It was a typical British summer day when I visited the Lakedown Brewing Company on a beautiful family farm in East Sussex. Typical, in that it crowned it with rain. Less typical was being interrupted mid-interview by Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who, with ruminations about campaign management and the appropriate (and inappropriate) role of the government.
This is not an article about Daltrey though. At least not this one. It’s an article about his son Jamie Daltrey and his brother-in-law Chris Rule. However, the “lake” of Lakedown refers to the fishing lakes that Roger Daltrey built on his farm, and my meeting with Jamie and Chris took place in the shelter of their cozy bar on the grounds.
“Discussions had focused on diversifying the field,” says Chris. “Obviously, we are in a hop-producing region. This land has a cattle farm and a fishery and we thought about how the land could be used more efficiently. We thought a brewery would really suit the place.
This is Jamie’s first venture, while Chris has previously run businesses including an animations company. The latter’s “groping in graphic design” is one of the reasons the brand is so striking, with cans and bottles designed with water ripples, sound waves and the ancient dialect of Sussex as Dumbledore (which means bumblebee for all Harry Potter fans).
“Looking back, branding was on the bottoms side, moving kegs and mopping up spilled beer is less fun,” jokes Jamie. “It’s been a continuous learning experience,” adds Jamie. “The whole experience was a complete eye-opener. Very responsive.
The beer itself is intentionally accessible, which is the whole philosophy. “All the beers we wanted to make are beers we like to drink ourselves. Really light, really refreshing, full of flavor,” says Chris.
Jamie adds: “The way you get a good rating on Untappd [the popular beer rating app] made one of those double dry hopped super ABV beers, but that’s not the direction we wanted to go. On the contrary, we wanted to make craft beer more accessible. The beers range from 3.8% to 5.3% for its NEIPA, which is pretty low for a NEIPA.
But they are quick to commend the industry for all the support they have received. “It’s like it’s craft beer against the big guys,” says Jamie. “Although it’s a competitive market, it’s not like everyone is a direct competitor,” he adds. “When we started it was so welcoming. Every craft brewery we went to offered advice. None of us knew how to brew at first. We actually went to another brewery and they introduced us a guy who became our brewer.
The Farm and Tavern is an area of outstanding natural beauty, which the pouring rain can do little to deny. This means there are “a lot more hurdles to jump” when it comes to their efforts to move the brewery on-site.
Council was reviewing their development application when I spoke with them, but it was going to take five weeks just to approve it. Then there’s the much longer wait for a decision. “They’re supposed to encourage entrepreneurship,” says Chris. “They encourage rural businesses. But every step of the way is a huge hurdle. It’s no before yes, always. You have to prove yourself even to be heard. It should be that they nurture the idea and then, if there are any issues, you deal with them collaboratively.
It’s not like they’re looking to build a nuclear power plant. “We have natural springs, so we can use our own water. We can vacuum the cattle on the farm, which creates a circular economy,” says Jamie.
Roger then spoke. He thinks we should “try to create jobs for young people because we have an incredibly unbalanced society here”. Roger is “determined to put some new blood into it”… “I am the past, people like me.”
As a former drinks journalist, I can vouch for the beers, but it was hard work. “You start off with an emotional beginning,” Chris explains. “But it is slowly being eroded by the realities of doing something. You try to hold on to the dream of what you were doing, and it slowly crumbles. But once in a while, when the sun is shining, you know there was a reason for it.
But it was still raining. And after the interview, Jamie had to drive to Worthing (my hometown) to deliver beers because their delivery driver had Covid. But they are building something big. “When we hope to bring it there, we will have a brewer here and we will have assistant brewers and we will raise younger brewers. It’s a nice thought.