Hiver Beer: when beekeepers and brewers join forces

There’s been a boom of artisan-produced goods in Britain. Local farmer’s markets are popping up on every corner, organic produce can be found at most grocers; in fact, there’s a good chance your neighbour is fermenting batches of their own kombucha right now. To stand out from the crowd of deliciousness you need to be doing something quite unique, and Hannah Rhodes of Hiver Beers is the epitome of uniqueness.

Hannah began Hiver Beers out of an enthusiasm for the up-and-coming craft beer scene that’s taking over London. If you’ve never tried Hiver Beer before, what makes the small-batch company unique is that they source raw honey from independent British beekeepers, and use it as a brewing sugar in the fermentation process, rather than it being added as a flavouring toward the end of production.

Hannah’s enthusiasm for both sustainability and great-tasting beer means that from the glass bottle to the packaging, label and taste, Hiver Beer is all British and all delicious. We went bee-hind the scenes with Hannah and spoke about all things business and honey …

Tell us a bit about yourself and why you started Hiver Beers…

I’m from Hull originally and still go back to visit my school friends and family a few times each year. I’d moved down to London to enjoy the big smoke, with a view to join a graduate scheme but soon found myself trading in a temp job for a sales and logistics position at a microbrewery and then never looked back. I loved the industry and everything about craft beer, from getting hands on with the raw ingredients to trying beers from around the world, and exploring taste and flavour through beer. I became interested in sustainable and local produce and found my way to the urban beekeeping scene in London, and recognised that I really wanted to work with raw British honey.

I soon started researching the history of honey beer as a style and decided to have a go at brewing a beer where the honey was fermented (rather than added for sweetening) during the brew. Within the year and five trial brews later, Hiver had launched and that was in September 2013.

hiver beer

Tell us about the beekeepers you work with…

They’re fantastic. Whether they’re based in the city, support community projects, help pollinate crops or simply keep bees as a hobby, it’s been a fascinating few years getting to know beekeepers, their bees and the fantastic produce they create together. The diversity of flavour in honey is as varied as the number of beer styles out there so really they’re a wonderful combination to work with. Hiver sponsors a few hives as part of a community project, in Kennington Park, called Bee Urban.

We also run our Hiver Experience from that site, where people can buy a ticket to have a go at beekeeping with us, followed by a beer and food matching session.

What have been your biggest challenges starting Hiver Beers?

Gosh, I think financially it’s very difficult to get a start-up business past a few key stages of growth without some real heartache and financial stress! All the small business owners I speak to have similar stories of near bankruptcy and the challenges of growing quickly. Cash flow is the killer and it’s funny because until you’re living the problem of needing to pay your suppliers before people pay you, it’s difficult to appreciate how stressful that can be.

We’re thankfully through a good bit of that now but there were times when we were winning awards and national competitions, and I wasn’t sure how I’d pay wages or my own rent the next day.

Blonde in glass on long bartop

What advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?

Think carefully about what you really want from the experience and if the reasons are genuine and you’re prepared to dedicate a few years of your life to getting something off the ground (and your family/partner/friends are prepared to support you emotionally or financially while you get there), then absolutely go for it. Then get an accountant on day one and run a P&L [profit and loss] at least every fortnight. If you don’t know what a P&L is, then go to night school to learn… And, you must write a business plan…..or you’ll be in trouble.

What exciting plans have you got for Hiver Beers in the coming year or so?

The Hiver Experience had been really popular so I’m hoping to expand to another location or two. We’re also just launching a Honey IPA and we’ll hopefully be putting some work into the arch that we’re in over the next couple of months to make our pop-up tap room a bit less pop-up (a living wall please!).

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Sonya Gellert

Sonya Gellert is a contributing writer and associate editor for Khoollect. She lives in Sydney....

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