National Hospitality Day: Farr away from corporate life

The Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead.

The Reading Rooms in Wheathampstead. - Credit: Farr Brew

Ten years ago when Nick Farr was working as a construction estimator, he probably would have been surprised to know that his future self would be speaking on the BBC’s national flagship radio news programme.

Today, a decade later, on behalf of the hospitality industry. And, that the country would be in the midst of a staff shortage, due to the combined effects of a global pandemic and the UK leaving the EU.

But then, he also wouldn’t have known that in 2021 he would be co-running the award-winning brewery and pub group, Farr Brew.

Nick’s life-long passion for great-tasting ale and interest in brewing led to him leaving the construction industry and launching Farr Brew, which was founded in 2014 on the principles of “creating great tasting real ales brewed with craft and a commitment to quality” after Nick teamed up with long-term friend Matt Elvidge, who brought his years of experience in sales and marketing to help make the brewing dream become a reality.

“The company began as a micro-brewery making unique real ales predominantly, with some lagers, supplying pubs across Hertfordshire,” he says, from their flagship pub, the Elephant and Castle in Amwell.

“In Hertfordshire, there are a lot of real ale lovers, and a lot of pubs. So we knew the demand was there, and we began to make a name for ourselves supplying beer to the St Albans beer Festival and even CAMRA’s (The Campaign for Real Ale) AGM in 2015.”

Inside the tipi at the Elephant and Castle.

Inside the tipi at the Elephant and Castle. - Credit: Farr Brew

Here they acquired an influential fan in the form of well-known real ale aficionado Roger Protz, and were soon also running bars at local events such as Meraki, the Herts County Show, and the Kimpton Folk Festival; all good for brand exposure in the county.

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By now the brewery was housed at a facility in Wheathampstead with a 10 barrel brewery, taproom and bottle-shop and had support in the form of a small number of private investors. A separate micro-pub, The Reading Rooms, followed 18 months later when an old shop premises on Wheathampsted High St became available.

Their growth seems pretty meteoric in what might have been considered a fairly impenetrable and closed industry, dominated by the big breweries.

“It has been hard work to build a grow such a successful brand in the current climate. But with Matt and I rolling up our sleeves and having an ambitious attitude we have put in some long hours and approached every opportunity with energy, passion, and serious drive to succeed. We make good beers that we are proud of, and our customers love.”

The garden of the Elephant and Castle.

The garden of the Elephant and Castle. - Credit: Farr Brew

Says Nick: “And while some pubs are contractually obliged to stock the more established brands, they are always on the lookout to offer their customers something new, and something exciting.”

Farr Brew is now a growing, thriving hospitality business, running its own pubs: six at the moment, five in Hertfordshire, serving their own beers, spirits and lager as well as the well-known drinks brands as per their tied-pub commitments.

“We’re always on the look-out for old pubs to breathe new life into,” says Matt. “We think we’re pretty good at spotting an opportunity and we’re now building a reputation for our food too. We are champions of local ingredients and high quality food and of course fantastic wine lists. We look for pubs that have lost their love and passion, and revitalise them.”

Times are challenging right now, due mainly to the staff shortages Nick spoke about on the Today programme, which he also recently wrote about in this paper – not only in the hospitality sector, but also across the supply chain delivering many food and drink goods to pubs and restaurants the length of the country, largely due to Brexit.

But this won’t stop the Farr Brew duo from pushing forward with their plans: they’re in the middle of a pub renovation right now and look forward to revitalising more pubs across the UK. Those days spent in corporate life look farr farr away for both of them.