw wood planks and soft brown leather. It's a thing of beauty and a place I feel immediately comfortable.
We drop our bags and are taken to meet the other team members. Richard, the other founder and Paul and Lee who are incredibly passionate about brewing, to the point that both brew at home and one even has a little pub in his house. At this moment my co-adventurer for the day Dave Clark pipes up and declares he grows hops at home and is part of a collaborative brewing setup. Oh good, just me that has no clue what to do then!
Dave and I somehow managed to spectacularly miss our early train so arrived a little later than we'd hoped. The team at Firebird had to start without us and begin the first step of brewing, mashing in which makes the malt look like a giant flapjack. We are told our task for the morning is to take measurements from the wort that is seeping through to the bottom of the tank to see when it's ready for the next stage. They could have been speaking a foreign language to me at this point but if I'm given a task i'm going to do it properly even if I have no idea what is happening.
Thankfully Richard takes us back to the bar area and pulls out a handy guide they produced to help us through the day and teach us what we are doing. We would be brewing Sorachi Ace, a single-hop beer brewed with a hop cultivated in Japan. By the end of Richard's introduction I was starting to understand what those words meant!
And then we were up. With Paul to guide us we began our 15 minute interval check-ins of the wort. By 11:30 we had managed not to break anything and were offered the opportunity to taste some samples. Being ever diligent we said we wouldn't until 12 when our duties would be stopping [for future reference put a Yorkshireman and a graphic designer in charge of something and you get the job done properly].
At 12 o'clock pretty much on the dot we took a last reading and everything was spot-on so we relaxed. Richard let us loose in the cellar, gave us a pint glass each and told us to pour whatever we wanted throughout the afternoon.
We poured a small glass each of their lowest alcohol IPA 'Two Horses' and were hooked, pouring a bigger glug to take upstairs to enjoy with lunch. Which was delicious. Pate, cold meats, cheese, crisps and fluffy bread washed down with a sample of their lager, equally as delicious as the IPA.
I could have sat there all day. But beer waits for no (wo)man and we had to continue with the next step in the process.
Dave described why it was such a satisfying process really well when talking to Richard at one point during the day. You basically put something into the process, ingredients and work, and you get something out at the end. You know when it's finished. There's a definite end to the process. And it either works or it doesn't. There's very few jobs that have that level of completion to them at the end of the day. I know particularly in my job I'm never sure when something is finished, I never get that moment of victory at the end of the day or the satisfaction of knowing I definitely have done something right. Brewing is a very therapeutic process and the team obviously completely love it which is infectious.
Paul describes himself and his role as part engineer, part scientist, part mathematician and part janitor. He is constantly tidying up after himself keeping his workplace area clear and clean. He lets me have a go with the power hose and I can't help but think cleaning my house would be a lot more fun with one of those.
We finish brewing around 3PM and sit down to enjoy a can of the aptly named 'Work Ethic' and a cuddle of the brewery dog. I'm sort of putting off leaving and going back into my real world but we know we have to try and miss the rush hour back to London so we make our goodbyes and leave armed with a box full of bottled treats.
Sitting on the train home next to one of the most courageous people I know I reflect on the day and this project in general. When I started it I could never have imagined the amazing people I would have met, that they would show such kindness and that every work 'family' I would be briefly absorbed into would leave a mark on me. The people I take with me and the people I meet on this journey are what make it and I'm incredibly lucky.
To spend a day at Firebird or try their beers head to their website.