This time last year, Dave Grant and David McHardy were in the final throes of deciding whether to launch into an extreme career change that would personally cost them six figures to get off the ground.
As the oil and gas industry in which they worked continued its decline, the two gastronauts were weighing up whether to turn their passion for home brewing into a full-time occupation. Their leap of faith led to the creation of Fierce Beer – the first and only microbrewery based in Aberdeen – which to date has produced 54,000 litres since its first brew came to fruition in May of this year.
Described as “intensely prolific” in a recent tasting review, Fierce has already expanded its premises at the Kirkhill Industrial Estate in Dyce since first moving there in July, and is aiming to double again with the addition of 2,400sq ft of warehouse space in the first quarter of next year. Similarly, brewing capacity is set to jump to 20,000 litres per month by the end of December following the addition of new equipment. Grant, who is managing director, says Fierce was prepared for this rapid acceleration that will be fuelled in part by the launch of its online store later this month. Coinciding with the run-up to Christmas, it will feature gift packs, glassware, t-shirts and other Fierce-related merchandise.
Some of the numerous beers already produced include Fuego Feroz, Ginja Ninja and Peanut Riot. The focus is on strong, bold flavours that partner well various types of food, positioning Fierce as a kind of “gourmet” product at the upper end of the market.
“We are trying to really push the all-around experience, rather than it just being the case of sitting around and having another beer,” says Grant, previously a director at oilfield services company Expro. “As long as people realise that we are not going to sell our beer for 50p a bottle, that is fine.”
Born in Kilmarnock, Grant was raised for the most part in the North-east of Scotland, where his father was employed in the oil industry. After his childhood dream of being a pilot was ended by a minor health issue, the younger Grant went on to study engineering at Robert Gordon University.
During 25 years in the oil industry he worked through a number of downturns, but by the time the latest price slump had set it, Grant’s home brewing hobby had evolved to the point where he was supplying a few local craft beer bars and setting up stalls at nearby festivals. He met McHardy, formerly of marine navigation specialist Veripos, in June 2015 at a brewing course in Sunderland.
“We got up and told pretty much the same story: ‘I am in the oil industry but now I want to be a brewer’ – it was a bit weird,” Grant says. “We started talking, and everything fell into place very well. I liked the beers he was making, he liked the beers I was making, and we are both a bit of a gastronaut.”
Crunch time came in November when the pair had to decide whether to push the button on ordering £250,000 worth of fermenting tanks and a bottling machine. Most of this was funded from their redundancy pay-offs, but they also sold 20 per cent of the equity in the new firm to a network of 10 local individuals in the bar, brewing and food industries.
Their first major order was for 2,500 bottles of Ginga Ninja from German supermarket Lidl, which featured the brew as part of its June beer festival.
Fierce beers are currently available in craft beer pubs throughout the UK via a network of specialist distributors, and can also be found in Spar and Aldi shops. Grant is further hoping to finalise a deal with OddBins in the coming months, and is in the final stages of striking an agreement with one of the Big Four supermarket chains. The financial plan is so far “on schedule”, which is to say that Fierce is breaking even.
The pair have been mentored to a great extent by the founders of nearby BrewDog, headquartered in Ellon. Fierce beers are available in the BrewDog chain of pubs, and the two have collaborated on limited edition brews. Fierce has even at times been mistaken as a subsidiary of BrewDog, but Grant has “not a bad word to say” about operating in the shadow of craft beer’s self-styled “punks”.
“I don’t personally feel that way. We don’t really make the same kind of beers that BrewDog makes, and people who know beer well understand that.”
Born: Kilmarnock, 1965
Education: Bridge of Don Academy; Robert Gordon University
Ambition at school: I always wanted to be a pilot. My father had lots of model planes.
First job: A food buyer for supermarket operator Gateway.
Favourite city: Cape Town – I lived there for three years and loved it.
Preferred reading tool: iPad.
Favourite mode of transport: My Triumph Tiger motorcycle.
What car do you drive? An Audi.
What makes you angry? Bad service.
What inspires you? People who are really passionate about what they do.
Best thing about your job: Making beer, and watching people try the beer that we make.