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Jersey's first crowdfunded brewery 'hops' to make Christmas blissful

Jersey's first crowdfunded brewery 'hops' to make Christmas blissful

Wednesday 04 July 2018

Jersey's first crowdfunded brewery 'hops' to make Christmas blissful

Their name has never been so fitting... Leah and Ben Bliss are on cloud nine after reaching their £28,000 target for Jersey's first crowdfunded brewery, which will be up and running later this year to make the Christmas season "hoppy".

After a nail-biting few hours, the Bliss team secured the final few funds on Saturday. The couple is now looking forward to the delivery of their brewing plant so they can move out of their kitchen - their 'brewery' for the past 10 years - into JB's.

But that's just the beginning of a beery exciting adventure - they now also have plans for a canning line and growing hops on the island.

To make their dream come true, the couple partnered up with Marcus Calvani and Josh Band of the BeServed Group, and James Carter of Midnight Industries. All were on tenterhooks on Saturday, the last day of the crowdfunding campaign. With 12 hours to go, the total was short of over £2,000 but the quintet "harassed" their friends on social media to get last minute investors.

Marcus said: "That day I went a little IT mad. I was on social media, on the boosting and the updates and harassing people generally, non-stop. I didn’t move from my laptop until we got the target."

The strategy paid off and funds poured in. At 16:00, history was made as Bliss reached £28,125, making it the first brewery in the Channel Islands to be crowdfunded. But, as James says, people might have donated for other reasons than to just get behind the project. "Maybe people thought if they backed us, we would stop pushing the feed. They said 'Let’s back them and they will leave us alone!'" 

Whatever the reason people donated, all five were happy to see the target reached. Ben and Leah are on cloud nine, Marcus got a "little teary-eyed", while Josh and James were relieved to see the project through the finish line after an excruciating "classic wait to the last minute." They were also proud to see investors from near and (very) far get behind them. 

Marcus said: "One of my childhood friends, whose family used to be heavily involved in brewing on island, invested some money right at the end, which was really nice. 

"It's good to have both old and new and completely random people behind Bliss, we have investors in Las Vegas, in the UK. We had 125 backers. I am really pleased, it’s nice to see both on island and a lot of off-island people investing in a Jersey business."

Ben added: "It’s really nice as well to have done it just through small pledges. The majority of funds were raised through small pledges, starting from £5. That’s what we had been wanting all along, a lot of people to pledge a small amount of money just to get people involved."

All are now looking forward to get brewing. "It's a fantasy we have all been thinking about for years that is finally becoming true," Marcus said. But no one is more excited than Ben and Leah, who have been crafting beers in their kitchen for the past 10 years. The couple's passion for brewing first started when Ben, a building manager, fell in love with brewing during a tour of the Liberation Brewery. Leah, a landscape architect, eventually got hooked too and was promoted from chief taster to brewer. 

Ben said: "We are going to purchase the brewery very soon. We have got one in sight that is already built so we can just buy it and stick it in. We are going to take the plunge next week and purchase one, get it over here, get set up and go. In the meantime, we will finalise the room and get some cladding, electric work, plumbing, signage and paint done."

You can expect to taste some unusual flavours from the Bliss brewing line. Ben and Leah promised it will be "all about variety" with flavours including Snickers, Bounty, tropical fruit and smoked India Pale Ales (IPAs). "If it's out there we will give it a go," Leah said. "We will have a couple of flagship beers that we will make most of the time, but we will also have some funky, interesting ones. We will have house beers and every month or so, we will make a one-off brew."

Bliss Brews

Pictured: Leah and Ben love to brew "funky and interesting" beers with flavours such as Cream Soda, Marshmallow, Snickers, mango and pineapple.

Ben added: "There is not much you can't put in beer, whether it's lobsters, honey or seaweed. Even spices or chillies. It's just flavours that you add in and that you balance out. You add them at different stages and they transform the beer."

The goal is for the first brew to make its way to the tap for Christmas. Marcus said: "We wanted Christmas to be blissful and hoppy." The first brew will be Mrs Bliss' choice, as she won the vote by 13 votes with her double IPA. As part of the crowdfunding campaign, pledgers were involved to vote between Leah's and Ben's brew. Leah's "alcoholic fruit juice" came out victorious over her other half's German Malts and British and American hops. 

Once Bliss Brew Co. is up and running, customers will be able to suggest new brews. "We are really keen to make it driven by the public. We want them to be steering what we do. Which is also why we turned to a crowdfunding campaign, we want people to have a sense of ownership and to choose which way we go," Leah explained.

The Bliss crew also has big plans for the future. They will soon reopen their crowdfunding page for a "stretched target" that will aim to raise up to £50,000 for a canning line. Marcus says: "There is no packaging line for any kind of drink in the Channel Islands at the moment. Currently some major on-island producers send their products off-island to package and then back again for retail. We kind of looked around and said if we put together a packaging line we can package our own beer, but we can also package for everybody else that produces any kind of liquid, coffee, beers, ciders or others."

But that's just one idea - the other is to grow hops in Jersey. As a landscape architect, Leah has worked with Bruce Labey, a local Kew Gardens graduate and horticulturist, who has studied the feasibility of growing hops from New Zealand and California on the island.

"That's a really cool project," Marcus enthused. "Those hops varieties are really high-demand and are in a shortage globally. If we could grow them on licence over here, we could contrast our seasonal growth during the year, diversify farming and give an option for farmers in Jersey to grow different crops as well."

Ben adds: "The grops that grow in England, they are quite grassy and minty while all the hops that are from America and New Zealand are a bit zingy, citrussy. Jersey’s unique climate will allow us to grow the pungent varieties raised and currently limited to the US and New Zealand."

Pictured: Wild hops or wild hopes? The Bliss team has big plans for Jersey.

The past few days have certainly been blissful for the team. Both Bliss and JB's have recently received the Genuine Jersey certification. Marcus says: "We have complete the circle of happiness: you grow the hops, brew the beer, you take the splet grain from the hops when you brewed, you feed it to the cattle that you rear and then you smoke it and eat it while drinking the beer that you made."

The team also hopes that Bliss' success will help get the rules around crowdfunding relaxed. Currently, it is not legal to offer equity in exchange for investment but Marcus has been working with others to help break this barrier down. "I am hoping what we have done is set a standard for crowdfunding," he explained. "So that it raises the awareness of it for Jersey. The sooner it’s legalised the sooner we will get lots of investors into young people and startups and Jersey will become a more creative place."

More than anything, though, the Bliss team wants to make Jersey a hoppier place to be and change everyone's perception of beer. James says: "It’s about changing the stigma that beer is a drunk habit in pint glasses.

"It’s all about smaller glasses, flavour and taste and appreciating the beer for what it is: crafted, beautiful, drinkable bliss.”

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