18 Jan YOUR STORY 3 – BEERCAT IN CONVERSATION WITH THE LANGUAGE HUB
Beercatalunya in conversation with The Language Hub.
Welcome to The Language Hub’s series of articles entitled YOUR STORY, where we spotlight the experiences of local companies and customers.
Martina and Peter made the brave decision to pack up their London lives and legal firm to start brewing craft beer in Vilafranca del Penedés, famous as the “Capital of Wine”.
Martina kindly discusses their experiences, including the Ups and Downs of a major career change but also relocation overseas.
Hi Martina, tell us a bit about BeerCat…
Well, BeerCat is principally a microbrewery, which means we produce small batches of craft beer, mainly for the local market but we also export. We currently have about 11 beers in our range, including seasonal beers like our Christmas stout, Black Irish, which we only tend to have in winter but we also have a separate line which we just sell in supermarkets.
You also have a restaurant in your micro-brewery, could you tell us a bit about that?
The microbrewery is based in an old bodega in the wine producing area of Penedés, Vilafranca, just by the train station. The building was originally used to store the wine and ship it out in bulk or granel because I think traditionally wine wasn’t bottled here. So we managed to get hold of one of those old buildings and spent a lot of time, energy and money…(laughs) converting it and we decided that in order to try to pay back some of the money we spent on it we’d get immediate sales by opening a bar and then because it’s Catalunya, it had to have food because people don’t drink without food here, so the whole idea kind of evolved from being a bar or tap room as you’d call it in English to a restaurant or gastro bar, if you like.
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Have you always worked in the restaurant or drinks trade?
No this is all new for us, we..er both Peter and I were solicitors in London. Peter did mainly family law and I was principally involved with criminal law, so we both used to defend people in the Criminal Justice system in the UK
So, if I get this right, you’ve had a very dramatic career change. You mentioned London, so you’ve not only changed countries but you also had a monumental shift in your career. Tell me about that, did you feel it was a culture shock? Why such a big change?
Well we wanted to! Living in London, em, I think the quality of life is not that great once you’ve moved beyond wanting to go out every night, particularly if you’ve got kids. We had young children and we just felt that it was time to leave London and find a better quality of life and balance of life because we worked very hard in London. Um and we looked around and we decided if we were going to leave London, then maybe we could actually leave England altogether. And we fixed on Spain, because I already spoke Castellano, Peter was busy doing A level Spanish when he was in London and at the same time learning how to make beer. So, we decided to completely throw everything up in the air and give up the lives that we had there and start a-fresh here.
Why Vilafranca? Why Beercat in Vilafranca?
Well Vilafranca, because the infrastructure for making alcoholic drinks is already here actually, there is the logistic support , there’s the fact that it’s got the reputation for producing wine and cava. We’ve got companies who make the tanks here, we’ve got the technicians who can help us so it’s the ideal place. As well as being a very nice place to be.
So, do you think it helped you to produce craft beer or artisan beer in a zone that’s famous for its wine and cava production?
Well that was one of the things that we thought would be of interest, particularly in the export market. Well, having the brewery in a wine producing area would give us a slight edge in terms of marketing. It was something interesting, a unique selling point which we felt might help us particularly in English speaking countries but particularly where Cava is very popular.
May I ask, you had this dramatic change, you changed country and careers what do you think was the biggest hurdle that you had to overcome? Do you think being non-natives or non-Catalans was a help or a hindrance?
It was actually very, very difficult because, I mean, primarily we had a linguistic issue because Vilafranca is primarily a Catalan speaking area or at least 90% have Catalan as their first language, but also, I think the business culture here is so very different to what we were used to. We worked in London in a profession that’s really regulated, where we knew the boundaries and limits and here we just came into the unknown. Also just the way of doing business here is different, we had to learn, we had to adapt and really we needed to learn because we were the ones coming into a different culture, simply.. this is how it’s done here and this is how we’ve got to try and do it too.
How do you see in general the craft beer culture changing, which direction do you see it going here in Catalonia?
Well we kind of looked at what happened to Cava and Prosecco in London. 30 years ago people weren’t drinking cava, England had a beer drinking culture, maybe people would have wine at Christmas, but that’s it. Now most people right across the classes are drinking wine and cava and that’s because the drinking culture has shifted but I think there’s still plenty of room for the culture to shift again. Beer’s a very healthy product, ours is entirely natural and vegan. It’s a product you can combine in a healthy diet and we think that there’s room to shift towards Craft beer and not just industrial cheap lager.
Do you think the craft beer market in Spain mirrors that of America or the UK?
No, I think the difference here is that alcohol in general, be it cava, wine or beer fits into a more culinary tradition, into a culture where food is the priority and alcohol is something to accompany it. I think in the United States, UK and Northern
Europe, alcohol, by itself, tends to be a reason to go out drinking and that just isn’t the case in Spain. So, we’re producing beer specifically to combine with food and which you can drink in the same way the Spanish people drink beer.
..So now, having gone through this monumental life change, what’s your best advice you can give somebody if they’re thinking of doing the same?
Erm.. I think I would think very carefully about where you are going to live and who you’re hoping to connect with. I think one of the difficulties we had is we moved out into the countryside straight away and although we have great neighbours, I think at times we felt isolated, especially when we just got here and were trying to start up the business, it was tough.
Last question, would you advise somebody never to do it!
Oh no!!! I’d would say do it tomorrow, it’s a great life!
Many thanks Martina we really appreciate you sharing #yourstory with us. Thank you and we wish you and Beercat continued success in the future.
Carrer Sarriera, 10, 08720
Vilafranca del Penedès
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