Last October, with the help of Ascot Brewing Company, 11 Members were given the chance to carry out many people’s dream: design and brew their own beer.
Ascot Brewing Company have been producing beer in Camberley, Surrey for more than a decade and have recently moved to a new, state-of-the-art premises with the help of crowdfunding support. The multi award-winning brand has even installed an elevated tap room on a mezzanine overlooking the working brewery so guests can see all the action unfold whilst sampling the outfit’s unique beers. For two days last October, all this was at the Members’ disposal.
“Meeting a Blesma Member and hearing his story made me want to go the extra mile for Blesma,” says Chris Davies, who has the fantastic title of Chief Value Creation Officer and Chief Tasting Officer at the brewery.
“I was introduced to the charity by a mutual friend who was planning a wheelchair rugby world record event in aid of Blesma. I was intrigued by what they were trying to achieve, so we put some Blesma collection boxes on our bars and raised funds for the charity at a number of beer festivals."
“Post lockdown, Chris Knight [Blesma’s Corporate and Regional Fundraising Manager] paid us a visit along with a
Blesma Member. We spoke about what the Association is and does, what it stands for and what its Members are all about."
“It was eye opening to find out about their experiences. Getting involved with Blesma gave us a greater understanding of the lives of people who defend our country and live with a disability. They deserve not only our recognition but also our support.”
It was this meeting that laid the foundations for the two-day event at the brewery during which Members could get
to grips with what it takes to be a master brewer. First they were given an insight into the brewing process, which covered everything from the raw ingredients to the equipment. Then they sat down to build a brand and a back story, design some packaging and, ultimately, name their beer."
“We wanted more involvement, not just with the charity but with the membership. We believe beer is the social glue that binds communities together and this was a way we could form a stronger relationship and have a bit of fun,” says the brewery’s Chris.
“I like to use the term ‘earning the right’. Through the event, we would earn the right to work with Blesma and in return the Members would earn the right to brew the beer – by learning how we come up with the ideas, by learning the beers, and by learning the process.”
According to Blesma’s Chris Knight, this idea worked for the Association as well.
“We are always keen to explore partnerships with business and industries, especially when we can engage the Members,” he says.
“Ascot Brewing Company was a good fit: they offered lots of opportunities – from using their premises for events to engaging Members in activities. The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is also close by and military personnel often visit the brewery, so it already had a military connection.”
Upon arrival, the Members met Head Brewer John Willatts and other key personnel behind the award-winning beers.
But rather than just listening to talks about the brewing process, the group’s senses were put to the test as they were introduced to the different ingredients – barley, yeast, water and hops – that go into making beer.
As they were given a tour of the brewery’s fermentation vessels, vats and kegs, John invited the Members to get hands on.
“It was great to get up close and personal, seeing just how much manual effort goes into the brewing process – I didn’t realise how involved we would be,” said Royal Air Force veteran Mark Sidwells, who lost both his legs in 2015.
“Beer and service personnel go well together, so this kind of activity suits us. It’s the social element related to beer – it brings people together in a relaxed way rather than being on a conference call.”
After getting an idea of how beer is produced, the group moved on to the all-important tasting session to formulate
a recipe for their own brew. That required Members to sample a variety of beers from Ascot Brewing Company and their new innovative craft beer brand, Disruption IS Brewing, to rank their favourite flavours.
“It’s a really sophisticated process,” says Mark. “I was fascinated by the ingredients that are used and how different brewing times produce different strengths. We saw how we could take some of the elements or recipes to produce a beer that is stronger, weaker, maybe more like Guinness or with more fruity flavours. We wanted something that appealed to everybody, so we met in the middle with a bitter.”
Day two saw the Members get creative with their marketing skills as they took part in a session to come up with their beer’s back story as well as designing a label. The group learned more about the different elements of production and what factors aspects like alcohol content play in customers’ purchase decisions. Then it was time to discuss pack size, debate can versus bottle, design the packaging and come up with a name.
This is where former Royal Engineer Commando Dan Newbold, who lost his right eye after a road traffic accident in
1982, was able to put years of business experience into action.
“I’m not really a drinker, but I am really interested in the business aspect of the activity,” says Dan. “I own waste recycling companies and employ a lot of people. With my experience of business, marketing, people, and hospitality I thought I could give my views."
“I understand what people want and how they buy. People buy with their eyes, and they eat with their eyes. That’s why names are important. It had to be quirky – something people would remember. For example, I think people like strange names for craft beers because they make people laugh."
“Ascot Brewing Company knows what type of advertising works, and advertising is everything. You can make the best beer in the world but if the label looks dreadful then people aren’t going to buy it because
they think it’s going to taste dreadful. It was clear they are very good at what they do.”
With an approach that represented The Apprentice, the boardroom battle of creation through salesmanship, strategy
and feedback commenced.
“The group erupted into some healthy debates,” says Blesma’s Chris.
“But the camaraderie was clear to see. Everyone had their opinions about what tasted better, and what might work best for the name, but they all pulled together as one team."
“They really fed into the whole process and were always asking questions, wanting to know the differences between certain brews, for example. It was nice to see the Members working alongside and engaging with the Ascot Brewing team, too.”
Drawing on the Members’ connections, the beer focused on a very prominent theme.
“We centred our beer on Blesma as that was what brought us together,” explains Mark.
“That’s how we came up with the name Life and Limb. We suggested lots of names involving the word ‘legless’ or to do with the theme of an explosion, as we wanted something the public would recognise and find a bit quirky. But when we looked at the Blesma logo and talked about the Association a bit more we reflected on the fact that it also
cares for Widows. We wondered if we would be projecting the right message. Amputation or loss of use of a limb also impacts on the lives of Widows and family members, so that is why we settled on the name.”
Blesma is currently working with Ascot Brewing Company to see if the Blesma beer Life and Limb can be brought to life