Round Corner: Uncommonly good beer

When you think of Melton Mowbray, chances are that craft beer isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Round Corner are here to change all that.

With a focus on quality, consistency and raising awareness of the craft sector through accessible beers, they’ve become a firm favourite of HonestBrew customers and staff alike, making them an excellent pick for June’s Brewery of the Month. We caught up with founders Combie and Colin to learn about the history of Round Corner, how their local region influences their output and their ambitions for the future.

How did Round Corner get started?

Combie: “Colin and I first met in Wellington, New Zealand in 2005. I’d moved over there with a half notion of buying a brewery and Colin was running the biggest craft brewery in the country then. We hit it off and nearly built breweries in NZ and Asia over the intervening years. But it wasn’t until I and another friend bought the livestock market in Melton about six years ago that the dream came back into focus.”

“All the while, Colin continued to brew amazing beers. Once I got back in touch, we set about raising the funds to build the brewery we wanted — one to enable us to brew some of the best beers in the world from an iconic home. Our first beers poured in December 2018.”

What significance does your Melton location have on the beers you brew?

Combie: “As well as the famous livestock market, Melton play host to four massive food festivals and the town is the only location in the UK to have two origin products: pork pies and Stilton Cheese (we like to flatter ourselves by adding our beer to these). In our East Midlands region, there hasn’t been as much activity in craft beer compared to the big cities, so we see this as an opportunity to create a source of regional pride while featuring on an international stage, too.”

“Many of our beer names are rooted in Melton’s history, too. Our award-winning Hopping Spree is a nod to the famous local ‘spree’ from which the expression ‘painting the town red’ comes, and Donkey Jacket is also named after the worker’s jacket fashioned from Melton cloth, the US equivalent of which is Mackinaw — the name of our American Brown Ale.”

“The impact of the town has been life-affirming. In lockdown, the community rallied around us. We ended up with over 600 customers regularly taking beer deliveries and this support reaffirmed what we were doing and who we were doing it for. We still feel this love, especially in our new Round Corner Pizza Kitchen, which was built with great skill by a group of volunteers from our taproom!”

What’s the inspiration behind your beers? Is there a particular ethos that you’d like to be known for?

Combie: “We view ‘craft’ as the relentless pursuit of perfection. With every beer, we aim to make the best example of that style and measure this by consumer feedback and awards. In this pursuit, we have an ethos of patient growth. We are ambitious but, for us, it’s about making progress without cutting corners on people, ingredients or equipment. If that means heading to Brazil to recruit a brewer, we’ve done that. If that means buying a water treatment plant before a canning line, we’ve done that.”

“We want to be known as uncompromising in our production of uncommonly good beer and for our neighbours to be proud of us and amongst our biggest fans, but also for a global audience to enjoy our beer. We’ll do this, however, on our terms — patiently, yet tirelessly.”

What challenges have you faced as a growing brewery, both in terms of pandemic and outside of that?

Combie: “Pre-pandemic, we were really rolling in terms of sales to pubs and had built up a large inventory. When COVID hit, like all breweries, we worried for our future, but with 1500 growlers at our disposal and a supportive community we ripped through that inventory in no time and were brewing a month later. The success meant we could develop the business, adding a new canning line, building a larger cold store, and investing in a new lab, which has grown our QA capability to be world-class.”

“We feel blessed that with hard work and some luck we’ve not had to compromise on the beer, our finances or our treatment of people (staff and customers) and so, despite the ongoing uncertainty, we feel confident about the future of Round Corner Brewing.”

Where do you see the UK craft beer scene going next?

Combie: “Round Corner’s scene is our community and our friends in brewing, pubs, restaurants and online retailers like HonestBrew. But, if we look a bit wider, independent brewing will need to evolve and grow, because making up less than 5% of overall beer volumes is not sustainable. This means we all have a role to play in welcoming folks into our community in a number of ways.”

“The first is by brewing accessible beers, which means plenty more crisp lagers to go along with the juicy IPAs, and a focus on consistent high-quality output. Secondly, these beers need to be marketed in an inclusive way to create the opportunity to show new audiences the benefits of great, independent beer. We should talk positively about all beer, seeing and learning from what successful operators do and publicly acknowledging it as, in my book, how Peroni has been positioned can be as instructive as the journey Brewdog or Cloudwater have taken.”

We’ve got a Father’s Day collab together, what was the motivation behind this beer?

Combie: “We’re very happy with Pitmaster General, our Smoked Stout, brewed exclusively for HonestBrew’s Father’s Day Bundle. We brew a range of Stouts throughout the year and, in the past, have done a few Rauchbiers, so brought these elements together. We also had some fun at Dad’s expense with the concept of barbecues too often being this precise, expert thing… often with questionable results. If the reality of Dad’s cooking skills is less impressive than his perception, here’s a beer from Round Corner and HonestBrew you can count on, whatever the outcome with the food.”

Colin: “It’s a complex yet drinkable beer, with nine malts in the recipe and balanced by just enough English Challenger hops so the flavour intertwines perfectly with lightly charred food from the grill.”

Can you tell us about your other beers?

Hopping Spree

Colin: “A three-time European Champion West Coast IPA. It’s dry with a lovely orange hue from Carared Malt and, at 6.6%, the strength carries enough sweetness without cloying. By fermenting to dryness we’ve created a beer that’s rich with luscious citrus and pine hop aromas.”

Drovers

Colin: “A hazy Session IPA. The wonderful aroma is followed by a citrus hit, led by Lemondrop hops beside Bavaria Mandarina and Mosaic and Citra to create a tropical fruit salad flavour. A summer classic.”

Zomba

Colin: “A lavender Witbier with a hint of coriander. Beautifully tart and thirst-quenching, the beer exhibits aromas of juicy fruit, Turkish delight, rose petals and lime, and is driven by milled coriander seeds and NZ Wai-iti hops. The lavender is kept low so it integrates without dominating.”

Steeplechase

Colin: “Named after the first-ever steeplechase horse race that was run in Melton Mowbray, our brewers love to drink this Pale Ale. We’ve always been inspired by highly drinkable beers from the US, like Sierra Nevada, so this is our homage to them. Loads of USA hops are married with NZ Rakau & Motueka for well-balanced bitterness, fruity aromas and thirst slaking beer.”

You can find many of these beers from Round Corner at HonestBrew all throughout year, but don’t forget to check out our Father’s Day Bundle to get your hands on Pitmaster General.