Full name: Hannah Rhodes
DOB: June 1983
Birthplace: Hull (last year’s city of culture you know)
Twitter Handle: @hiverbeers
Fun Fact: “I’ve swum with the largest shark species on the planet, the whale shark.”
So, I finally get to chat with the person who makes this delicious Hiver beer. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and where it all began? You were born and raised in Hull, right? Moving down to the big smoke to first work at a microbrewery, and then making a name for yourself at Meantime. Please help us fill in the gaps!
Yes, that’s about right. I suppose it all started when I came to visit a really close friend of mine from school (also called Hannah) who was studying at LSE in London (still very proud of her) before I was heading off for a year travelling. I’d come down to visit her for a long weekend and I remember it was a summer’s evening, walking down the Southbank from Tower bridge to Westminster taking it all in.
I was pretty spellbound by the atmosphere and all the people and how cosmopolitan the city seemed. Suddenly I had some real direction about where I wanted to be after travelling. I’d always been ambitious and I’d studied languages at the University of Hull so this idea of coming to enjoy the big smoke combined with an aspiration to join the Foreign Office.
Once I’d saved up for what seemed like a huge deposit to move down, I moved down to live in the same flat as Hannah when a room became available. Penniless, as we were both in temp jobs at the time, we started visiting the free Tuesday night tastings that the fantastic Hide Bar used to run. Lo and behold a few weeks in they focussed on a London Microbrewery (the term before ‘craft’) and I was smitten.
Two weeks later I was working in a Sales and Logistics Manager position at the brewery, which soon morphed to cover marketing too and I never looked back. I was given an amazing amount of encouragement at Meantime to put ideas forward and was lucky to have the chance to launch a few of these beers, including London Lager. What an amazing industry!
Could you give us a layman’s explanation of what honey beer is and how it varies, say, from regular beer, or mead? There’s actually centuries of tradition behind it, right? What’s the approach you’ve taken with Hiver – did you have to experiment a lot to get the original recipe right?
Of course… so most people ask us what is the difference between honey beer and mead. If you think back to the role that yeast plays in producing alcohol that might help. With Mead it’s honey, sometimes water and yeast – so all of the alcohol comes from the yeast converting honey sugars to alcohol. With honey beer (which was really popular pre-introduction of hops in the 1400’s), barley is still the backbone of what we’re producing and where the majority of alcohol comes from.
As we’d like to say we brew a ‘proper’ honey beer, we’re not adding for sweetening so we also ferment the raw honeys that we source too. By fermenting the honey it gives a really great depth of flavour as well as a dryness, so it’s a pretty fun ingredient from a brewing perspective. After the idea for Hiver came along it took five trial brews to get the Honey Blonde (the original and still our flagship) to the beer I had in my head. Sixth time lucky!
You donate a portion of your profits to various charitable endeavours, right? Could you tell us a little bit about who and what you support?
I’m thrilled to say we’ve just picked up an industry award for our Corporate Social Responsibility at the Beer and Cider Marketing awards… what a thrill!
Predominantly we support British beekeepers through purchase, we sponsor a number of hives including one that we’re installing on the roof of the Camden Roundhouse(!), we run the Hiver Experience (introducing 6000 people to date to the world of bees and beer!) and donate a portion of ticket sales to BeeUrban, a local community project in Kennington. For next year we hope to launch our own planting day too.
Leading from the above, what’s one thing that regular folks can do to help the bees? (Asides from signing dubious online petitions against Bayer etc.)
Planting for bees! It’s especially important to plant bulbs that flower in January to March as well as late autumn. So now’s the time to be planting them… here’s a link to help find something you like: https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bees/beefriendly-plants-every-season or a lovely book written by a friend of ours, Sarah of Bermondsey Bees: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Planting-Honeybees-Growers-guide-creating/dp/1787131467
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the world of honey beer production?
The last couple of weeks have been quite surreal actually and it’s been an amazing year of progress since the team has grown earlier this year. Normally, on Mondays I’ll start the week with a weekly management team call for about 45 minutes where the heads of department will discuss what they have going on that week in each area.
We’ll then do a full team weekly ‘stand-up-and-say’ what our big win for the week before was as well as three key objectives for the week ahead that will help move the business forward. In a small business there’s always so much to do and the opportunity to do so much that it really helps us keep focussed and all moving in the right direction.
Normally, I’ll then have a session with our Finance Director or a call with the chair person to discuss some key updates and get some advice on anything that’s not clarified for me yet which takes me to lunchtime.
I normally then spend the afternoon with one department for a key meeting, whether that be at the brewery with the Operations Team looking at the production forecast, with the sales team for a presentation or key customer review or with our marketing manager to discuss new products and ecommerce strategy.
Last week I had an amazing couple of days where myself and the Marketing Manager went from a breakfast at City Hall to launch being part of the Mayor’s International Business scheme to a big customer pitch, to hosting a group of customers at the Hiver Experience to an awards ceremony that night…it certainly felt like living the dream.
What’s your greatest/most memorable professional moment been, so far?
There really have been some amazing experiences, which I feel lucky to have had the chance to experience. I think winning ‘Britain’s Next Top Supplier’ early on in Hiver’s journey was a really special moment. It was the promise of everything to come and I remember telling family and friends who just screamed with joy down the phone and in the pub, so I know it meant a lot to them too.
Some amazing things happened after that like being named ’35 under 35 to watch’ in the Sunday Times, which was surreal to read in the paper at my Mum and Dad’s house back in Hull on a weekend visiting. This all helped to reach out and gain investment in the business which has enabled me to be ambitious, whilst focussing on our ethos and quality standards at Hiver. Actually scrap all of that…playing in a netball Team called the Hiver Hotshots with Hiver branded dresses and hoodies is probably a career high!
Where do you get your ideas?
Ooof great question. Normally after some down time or in the bath. Switching off is too rare and normally followed by a moment of clarity. I now play a fair bit of Netball and it’s so great for switching off and topping up your energy levels. I haven’t always gotten that balance of down time and energy levels right since starting the business so it feels good to have some mental bandwidth back!
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had, how did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?
Crikey, that’d be making the business work financially. Brand building what could be perceived as a niche brand with no budget compared to the big players I now recognise as no mean feat. There have been so many times over the past five years when on the face of it the business is moving forwards, winning listings and awards but actually the growth is causing cash flow challenges.
I’ve had some great experiences with investors but certainly had to (narrowly) avoid a few sharks too so that’s probably been the biggest piece of learning outside the industry knowledge I already had. Staff too, people are great but in a small business everyone needs to contribute and perform and so it’s been a big learning curve to really manage those expectations from the beginning and be open with someone when it’s not working.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work? Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from, or do you have any specific influences?
I read about Emma Bridgewater years ago and she really inspired me. Starting and building a business and being brave enough to move to a new city (Stoke on Trent) because that’s where people knew the trade of pottery, which would enable her product to be the best it could be. She’s been an important employer in a region that needed it and I think that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say.
I always love to hear of anyone doing well from Hull too even though I’ve now lived in London for over ten years. In fact there is an amazing elderly lady who is affectionately called the Bee Lady and dresses as a bumble bee to raise money for charities. She’s an absolute local celebrity and I think everyone from Hull cried when they saw her on TV recently winning an award, we’re very proud of our Bee Lady!
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Most – two things… seeing a consumer drink a Hiver and how they engage with it. And then more recently, seeing how much the team love working at Hiver.
Least – some days it would be nice to not have to be the boss ALL of the time. There’s the odd occasion when you think how nice it would be not to have to deal with an issue or back to a time when you had a job you could slack off every now and again.
What advice would you give to aspiring food and drinks entrepreneurs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had?
Brace yourself! It’s hard, very very hard and for a long time. It tests you but I’d never have had such rich life experiences without having taken that first step. Make sure you’ve stress tested your business plan with someone outside your own circle, make sure you’ve got a good GM% on day one or a solid and realistic plan of exactly how many units you need to sell to get to a healthy GM%. That then becomes your sole aim.
Don’t rush into starting the business if your personal circumstances are up in the air, a few months won’t make any difference in the long run. Be full of energy and get some support around you, you’ll need it! Then just take a deep breath, believe in yourself and put one foot in front of the other. And when it’s hard, keep putting one foot in front of the other.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Gosh, I can’t even imagine it. Definitely not working at the Foreign Office.
If you could get anyone to try Hiver (fictional or real, living or dead) who would you pick and which of the beers would you like them to try? Assume that they go on to be your brand ambassador…
Oh wow! Amazing… Tina Turner. Just because I think she’s amazing and has a crazy amount of energy. I’d be so uncool if I ever met Tina Turner.
And we always ask three customary ridiculous questions…
If you had to have any character from Egyptian mythology come and work with you at the brewery, who would you employ, and why?
If I was being selfish, Isis, God of Magic and Protection… things that all small businesses need a fair bit of.
If you had to be transformed into any kind of household appliance, but retained your memories, ability to speak and personality, what would you pick?
Haha… the flower vase in my living room. I love flowers and anything alive and it gets to brighten up the room and sit in the sunshine. Winner.
If you were given an infinite budget but had to spend it all on entirely frivolous stuff, what are the first 3 things you’d buy, and why?
- A massive hammock… because I love them
- A wood, so that I had somewhere to put my hammock up in
- A giant hot tub!