What does craft beer conjure up for you? Bearded hipsters in cheesecloth shirts? Warm, weak, tasteless, flat drinks that only your dad would like? Then think again. Because in Sandown on the Isle of Wight, the beer tables have turned, and two enterprising women have opened the Island’s first micro-brewery and tap room, Boojum & Snark and are proving that beer isn’t just for boys.
For childhood friends Julie Jones Evans and Tracy Mikich, the journey towards brewing their own craft beer began with a trip to America four years ago. ‘We started off in San Francisco and Haight Ashbury and checked out lots of micro-breweries in brew pubs and it was so exciting to see just what they were producing on site’, remembers Julie. ‘We moved on to Santa Cruz and one of our favourite pop ups was behind a car park where it was totally stripped back, and we enjoyed the beers and ciders they were producing. You get a tray of little beers (paddle) – like a beer tapas and there’s something quite sensual about it; you enjoy the different flavours and you’re being told how they’ve been made, what’s in them and it’s more about the art of it. So that piqued our interest’. They were both also struck by how these small venues were playing an integral part in local communities, providing places where people could get together casually to watch tv, play a board game and in some cases could bring their own food along to enjoy with the beers. Tracy continues, ‘It was dialled into local products, helping the community; these weren’t big corporate brewers and I think that resonated. Everyone believed in the rationale behind it and that made us feel that this could be perfect for the Isle of Wight. Communities were using the breweries and putting the heart back into things again’.
Women have traditionally been brewing since ancient times and in both ancient Egypt and Sumeria the same facilities were often shared between the making of bread and brewing and they were such similar processes, and these were women’s roles as daily chores. It wasn’t until industrialisation that brewing was taken out of the home and women were given the role of barmaid rather than brewer and men took over the profession. There has been much recent growth in craft breweries in the US and many of these see women playing crucial roles in those companies with skills including a much superior sense of smell and taste which in turn makes for greater sensory experiences. With all of this in mind, Julie and Tracy had to face the first hurdle, how to finance their own brewery. Both have much experience in grant applications as Julie is a local councillor and Tracy an award winning marketeer and so they applied for and got a £99,000 grant through the Coastal Community Fund application (the only successful application for the Isle of Wight). ‘Julie thought let’s just go for it because we felt that it could act as some kind of catalyst for change in Sandown and the Bay area as one of several areas of deprivation on the Island and it’s a positive thing to have on the high street. This is a high street venue and high streets are imploding currently and we wanted to wear different hats here from what we normally do, so this is a brew pub, it’s a tap room , it’s an arts venue and a community hub’.
Having located a former shop on they partnered with The Common Space who are the coastal communities team for the Sandown Bay area and work began. They both soon realised that far from the grant being the huge amount that it might have seemed, in reality they needed far more. ‘The brewery kit alone cost £30,000 there was £16,000 worth of electrics and then we had to convert a former Victorian shop’, continues Tracy. ‘We had to do the brewery floor twice, we’ve had issues with the temperature of the key kegs as we don’t have a traditional cellar and we still have work to do configuring the kitchen. It’s been a massive learning curve and it’s true, you don’t know what you don’t know! I for one wanted to walk away from the venture as it felt overwhelming and that it would jeopardise our friendship. I am much more risk-averse – Julie is a tour de force and refuses to be defined or inhibited and it’s her drive that has kept the project moving forward especially during these challenging times’. Claire Hector of The Common Space is full of praise for the project saying, ‘Boojum & Snark has been such an amazing demonstration so far on how to put the buzz and bubbles back into a coastal high street. In a town that’s often self-perpetuatingly negative, Boojum’s show how creativity, hard work and positivity applied to a project of any size can change perceptions of a place’.
Of course, there is also the brewery name which has a fascinating provenance. Named after Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll spent many summers enjoying Sandown sea front in the 1870s. In 1875, while he was writing The Hunting of the Snark, he met 9-year old Gertrude Chataway whose family was staying next door and the first edition of The Hunting of the Snark is dedicated to Gertrude. Simply Galumphing Around which dominates the interior of Boojum and Snark is an art installation created by Teresa Grimaldi and Sarah Vardy reflecting the themes of the nonsense poem as well as featuring childhood memories, laughing competitions, galumphing, larking and wild abandon to illustrate our search and desire for happiness.
Despite the onset of Covid-19 just as Boojum & Snark opened, Julie and Tracy have forged forward with the project. Julie has been mentored by a professional brewer and they produce three of their own beers The Vanishing which is a stout and named the last chapter of the Hunting of the Snark, South Island Pale Ale which Julie has developed herself and which has had had four out of five Untapped ratings and a raspberry wheat beer using Island Bakers bread. ‘When we’ve got our core range nailed then we can start to look at contract brewing and so we could ask another brewer to brew for us to our recipe. There’s so much potential here from seawater to samphire and natural botanicals and we’re working with Ian Boyd from The Common Space who has an amazing knowledge of what’s available’.
A massive risk or an adventure? ‘An adventure’, says Tracy. ‘ We never thought that we couldn’t do it and it’s about changing public perception of how two women brewing beer might be seen in a male dominated environment and we’re bucking the trend. Women are the alchemists, the herbalists, the tincture makers, the healers and perhaps it’s a healing for Sandown in some way. We weren’t afraid of giving it a go, learning the science behind it. And why shouldn’t the Island have a place like this? When we started people were saying you need to make this a traditional pub but we were adamant that it wasn’t going to be like that and it was a case of reimagining what the place could be like and making it a real destination’.
Find Boojum & Snark HERE