Q&A: Dan Hearn, Loddon Brewery

Dan Hearn started as a local newspaper journalist at the Henley Standard and Oxford Mail before, in his words, “selling my soul and working in PR in London”. He was the PR for a power company during the London Olympics (“I was erroneously given an access all areas pass so I could wander into all the venues and watch the action”, he says). Four years ago he joined Loddon Brewery, the family business, where he is responsible for PR, brand and marketing. Dan lives in Caversham and is a Reading FC season ticket holder.

Loddon’s “Tap Yard” has now reopened and can be visited Tuesday to Sunday.

What have you missed most in lockdown?
Spontaneity. The chance to make decisions on a whim – go to the pub, go to the beach, go anywhere at all – seems like an enormous luxury when you don’t have it. 

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
I love that it’s developing a confidence in itself. We all used to laugh at the postcards with grey buildings called ‘The Views of Reading’ and our perennial listing in that Shit Towns book, but we now feel confident enough to embrace what makes it great – it’s a hugely welcoming and diverse town, and in recent years a really vibrant food/arts/festival culture has emerged which makes it a lovely place to live.

Loddon has a reputation for “traditional” beers. How do you balance respecting that, and your core customers, with staying abreast of the trends in beer nationally and locally?
It’s been a blessing and curse. Our traditional beers are well loved and still sell very well – we’re very proud of them. But equally we needed to adapt and overhaul what we’re about. We did this by hiring a really good young brewer who is as adept at producing a brown bitter as he is a New England IPA, and it’s been hugely gratifying that so many people have got on board with this.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
My great-grandmother was Egyptian and I remember family gatherings, packed full of Egyptian aunts and uncles and full of noise and laugher, with the table sagging with the most extraordinary food. Falafel, baba ganoush, tahini – gloriously exotic stuff for a kid from South Oxfordshire and I loved them all immediately. Also school dinners, which were probably awful but I was a greedy child and enjoyed them immensely.

What is the worst job you’ve done?
I worked in a banana factory in Queensland as a 19-year-old backpacker. The bananas would come in on hooks covered in plastic and my job was to cut them open with a Stanley knife and watch, aghast, as spiders, rats and snakes poured out while a colleague ran around with a broom smashing them all to death. I lasted one day before I was moved to the more suitable ‘banana-washing’ area.

Where will you go for your first meal out after all this?
Clay’s or Vegivores. Clay’s because it’s just so, so good – the food, the people, the place. An absolute joy. And Vegivores because I recently stopped eating meat, and they show that plant-based food can be glorious, and unvirtuous.

You moved to Reading comparatively recently. What’s surprised you most about it?
Firstly, that Caversham (where I live) and Reading are seen as two distinct places and people from both sides of the river can be very insistent on this. Secondly it has a fantastic beer scene that would be the envy of many big cities.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
The Fat Duck. Clichéd, but it really does blow your mind. Also because I took my dad for his 50th birthday but he ended up paying because I was poor, so it was free.

Who would play you in the film of your life?
Probably that fella off the BT adverts and My Family given just how many times people have said I look like him.

Aside from Loddon’s beers, what would your three desert island beers be?
Jarl by Fyne Ales, La Chouffe and Harvey’s Sussex Best.

What was your most embarrassing moment?
Going for an ill-advised overhead kick during an inter-form football match at school and ripping my trousers from front to back. The school shirt and PE shorts combo is an unforgiving look.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
Hungover? The Bourne films. Any other time it would be Se7en – gloriously dark.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Bowie, because he’s Bowie, Natasha Khan, Heston Blumenthal, Mary Beard and David Fincher.

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
Pickled Onion Monster Munch are unimprovable.

What’s your favourite citybreak destination?
I love Tallinn – such a beautiful old town, incredible food and great beer.

You spent three months writing freelance for “Magnificent Man Magazine”: was that as ridiculous as the title makes it sound?
Yeah, absolutely. It was a short-lived magazine for a local watch company that meant to highlight, well, magnificent men and their achievements but was all a bit odd. It lasted three editions, which probably says everything.

Where is your happy place?
Branscombe, in Devon, where my grandparents had a cottage and I’ve spent many, many wonderful times.

What’s your superpower?
A surprisingly good recall for faces and where I know the person from. Not enormously useful, but it’s all I’ve got.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
I don’t really believe any food pleasure should bring about a sense of guilt. That said, I will just eat cheddar cheese covered in salad cream which is clearly a bit grim.

Describe yourself in three words.
Could try harder.

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