Investment from local people had enabled Greg to set up the brewery, and creating a business that is valued by its local community was part of his ethos. Initially, he was using hops from a couple of plants he'd been given. In 2008, he and his brewer were chatting to one of their regular customers, who offered to grow hops for them so they could brew more beer. From this initial chat, the Hop Club was born.
Hop plants and growing advice were given to the volunteers responding to the appeal for gardeners or allotment holders. Word of mouth and occasional publicity means over 100 volunteers now grow hops every summer. At the beginning of September, growers pick their hops and take them to a special day at the Brewery where they and the brewers prepare the hops to begin the production of Brewers Garden beer.
The event is basically a hop harvest festival: it's a fun, social event where everyone chats, meets new people, swaps growing tips, and is serenaded by the Dave Ayres Jazz Band (Dave is also a grower). At 2pm, the hops are added to the copper (a very big vat!) to begin the process of brewing the annual Brewers Garden pale ale.
The brewery's customers and the local community all look forward to drinking this autumnal special that’s only available for a few weeks, and marks the start of autumn. Not only do they say it tastes good, but especially value the fact it's fresh and made locally with local people's help rather than produced in an anonymous factory somewhere miles away using ingredients of unknown quality and origin.
The Hop Club members get a free ration of 9 litres of the beer as a thank you. Helpers on the picking day get a free pint of beer to refresh them as they pick.
2023 was the 15th anniversary of the Hop Club. The positive feedback from growers and drinkers alike means this is a community project which should continue for many years.
Involve local people in what you're doing and listen to their ideas, even when you're a commercial business. It can lead to new ways of doing things that not only connect people to their local place, but also help the business embed itself in its local community and supports its viability. You never know where this will lead!
The idea for the Hop Club came out of a discussion between one of our regular customers, Ian, the head brewer, and Greg, the founder of the brewery. The brewery was in its early days of operating and only had 2 members of staff! But so many people believed in the brewery's ethos and organic way of brewing beer that they wanted to help it to succeed and an appeal for gardeners attracted lots of volunteers. Remember that participants need to feel valued in some way, especially when they’re doing something voluntarily. Hence, hop growers receive 9 litres of Brewers Garden beer free as a thank you, and people helping at the hop picking event get a free pint of beer.
Although Stroud Brewery is now a flourishing commercial brewery, the Hop Club is an example of how it keeps its local community within the heart of what it does. This positive relationship came to the brewery's rescue during the pandemic when local people raised >£114,000 in a crowdfunding appeal and helped the brewery stay afloat. This demonstrates how a project like this not only builds great connections between people within their community and with local economy, but can also help to support the local economy in times of difficulty.
The growers tell us they greatly enjoy helping to make a beer for local people (who could be their neighbours!), learning more about how beer is made, being part of a collective effort, the fun of the hop picking day - and the 9 litres of free beer they receive as a thank you!
The beer sells very quickly in our taproom as the local community look forward to it being brewed, and local pubs are eager to stock it when it becomes available. This also tells us that it plays a role in local life and the marking of the seasons.