Take two women, several dozen pots and pans, a messy kitchen and a few discarded pairs of tights, and what have you got?
You’ve got the start of a very ‘modern’ approach to that decades-old hobby of home-brewing. Eloquently Her chats to two women shaking up the perception of that world.
Rightly or wrongly, there are certain preconceptions which likely come to mind when you hear about two women starting a kitchen-table business.
Yes, that’s right.
You’re already thinking about jam, right? Maybe cakes? Perhaps some kind of healthy foodie enterprise?
Well let me stop you right there!
Claire Russell makes for a very interesting ‘half portion’ of the female force behind a rapidly developing business which was breathed into life just over four years ago.
Together with Posy Parsons she runs ‘Home Brewtique’ (ah yes, we like what you did there guys…), a female-led home-brewing company which is putting an altogether different spin on a somewhat ‘blokey’ hobby which had its height of popularity some three or so decades ago.
By all accounts, Claire is probably the perfect entrepreneur to found such an offering. Why? In part, because the opening of her conversation is all about how, being an Aussie-born girl, she grew up ‘slurping the top off her dad’s beer’.
“I really have never understood why anyone finds it at all odd to think of women drinking beer,” she says, laughing. “I mean, I’m biased because I grew up in Oz, but it’s just no big deal. In Australia, everyone knows that the thing you do at home in the evening is to grab a cold one.
“I grew up slurping at the foam on the top of my Dad’s beer and it wasn’t frowned on to let a kid do that. It stops it becoming such an issue.”
That’s quite some years ago now, given Claire is today a Brit residing (she has dual citizenship these days, after moving here in 2001), 42 year old mum of two. Indeed, she never navigated her career path into the world of beer and brewing, but has only recently stumbled into that chosen sector as part of a deep desire to make her life more balanced, and less ‘work work work’.
“I’d always been really committed to my work in market intelligence and risk,” she continues. “I worked long hours and always put 110% in, but things definitely change when you have children, and in my case I began to wonder whether I wanted to be back in it full time after becoming a Mum. Having never exactly planned to run a business or go in a completely different career direction, it just reached a point where I started to look at what else would allow me to spend more time at home and to enjoy the family I’d wanted so much.”
Claire opted to take redundancy, and to spend time considering her options. It’s actually her husband’s passing comment – coincidentally, made while in the pub – which led to the world of home brewing. “We were out one evening and had been talking on and off about the fact that I still wanted to find something I could get into work wise, and which would allow me to have a quality of life with the children, while also being fulfilled and achieving something,” she says. “My husband made some comment when we were at the bar, about how, if it was him he’d probably do something like home brewing – and that’s what set the whole thing in motion. It got me wondering what was happening in that space these days, and whether it was still just marketed to middle-aged men in the main.”
This messy, frustrating research process, led the two women to use everything up to and including their own tights, in order to find a better way to brew beer. They wanted to achieve something which was less complex, involved less than a thousand pieces of kitchenware, felt easy for even a novice to follow – and gave great final results.
“As difficult as that initial period was to go through, trying to find the right way and the right taste at the end, I knew we were coming at this at a great time,” says Claire. “All the time I was seeing how people were expecting more and more from their food and drink – partly fuelled by the ‘expert’ foodie programmes and competitor shows like Bake-Off.
“It showed me that we’re all wanting to get ‘stuck in’ in our own kitchens at home, but we do want to feel we’re going to get a good result.”
“That said to me that we were on to a good business idea with our own newer version of home-brewing, and we should refine it for the audience of today….not the kind of more male oriented audience of the 1970’s.”
Following a year of trial and error, research, plenty of giggly taster sessions, and perhaps a few grumbles from male friends realising that these two women might have hit on their idea of a ‘dream business’, the two finally started officially trading in 2014. Within months, they’d caught the attention of the decision makers at Not on the High Street, and very quickly, a gift-buying audience had begun to buy into their brand.
It hasn’t been without its hurdles, but today, some four years on, and following a rebrand and some more refining of the process, the Home Brewtique concept is certainly a success worth toasting. “We’re thrilled with how people have taken to the brand and how well the audience has grown over the last few years,” says Claire. “Yes, I think we’d both say we’ve made some mistakes along the way in terms of original suppliers and stock levels, our branding, and our expectations, but that’s what building a business is all about. We’ve had great loyalty from the likes of Not on the High Street, and we’ve attracted several more online retailers. Now it feels like we’re entering an even more exciting period of momentum, spreading word about the brand, and getting more and more retailers interested in featuring us as part of their business in some way.”
Ultimately, of course, Claire set out to achieve a more balanced life which allows her to enjoy family time as well as be ‘in business’. Given how full-on this last few years has been, and that it’s still somewhat a ‘home based’ company, has she still managed to achieve it? “Goodness me, yes,” she insists.
“There’s not a single day where I ever wonder whether I should have left my job and taken the redundancy option that I did – or whether I should have started my own business.”
“Today I have a really happy home life in Shrewsbury with my husband, and my 10 year old and eight year old. I’m lucky that Posy also puts a lot of time into Home Brewtique, allowing me a more balanced life with the family. I’m getting to be a Mum – fully – and yet also able to grow a business which excites me and rewards me. That, for me, feels like a pretty perfect balance.”