HOPS AND CRAFTS – Indie Trader of the Month
GOOD BEER LIVES HERE
Written by Stella Nicholls, Photos supplied by Hops and Craft
“Don’t worry about a thing…”
“The Best beers are the ones that you have with friends”, says Chris Harper, founder and owner of Hops and Crafts down in Fore Street. “They are the ones that you remember“.
And being the stockist of Exeter’s largest selection of Craft Beers, Chris certainly knows a thing or two about beer. Originally from a ‘beer rich’ culture in Colorado, which has a similar sized population to Exeter, Chris says that there were dozens of breweries producing beer there and so he was spoilt for choice. When he arrived in Exeter several years ago, he found plenty of breweries making good quality beer but not the kind of beer that he was used to drinking.
On arriving in the UK, he initially took a career break and was a stay-at-home dad, looking after his daughter. Despite a couple of years passing by, he couldn’t shake the yearning that he had for the different beers brewed in the US. He found that he had a longing for the beers he had grown used to there – dubbed ‘Craft beer’ and on talking to other people, they agreed that the diversity sounded great. It was perfect timing, therefore, that when his daughter started school, he started the craft beer shop – Hops and Crafts.
Chris is passionate about family, his best friend – wife Anna (a scientist at Exeter University) and their daughter, can often be seen cycling around Exeter, intent on adventure. They are huge lovers of the great outdoors, hiking, camping and backpacking, but what’s a camping trip, without a refreshing beer (or two) as you sit chatting to friends and family?
I asked Chris what craft beer was, exactly. He said that it was hard to pin down and that if you asked ten people, you would probably get ten different answers. He went on to say that it evolved out of the microbreweries or small independent producers in the States. Some of the other hallmarks of a craft beer are the use of American or ‘new world’ hops. Hops from Australia, or even South Africa, instead of the traditional bittering hops that you tend to find in the UK and Germany. These ‘new world’ hops add more flavour instead of just bitterness to the beer. “There isn’t an industry-agreed-upon definition of what craft beer is”, says Chris. “It is generally independent brewers who are creating interesting beers, and this includes some of the traditional older brewers as well.”
Initially opening in the depths of the McCoy’s Arcade, Chris soon found that he had a following of regular craft beer drinkers, largely brought about by word of mouth. He found that often people sitting chatting in pubs, would refer a potential craft beer fan down to his shop. About a year and a half after opening, he moved to the front end of the McCoy’s Arcade – out to the Street front, which has given him more visibility and footfall from curious passers-by. He says that craft beer is an emerging market in Exeter and with the pub scene growing too, he doesn’t see this as competition but more of an opportunity for growth, with the potential for more exposure. He says, “The more that people see the different craft beers, the more ‘normal’ they will become” and this will, of course, help the industry to grow.
As craft beer gains popularity in the city, Chris finds it easier to order stock from around the UK, as well as from some local brewers who have opened in the South West. The brewers are always making new things and there’s a bit of a culture behind craft beer, about wanting something new. He says, ‘It’s almost like each beer is a trophy that you are collecting.’ Being relevant as far as a brewer goes these days is all about innovation and change. The quest for the ‘Holy Grail’ of craft beer.
Initially, keeping up with all the new lines that the brewers were putting out was a challenge. A lot of the brewers are in Manchester, Leeds and London, so for the big metropolitan areas, it was easier for shops and pubs to get their beer hand-delivered. Being down in the South West, it has taken time and perseverance to get good lines of supply for the beer that he wants. Chris says that this has improved a bit as other bottle shops have since opened in Plymouth and Newton Abbot and, as the demand grows, there is more draw to come down here and more resources are being dedicated to the South West – opening up the supply lines.
He has developed working relationships with The Grapevine in Exmouth and Tuckers Maltings in Newton Abbot, which means he does some order sharing with them so that they can make up the minimum quantities required. He has also started doing beer selections for a rotating line at The Oddfellows in Exeter. They have eight new beers that they are going to rotate, which Chris is going to help select, along with the core range that they have chosen.
‘Three Little Birds’ was the reply on asking Chris for his favourite quote, as he loves the Bob Marley song. Chris says it really plays into his personality with the lines, ‘Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing is gonna be alright’ representing his mantra in life.
In fact, the best life advice Chris received from his parents, is not to take things too seriously, don’t get bogged down – don’t ‘sweat the small stuff’. Sage advice for us all, perhaps.
One last word for a novice (like me) wanting to sample a craft beer. Chris says that it doesn’t have to be intimidating. A lot of people come in and, because it’s unfamiliar and not something that they’ve
tried before, tend to default to regular beer. He believes that there is a beer for everyone, even non-beer drinkers. There are some who get on their ‘high horse’ about the way things should and shouldn’t be in the industry but he says it doesn’t have to be that way.
At the end of the day, it’s just beer, and best enjoyed in good company.
You can catch up with Chris on his website: hopsandcrafts.co.uk or pop down to his shop in the McCoys Arcade, Fore Street.