Raising a glass with Jonnie Ritchie from Bobby Beer

Bobby Beer's manager, Jonnie Ritchie, talks about creating a top quality Gloucestershire lager, the craft beer movement and the best snacks to accompany a pint, in the latest raising a glass with interview.

Jonnie, tell SoGlos readers a bit about yourself and where you work.

My name is Jonnie Ritchie, I am 25 years old, and am originally from Oxfordshire. I grew up near Charlbury and now live in Cheltenham with my housemate and his dog, Hector.

Where do you work and what position do you hold?

I’m manager of Bobby Beer and work in Andoversford where the office and warehouse is located, although with the job I am never really in the same place too long as I’m always out on the road, at meetings or at the brewery.

What training did you do and what is your background?

I graduated from the University of Edinburgh two years ago with an MA in Art History, and consequently went on to do an intensive graphic design course in Manchester.

Degrees and education aside, my background has always been informed by hospitality, marketing and events coordination. I love food and drink and developed a healthy passion for beer at university which, coupled with a background in graphic design and customer facing roles, set up a great platform from which to take Bobby Beer forward into the marketplace.

How long has Bobby Beer been established?

The first pint of Bobby Beer was poured in October 2013.

Tell about the origins of the company

The owner is Sam Pearman, who along with his wife Georgie are directors of The Lucky Onion Group, which comprises of No. 131 The Promenade, The Tavern and No. 38 The Park in Cheltenham, The Wheatsheaf in Northleach and The Chequers Inn in Churchill.

As a side project from his restaurants and hotels, Sam wanted to have a crack at making and distributing beer, so I was hired to look after the development of the company on a full-time basis.

How did the idea develop?

There are only a few independent UK-based breweries that produce lager and even fewer still that produce a really high quality, drinkable product that actually tastes good! The funny thing is that lager is by far the most consumed alcoholic drink in UK, but the vast majority of it is produced by European brands. The idea for Bobby Beer was therefore born out of this apparent lack of quality in a truly British lager; we wanted to make a great tasting lager that we can be proud of.

What’s the story behind the name of the beer?

Bob was the name of my uncle.

How have Gloucestershire drinkers responded to a new local beer?

On the whole the reception has been great. I think that part of Bobby Beer’s success so far is its simplicity; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we are just resolute in trying to make the best British lager that we can.

You always get people who have drunk the same lager all their life and they are suspicious of something new, and that’s fine, at least they know what they like. We have managed to convert a fair few lager drinkers especially in Gloucestershire to Bobby Beer though, and hope we can convert a few more.

What’s the best thing about your job and why?

I don’t have to wear a suit, I don’t have to cut my hair, and drinking beer is an essential requirement of my role! There are lots of great things about this job, but I think in a general sense the most rewarding thing has been seeing the growth of the business from its embryonic form (a keg or two here, a case or two there) to where it is now.

Tell us about Bobby’s brewing process and what it is about it that makes it unique.

Unlike many industrially-produced mass-market lagers, our brewing process is dictated by quality over quantity. To put this in context, once the brewing process is completed, the bigger UK lager producers leave their beer to ‘lager’ (or ferment) for a total of seven days. We leave ours for six weeks which allows for optimum flavour and body of the finished product, and avoids it being watery or flavourless.

Also, unlike many other beers, we leave ours unpasteurised, which means that although the shelf life is somewhat shorter, we are confident in the knowledge that none of the delicious flavour will not be lost through the pasteurisation process.

How would you describe the beer?

Bobby Beer is a 4.8% premium British lager. It is lightly hopped, crisp, clean and well balanced through a subtle depth of flavour with a pleasant suggestion of floral and citrus notes.

Do you plan to start brewing other types of beer?

For the moment we’d like to concentrate on doing one thing and doing it right which is why all effort has gone into the refining the 4.8% lager. Having said that, you never know and maybe eventually we’ll do something like a summer pale ale or a winter stout, which could be a fun project.

Why do you think the craft beer market has taken off so much over the past few years?

I think people have become slightly disillusioned with brands which once imported quality European beer to the UK, and have since sold up to vast faceless conglomerates. For those imaginative few who weren’t happy to settle for mediocrity in terms of quality, a gap in the market was spotted which allowed the perfect conditions to react against these corporations. These pioneers of the recent ‘craft beer’ boom realised that the public deserves an alternative choice when it comes to beers.

The public has responded well to this, because as with any situation whereby a newcomer is attempting to challenge the conventions of accepted tradition, there is an element of freedom and a wave of excitement attached too.

What else has helped to fuel the craft beer trend?

A cult of youth seems to have stuck close to the craft beer movement too, which has helped it to be perceived as a fun, exciting and new. Psychedelic label designs, appearances at street food festivals, and simple, clean and bold branding are all a few of the related factors which have also indirectly helped to boost the credibility and perceived value of ‘craft beer’.

Which Gloucestershire bars and restaurants can readers currently find Bobby Beer?

No. 131 The Promenade, The Tavern and Brew & Bake in Cheltenham; Eat Wild and Made by Bob in Cirencester; Jolly Nice in Frampton Mansell and The Wheatsheaf in Northleach, with more coming soon.

What’s your top snack to enjoy with a pint of Bobby?

Something salty like proper South African biltong goes really well with it, as the saltiness keeps you coming back for more. Having said that pizza and beer has to be one of the best combinations ever.

Aside from beer, what is your personal, all time favourite drink and why?

A Bloody Mary from The Chequers in Churchill. They just get it right and even grate fresh horseradish on the top.

What do you get up to outside of work?

I love travelling and am slowly trying to tick places off my bucket list with New York up next. I like football, tennis, going to concerts, films, seeing friends, good food; the usual stuff really.

Where else do you drink in Gloucestershire and why?

I like John Gordon’s in Cheltenham a lot as they have an amazing wine and whisky list and a great selection of draught and bottled beers. I go to The Jolly Brewmaster in Cheltenham a lot by default as it is my local, but they always have a really impressive selection of guest ales.

How do you think Bobby Beer will have developed in a year’s time?

Hopefully we will have the capacity to brew more by this time next year, and continue to increase the number of sites we supply considerably. It would be fun to do more outdoor events and festivals next summer. We’re also in the process of updating a new website, so with any luck this will all be up and running in the coming months and it would be amazing if we could do online orders for delivery around the UK.

For more information call Bobby Beer on (01242) 822927.

By Anna McKittrick

© SoGlos
Monday 24 August 2015

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