Guy Sheppard, Exe Valley Brewery

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Please introduce yourself and your brewery...

Exe Valley Brewery was set up in 1984, I joined it in 1991 - we are now the second oldest brewery in Devon. 
I have been in the beer trade all my working life, beer must have got into my blood! I have been actively involved with SIBA for over 25 years and am currently the National Chairman of SIBA.

Where do you brew from and what is your set up?

Our brewery is in a converted barn, perched on the side of a hill above the village of Silverton in the Exe Valley - about 7 miles north of Exeter. Originally a 3 barrel set up, it was expanded in 1993 and we now brew 13.5 barrels at a time. We have 7 regular beers which we supplement with seasonal and occasional beers through the year. Most of our beer is cask conditioned, although we also have 5 regular bottle conditioned beers.

What was your path into the world of brewing?

Came to university in Exeter to study Accountancy, but instead discovered beer and pubs. Re-introduced Real Ale to the Exeter University campus in 1975 in a bar I ran and went on to set up a wholesale business, supplying traditional beers round free houses in Devon, Cornwall & Somerset when I left university in 1977. I got to know many brewers and was there when many of the early 'new wave' brewers set up - the business was bought out in 1991 and I joined Richard Barron at what we renamed Exe Valley Brewery. I have learnt brewing on the job and as with all small breweries, have to be able to do all and everything that the business involves.

Where do you see your brewery in three years time?

Unless the old barn slides down the hill, in a very similar position to where we are now - I have no intention to take over the world; providing that the brewery can generate what I and my staff need to live then I will be happy. I feel very privileged to be able to do a job that I love in a beautiful part of the world.

What’s the single biggest challenge facing the UK independent beer market?

Beer being sold cheap in supermarkets and the like - a lot of skill goes in to brewing beer, but the market doesn't seem to be prepared to pay sufficient for the efforts we all put in.

What was the first beer which altered your perception of beer?

Ansells Mild! I grew up in the Midlands and my early forays into pubs seemed to involve being seen to drink beer - I could not stand it and could not understand how others could drink it, but I wasn't going to admit defeat! What I didn't realise was that the pub who let us drink in (!) sold Flowers Keg and it was that which I was drinking. It was only after I got my first proper holiday job that I went out regularly after work with other staff to The Gold Cup in Warwick (I was working as a chef at Warwick Castle) that I discovered beer that I could actually drink and enjoy - an Ansells pub with Bitter & Mild on hand pumps - 1973-74

What beer do you wish you had brewed?

Courage Imperial Russian Stout - There were a few amazing survivors like this in the mid 70s when I was first getting into the trade. Whilst running the bar at university, I dealt with Courage whilst they still brewed in Plymouth (BB & Heavy), marvellous 200 barrel wooden FVs - long trashed and gone as has been the way with too much in this industry. Sorry, digressed there - I had heard about Imperial Russian Stout and pestered the local Courage depot to get some - after a few weeks 10 cases of it turned up (in old Barclays wooden nip cases) and it sold like hot cakes. Still have some of that first lot I got dated 1974. Think it was still brewed in London then, very occasionally, but must have been such a privilege to brew beers like that which was often the only time the brewers got to use some of the old kit which was largely mothballed in breweries like that.

What do you drink when you're not drinking your own beers?

Dark Mild - a style that went out of favour and thankfully is coming back a bit, but very difficult to get in the South West. I still hanker after it from my earliest forays into beer drinking.

What's your desert island beer?

Can I take a whole FV please? Assuming that it has got to be something that can be savoured, I would be very tempted to take some Belgian Beer, strong, dark, dubel or possibly quintrupel - if I have to name one then Vicaris Generaal would go down very, very well.

Mike Hampshire