Going it alone

So, this is my first blog where I’m not touted as “The UK’s only female Beer Inspector for Cask Marque”. I’m now heading up my own business called BeerBelle after more than 20 years working in the corporate world. Still talking about beer, all day, every day, but now I take on work freelance and I’m my own boss. 

Scary stuff when you’ve been used to a regular salary coming in for the past 25 years, but there were two key things which helped make my mind up. The first was I was moving further and further away from being in touch with the reality of running pubs and learning what made beer drinkers tick. And this is something I love passionately – what makes a great pub? What makes a great beer? How can I use all this energy (and quite frankly geeky knowledge) I’ve got in a positive way? The second was a bit more personal. I didn’t want to hit the age of 50 thinking “I wish I’d been brave enough to do that”. So with my heart in my mouth I bid farewell to Cask Marque (who are going from strength to strength in their mission to tell drinkers where they can find great beer).

I’m now a one man (sorry, woman) band on a mission to train, inspire and delight both drinkers and companies about our wonderful world of beer. I know my stuff, I’ve spent years studying why humans love beer so much, how beer has evolved, how beer should be kept, and how beer is so diverse in flavours and styles. Setting up on my own has given me the freedom to talk about beer without an agenda – it’s just me trying to communicate my own take on why beer is important.

I’ve been astonished (and delighted) at the number of high profile beer companies who have contacted me asking me to train their workforce about ‘what beer is’. They understand the brand, they understand the marketing and advertising. Do they understand the liquid in the glass? Well the honest answer is, no, not really. Great opportunities for me to guide them through the intricacies of brewing and flavour profiles. 

There is a huge – and I mean MASSIVE – demand from companies and drinkers wanting training sessions about ‘craft’ beer. It poses a dilemma for me because what ‘craft’ means to one person means something completely different to the next person. Is it keg beer? Is it cold? Is it American? It is small batch? And the most interesting for me – is all cask beer ‘craft’ beer. I have to be diplomatic, informed, yet impartial on this subject. It’s whatever you want it to be, as long as it’s beer. I’ve usually got my nose in a beer book or trying a new beer so I can write about it in an informed way.

That’s the good bit. Establishing the business has come with challenges.

Taking weekends for granted has now become a thing of the past. Every day is a working day and if someone offers you a paid job on a Sunday afternoon, you take it! Weekdays and weekends blend into one another when you’re your own boss.

Infrastructure and support. If my laptop goes haywire, or my phone starts playing up, there is no one-stop department to contact. Here’s how it used to go with me: “There’s a little blue arrow and it’s pointing to the thingy in the corner of the screen and it won’t move”. Followed by me having a nervous breakdown and having a little cry because I couldn’t send an email. IT man (sorry, it’s usually a man) would calm me down, tell me to turn it off and turn it on again, fix the problem, and I would promise eternal love, devotion and commitment to bear their children. Oh no, that’s all gone now, I have to figure out the problem myself. There is no lovely IT man at the end of the line.

But three months into it, do I have any regrets? None at all. I’m doing what I was born to do (my tee total mother may dispute this statement). Reckless as it may seem, I’m not in this to make a huge amount of money, I’m in it because in my own small way I think I can make a difference to the way people perceive beer and help them understand why beer is so important to our outlook on life. It’s the glue which holds our society together. How many beer drinkers did you get chatting to tonight? 

Going it alone

Annabel Smith drinking beer​​​​​​​


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