Find out why this East Sussex brewer wants to spread the love
- Credit: Jim Holden
Steve Keegan co-founded a new beer and soft drinks business just before the first lockdown was announced. He explains how a focus on community was its salvation
The launch of East Sussex brewery Only With Love has, says co-founder Steve Keegan, been a case of ‘impeccable timing’. Steve – the man behind Brighton-based Holler Brewery - and his business partner Roger Warner completed their fundraising on 20 March, and were able to celebrate with a drink in the pub before lockdown began on 23 March and pubs stopped buying beer.
The friends met through playing football for Lewes FC Veterans and eventually joined the board of Lewes FC in a voluntary capacity. With Steve heading up the club’s hospitality offering, they were assured of a ready market for their beers. Then along came Covid, and closed the club as well as the pubs. Since then, the company – which sells trendy fermented drink kombucha alongside its vibrantly packaged beers – has had to find a new approach. ‘It definitely made us sit down and think about how people’s purchasing habits are going to change,’ says Steve. ‘We decided that we would tailor the short to medium future to deal directly with customers. Down in Sussex we have some of the best breweries in the country, if not the world. Knowing where the beers come from, knowing the people that make the product and the extra care that is spent and the fact that you know your money goes direct to those producers is quite big for people these days.
“It’s been tricky, but the one thing we’ve got is really good personal networks. We’ve been mainly shifting beer to our friends and friends of friends. But being in the beer industry and being a 40-year-old guy with lots of 40-year-old male friends we’ve been able to spread the word quite far. Lots of the pubs have been really supportive as well and so far it’s working really well.”
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Steve, who is originally from Middlesborough, has spent most of his working life working in hospitality and breweries in the south of England and moved to Sussex seven years ago – his girlfriend Bethany grew up in Glynde. “I finished working with my old brewery about 18 months ago to focus on working with more community-focused projects and spend some time with family because we’d just had another baby,” he says. The name Only With Love ’really came from my frustration at the amount of fear there is in the world over the past six to nine months’, he says. It’s a statement of intent as well as ‘a decision-making tool for the suppliers we use and the way we communicate with people’, adds Steve.
‘There’s also a big motivation to use our experience to help others. Lots of breweries will be a little bit scared of competition from other breweries but our view is that a rising tide floats all boats and there’s always room for more nice people and nice drinks in the world. Working with other producers is quite big for us but also venues - Lewes Football Club, obviously, but also other businesses like The Bevy in Moulsecoomb, which is the only community-owned estate pub in the whole of the UK.’
Currently the brewery is selling three pale beers, including Steve’s favourite, Dance Every Day. ‘We wanted something really tasty, that packs a bit of a punch for quite a weak beer. It’s really hazy, it has loads of citrus flavours and lots of body.’ They’ve recently added to the roster three dark beers –a brown, a black IPA and a seven per cent porter, at least two of which are expected to be in stock by the end of February.
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Asked about remaining ambitions, Steve replies ‘A lot of it is based on people being together. The drink is maybe the conduit but people are the main ingredient for things like festivals and markets.’ Steve and Roger, like so many of us, are raising a glass to a future in which we can raise a glass together.
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