Q&A: Mike Clayton-Jones, Double-Barrelled

Originally from Manchester, Mike Clayton-Jones moved to Reading eight years ago. He worked as a logistics consultant, and started homebrewing in his garage as a hobby. When he and his wife Luci got married, they gave guests a bottle of his beer as a favour: it was billed as by “Double-Barrelled Brewery” as a nod to his double-barrelled surname, but the name stuck. Mike and Luci opened their brewery on Stadium Way in 2018, and the following year they won Entrepreneur Of The Year at the Pride Of Reading Awards.

Double-Barrelled has continued to operate throughout lockdown, shifting to online sales while pubs and bars were closed, and has now reopened its taproom and is working on expanding its onsite capacity. Mike and Luci live in Caversham.

What have you missed most in lockdown?
The spontaneity of just going somewhere or meeting up with friends, seeing who’s down the pub et cetera. And social interactions that aren’t on a Zoom call. I don’t want to do another zoom quiz. Ever again. 

What’s your favourite thing about Reading?
Reading is small enough that you can get to every part of it quickly and easily and it feels like a community, but it’s big enough that it literally has everything you could need. Need a new car or a fridge? Yep, plenty of options. Want a freshly cooked vegan meal? Yeah, we got that too. Artisanal coffee or authentic and delicious Indian food? No worries. All of these choices and so many more are within five minutes of my house, which suits me.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Aside from my Mum’s cooking (in particular how much she bakes sweet things and desserts but rarely indulges in any of them) I have memories of watching cooking shows on TV as a kid. A firm favourite back in the day was Ready Steady Cook, which became something of a daily or weekly routine (I forget how frequently it was on). The idea of looking at a bag of ingredients and coming up with a recipe on the spot is something I still enjoy doing on a whim and has led to some long-lasting staple meals. 

What is the worst job you’ve done?
One of my first jobs out of uni was at Avis – I was a call handler in their customer complaints department. Unsurprisingly it was a soul destroying six months working on a phone line specifically designed for people to ring up and shout at you. At the end of my first week of training I was left to fend for myself for the first time: literally the first call I took ended with a guy calling me a cunt down the phone. 

What’s your favourite citybreak destination?
Somewhere I could go back to regularly would be Bamberg in Northern Bavaria, not least for the incredible Schlenkerla brewery and their Rauchbier (smoked beer). I love the serving hatch experience of some guy just handing you full pint out of a hole in the wall – no options, just “you want a pint of smoked beer or not?” – and then settling down with your delicious Rauchbier to indulge in a plate of pork knuckle and mashed potatoes, admire the stunning architecture and watch the world go by. 

Aside from your own, which three beers would you pick as your desert island beers?
Lagonda by Marble (on cask, through a sparkler), Table Beer by The Kernel and Schlenkerla’s Rauchbier.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
I’ve been incredibly lucky to eat in some amazing places all over the world, but a meal that stands out more than most would have to be when Luci and I were on honeymoon in the Seychelles. We went out on a deep sea fishing trip and caught a couple of yellow fin tuna and then travelled to a small island inhabited only by hundreds of giant tortoises. The skipper of the boat prepared the tuna in a really simple ceviche with some sliced red onions and a little chili pepper. Probably the freshest fish I’ve ever eaten and every element of it was just perfect – the surroundings, the situation and, of course, the food. 

Which words or phrases do you most overuse? 
I’m not aware of overusing many, but within our team I have a reputation for talking about pallets too passionately. 

Where does Double-Barrelled stand on the government’s plan to amend Small Breweries’ Relief, and why is it important?
Well! That’s a question and a half! It’s probably better discussed with a pint in hand, but I’ll do what I can to say how we feel here. 

I’ll start with why it is an important tax relief scheme – the idea behind the rate relief scheme for duty in the first place was to try to lower the barriers of entry to the market to the beer industry, by making it easier for small breweries to compete with large ones with established economies of scale. This promotes greater diversity in beer, innovation and has benefits to the economy for more great beer being made in the U.K. It’s one of the reasons that so many smaller batch breweries exist today, ourselves included. 

The final details of the changes have yet to be specified but the very idea of changes that have been lobbied for by bigger businesses with only commercial reasons for gain is of course incredibly worrying for us. The U.K. currently has one of the highest alcohol duty rates in the world and that has a huge impact on the costs of production, whatever the scale. The idea that a number of breweries – who have happily taken advantage of the lower duty rates to grow to a size where they start to see a tapering of the relief they are eligible for – now want to pull the rug from under the feet of the rest of the industry is galling at best.  

Small breweries have always fought an uphill battle against the big players in the overall industry, and for many years the smaller guys have been in broad agreement about the general “independent v multinational” way of life. But now we constantly face issues where breweries that look independent and “craft” are bought out by the multinationals (Beavertown, Magic Rock, FourPure, Camden etc. etc.). It’s a highly competitive industry, often with dirty business practices from the big players and grossly unfair competition. Changes like these only seem to clarify that the aim is to push the small guys out. 

The argument is that the current set up fails to promote growth, and as a brewery that will be teetering on the edge of the proposed duty threshold very soon, it’s a worrying time. 

I’ve barely scratched the surface on my feelings on this! To summarise, Double-Barrelled opposes the plan to amend Small Brewers Relief. Change is often necessary, but it shouldn’t be at the cost of creativity or of giving new operators to an industry an even bigger obstacle to deal with.

What one film can you watch over and over again?
Snatch. I can pretty much write the script out for it, which is of course absolutely excellent, but combined with the soundtrack it’s just an incredible movie. 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
It sounds clichéd but take risks, follow dreams, do what you want to do when you want to do it. The time we have is short, and it can end in an instant. Stuck in a job you hate? Change it! There isn’t time to be sitting around waiting for something you might like to appear on the horizon.  

What one restaurant do you wish you could pick up and drop in Reading?
Katz’s Deli in NYC, for the buzz and atmosphere created in that sandwich shop, let alone the standard of the food. There’s often a queue around the block to get in, and the first time you go, it makes you question if it’s really worth the hassle. Trust me, if you’re ever in New York it’s the best place to go for a sandwich if you are a fan of pastrami, brisket or corned beef. 

What is your most unappealing habit? 
I eat too quickly at pretty much every opportunity. It always causes me problems afterwards, but I never, ever learn from it.  

You travelled extensively and did a lot of research (well, drinking) before starting the brewery. Which breweries have been the biggest influence on you?
We drew a lot of inspiration from all over the place when we came back and finally set up Double-Barrelled. We try to create a wide variety of beer styles and try to reflect brewing traditions and heritage where we can, whilst also being experimentative. The taproom aspect was based heavily on the US model of incorporating a permanent space to offer guests to drink our beers on the site they are made, whilst having enough scale to brew more than your average brewpub (which thankfully we have just about managed).

Probably one of the biggest direct breweries that influenced us overall was Big Shed in Australia. They had an awesome community taproom, were winning awards for their beers nationally and the owners were friendly and welcoming and were still, despite growth, heavily involved in the business. Their influence on us was reflected in the naming of our stout “Seven Dollar Saturday” after some the stories they shared with us. What was really special is they came over to the U.K. last year and brewed a beer with us in Reading. That was a proud moment.  

What’s the finest crisp (make and flavour)?
Scampi Fries! There is no debate here.

Where is your happy place?
When you have been really busy, sometimes I feel like the best place to be is sat on the sofa,with my wife, the cats and a couple of beers. I love the beer industry, but it’s an industry that needs you to work days, nights and weekends. So stopping for a bit is even more appreciated. 

Tell us something people might not know about you.
I have a bum in my chin. Although I can’t remember the last time anyone saw it, so it might not even be there any more. I’m also pretty deaf and wear hearing aids: I’d like to think that’s something most people don’t notice when they meet me.

You put a lot of work into naming your beers. What’s your favourite beer name that didn’t quite make it onto a can?
There’s a long list on my phone of work in progress names. It’s quite a challenge to make sure that the names are inoffensive, unique where possible, interesting, and easy to say over a bar, especially when you are releasing new beer every week. My favourite one that hasn’t been used yet is Horses Are Stuck Up – it was funny at the time, maybe it should be left that way.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure when it comes to food?
Scotch eggs. I love them, even the dirty ones you aren’t supposed to like.

Describe yourself in three words.
Bald, beardy, beerman.  

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