KJETIL JIKIUN : CRAFT
In 2002 I started Nøgne Ø.
The dream was to make good beer.
We managed to make good beer. With homemade and small equipment. And hand bottling. The pleasure of working long days in an inefficient brewery was enormous. The pride of the flavours we created was without limits. But something happened over time. Our focus went from being product and process driven to being motivated by other things: profits, market shares, exports, automation and employees.
Larger, faster, more efficient!
And where did this lead me to?
I lost contact with product and process. I was just a little piece in the new and big company I had managed to create. Bigger tanks were not the way to happiness. Bottle filling with 5000 bottles per hour did not make the products better. Meetings and discussions did not make the brewery’s meta values more clear. 25 employees did not make our brewery a nicer place to visit.
So I took the consequences of this, and left Nøgne Ø. This was the only right thing for me to do in the situation I was in.
After this, I came across the idea to do the same in Greece, as I had done in Norway, and the brand Σολο was established. There, we did not have any physical brewery, so I started contracting at Arendal’s Brewery. Arendals Brewery is very professional, and the products were great. But life is full of learning experiences, and what I should learn was the following:
1. Some Greeks did not appreciate the fact that a Greek beer brand was brewed in another country, and some of them even launched negative campaigns against us.
2. Contract brewing does not give me much joy. It’s more business than brewing, and I lost the pride and emotions of my delicious beer, and it all felt meaningless.
Again it was time to take responsibility for wrong choices and unintentional situations. This time the choice was simple. We had to start a new physical brewery in Greece. Firstly, to keep Σολο’s credibility. But more importantly: In order to maintain my self-respect as a craft brewer.
The Greek craft beer market is small. Very tiny. The response to new products is often low or non-existent. And many breweries sell old beer because they produce too large batches or because they do not have cold storage.
The business model quickly developed:
1. Beer brewed in small 5 hl batches. This ensures that the beer is always fresh.
2. Manual bottling and kegging. This ensures closeness to product and process, and allows us to define ourselves as 100% slow food oriented.
3. Focus on the local area, specifically Crete. This ensures good contact with the customers.
4. Always be open for visitors. Many believe that craft beer is about beer, but it is actually more about people!
So, now we have a small brewery in Heraklion. I brew all the beers myself and package them together with Nikolas, Vasilis and Kostas who deal with the rest of the business. It is hard work and, in many ways, it feels like a deja vu from the first Nøgne Ø era, where we brewed small batches. BUT, that’s what makes sense to me. Now I have come back to where I want: Closeness to process, product and people. Now I’m happy. The best thing to do in a brewery is after all to brew. Concentrating on this, on natural enzymes, yeast, cleaning, and good ingredients is the most calming and focused one can do.
The response from the market on what we are doing has been swift. Fresh beer is appreciated, and demand is higher than our ability to supply. This means that all our beers are pre-sold even before they are brewed!
Hopefully, I’ve learned from previous mistakes. This time the maximum size of the brewery is defined. We shall not grow too much. We will not move to a new location. We do not need automation. Because that will not make us happier. We may have a goal of maximum 15 fermentation tanks of 5 hl. Our refrigerated warehouse can accommodate 12 pallets. And that is just perfect because we are not going to package anything that is not already sold / ordered by customers for the following week. Then we can brew and package one batch per day. We think that an annual production of 1000 hl will be just right for us.
What all this boils down to for me is:
1. Size does not matter.
2. I am a happy and proud craft brewer.
3. Craft beer is about people.