Rich Charlton – Many Hands Brew Co.
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Photography by Martin Jorbein and Andy Pegman
Rich Charlton absolutely loves a beer or two. Or three. Or more. As co-founder of Dunkeswell-based Many Hands Brew Co. – a brand-spanking-new beer brand which you will likely see popping up at a ‘watering hole’ near you sometime soon – he has the luxury of putting this beer consumption down to market research. He is actually living the dream!
Originally from Reading, Rich went on to study at Oxford Brookes University where he met his now wife Jayne. She was from Devon, so he moved down here to be closer to her and get married. Initially taking any job that would secure his move to Devon, he went on to find more suitable jobs, particularly in the Sales teams of technical and engineering companies. Eventually, this led to him securing a role with Vigo, a Dunkeswell-based supplier of equipment and machinery to a variety of drinks producers across the UK and Ireland.
Finding himself with easy access to the equipment required to make beer, he took up home-brewing with a small trial kit that Vigo sell. He described this embryonic stage of his brewing journey as “experimental”, adding,
“I really didn’t know what I was doing and it was just a hobby. I pick things up quickly though so, within a few attempts, the beer went from pretty poor, to acceptable and then, on my third try, something that I would actually choose to drink myself and pay for. This was the point that I thought to myself that there might be a future for me in brewing and I’ve continued to improve my brews ever since.
“So, I spoke to Simon Pitts (the MD of Vigo) and Andy Pegman (their Sales Manager) – both colleagues and friends of mine – and shared my thoughts with them. As a result of that, despite knowing each other well, I put together a formal pitch which I presented to them, more out of a desire to prove that the opportunity made genuine business sense rather than a slap-dash chat with mates. As a result of that pitch, we all agreed that my proposition had potential so we decided to go into business together and Many Hands Brew Co. was born.”
Going from a spare-time hobby to a fully-fledged business has been quite a journey for Rich and I was interested to find out what he has learned during the journey so far? Rich explained,
“First and foremost, I’ve learned that cleanliness and hygiene are the keys to consistently producing a good product. You might have been expecting a more ‘rock and roll’ answer but keeping the brewing environment sterile and making sure that your processes are able to be repeated exactly time and time again are foundational to producing an excellent and consistent end-product. I’ve also ploughed an awful lot of time and energy into studying the brewing process and making sure that every detail of my process is thought-through and well-educated.”
I was intrigued to understand where the company name had originated and, apart from the obvious reference to the saying that ‘many hands make light work’, Rich told me that the brand name also captures their intention to be a community-focused organisation who make ethical decisions rather than purely money-based ones. Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely a business with money-making aspirations. But it has a heart too.
“Right at the very beginning of our journey as a business, we have each selected a charity that we feel passionate about and have committed to split 10% of the profits that we make and donate to those charities. For me, I have chosen St Petrock’s who do amazing work in the local community providing a range of emergency, support and housing services. Simon has chosen World Bicycle Relief who mobilise people all around the world through their provision of rugged, specially-designed bicycles and Andy has selected a charity called TRIP Community Transport Association who provide vital transport for elderly and disabled people in and around Honiton.”
Rich continued, pondering,
“I think that people of our generation have realised that an important part of running your own business is putting your heart and soul into it. This means engaging, within the daily life of your business, with things that you care about and want to improve through the work that you do. Many Hands Brew Co. is not a charity or a social enterprise, but we have a social cause at the centre of what we do – to produce incredible beers that can be enjoyed by many and, in doing so, help draw people into community together.”
When it comes to the initial Many Hands Brew Co. range, this same ethos sits at the heart of the brewing decisions that Rich, Simon and Andy have made. Whilst many independent and craft brewers are creating ever more strange and experimental concoctions in the hope of establishing a USP, Many Hands Brew Co. have decided to create robust, unique and characterful beers, but ones that can be widely enjoyed rather than alienating large sections of the beer-drinking market by becoming too niche. And, so, they have come to market with three different beers sure to satisfy the palettes of the fussiest and most discerning of drinkers. Probably their most broadly appealing offering is the Monkey Buffet, an intentionally hazy IPA packed full of bold, fruity US hops. They are also producing Herd, a traditional Milk Stout which is rich in coffee and chocolate flavours with a residual sweetness. And to complete the set, their third offering is The Tribe, a raspberry red ale which is almost a balance of the other two with a subtle raspberry note accenting a beautiful maltiness. My tuppence-worth? As an initial trio, they’re not far off perfect if you ask me.
At this stage of proceedings, I would usually have cracked open one of the bottles and sampled Rich’s creation for myself. Unfortunately, as I’m not drinking alcohol this year, I couldn’t, however, as other members of Team Grow filtered home that evening, with a bottle or two in-hand, it dawned on me that, not only do great minds think alike, but great minds drink alike. Who knows, maybe a collaboration between Many Hands Brew Co. and Grow might even be on the cards…
Find out more about Many Hands Brew Co. on their website.