ShinDigger Brewing Company started with a home brewing kit bought using money pooled from the dregs of George Grant and Paul Delamere's student loans. Made in their Manchester kitchen and fermented in the basement, the attempt was a failure, as was their first foray into commercial brewing.
But herein, perhaps, is where ShinDigger's success lies—it's the errors Grant and Delamere made that turned them into the brewing experts they are today. Their craft beers are now stocked in pretty much every hipster bar in Manchester, as well as in Liverpool, Leeds, and even Hong Kong.
Today, ShinDigger are on the brink of launching a GPS-driven app that promises to deliver craft ales to your doorstep, poured fresh from the back of the van and dispensed into a custom flagon, all within 45 minutes of you placing an order.
"Like an artisan crateman?" I ask when the pair describe the newest addition to their business.
"A lot better than that," they assert.
Although ShinDigger started out as a student-serving operation selling homebrew at house parties with the ethos of "good time vibes," Grant and Delamere have moved on from their humble 2013 beginnings. Choosing "gypsy brewing," a process that allows them to "develop our own recipes and be made on a commercial scale," they managed to launch ShinDiggers with a modest £10,000 loan from the UK Government.
In the mere three years since they began trading, ShinDigger have released an array of beers ranging from black IPA to saison.
"But our forte is hoppy, American-style session beers," Grant tells me as he fills up the ShinDigger van for a trial run of the delivery service.
"We load these with the world's most powerful hops from America, New Zealand, and Australia which impart a burst of citrus and tropical notes," adds Delamere, who's driving today so doesn't indulge in too much of the pint Grant pours to test the machinery. "Eighty percent of our beer is sold as draft so it's kind of like a hybrid, taking the cold refreshing delivery of lager and combining it with the depth and variety of flavours in ale."
Ale is traditionally associated with older men, but ShinDigger hope to change this by starting their own music events, ShinDigger Sessions, with the help of Manchester community radio station Reform.
"It's a lot for you to do all at the same time," I say, swigging another pint on our way to a delivery in South Manchester's Chorlton and Didsbury.
"We don't have any commitments," admits George, who adds that micro breweries are usually run by people much older than them, and therefore are less likely to take on the kind of risks ShinDigger do.
Indeed, even the brand's artwork is geared towards a younger market, and as we start chatting to the punters who come out to get their orders, I notice that the brewery caters to the elusive "Millennial market," with customers saying they heard about the delivery app through Twitter and Facebook adverts.
"So they work," says Grant proudly.
He's proud too when I compliment the taste of the session beer I'm drinking, though he's slightly bashful about it, almost as if he's still processing the fact he's now a full time brewer, rather than a maxed out student coming down from an actual session. But the warm glow soon dissipates as we reach another address.
"Shit," says Delamere as he opens the back of the van.
"What?" I ask.
"We're going to run out of lids," he tells me.
Indeed, there's an uneven number of flagons and lids left in the box. This is my fault, having been left in charge of sorting this out back at the warehouse.
"I'll get an Uber for some more," Grant says pragmatically.
With ShinDigger, business is as straightforward and cool-headed as that. When something goes wrong, the pair quickly think of a solution and get on with it.
"D'you want some more beer while we wait?" asks Delamere.
"Fuck yeah," I say.
All photos by Phil Tragen.