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The English countryside is more than quaint villages and rippling green fields—if you look closer, you’ll see it’s marked by history and purpose. On Cornwall’s cliffs, engine rooms stand sentry over long-exhausted mine shafts. Yorkshire’s textile mills bear witness to the county’s role in the Industrial Revolution. The Cotswolds are scarred and pitted, quarried for soft limestone the color of sand.
The level expanse of East Anglia, in eastern England, is scored by the Norfolk Broads: hundreds of miles of navigable lakes and rivers, formed by flooded, medieval peat workings. Leading the area’s charge into the brisk North Sea is Norfolk, a county of flat and fertile soil. Fields brim with yellow rapeseed, and barley, wheat, and other cereals flourish here.
The old port town of King’s Lynn lies at the base of The Wash, the bay at the junction of the Norfolk coastline and the blocky mass of central England. The Wash is fed by the River Great Ouse, in turn fed by the narrow and winding River Nar. That river runs through a series of villages clustered around the ruins of a 12th-century castle and an even older priory.
In West Acre, two miles from the priory—though still on its protected grounds—a huddle of farm buildings sit behind the hamlet’s church. And in one, a recently restored stone barn, an ambitious new brewery has just thrown open its doors.
I'LL BE CLOSE BEHIND An ocean away from Norfolk and its ports, Derek Bates was working as a chef at Stella’s Southern Bistro in Simpsonville, South Carolina, when he met Miranda Hudson. It was 2009, and she had traveled from her home in London to Charleston to see a friend. Fatefully, Hudson crashed the wedding of one of Bates’ friends. He asked her to dance, and the pair spent the rest of the day drinking bourbon, chewing tobacco, and shucking oysters. After three more weeks together, Bates saw her onto a plane home with a handwritten letter pressed into her hand.
Two months later, he followed her to London. “My daddy told me it was better to beg forgiveness than ask permission, so I’m coming,” he told her by way of explanation. A couple months after that, Hudson drove to the field in which Bates was pit-roasting a pig, pulled him out of the smoke and grease and into an apple orchard, and proposed. “He said, ‘Yes, but I was supposed to ask you,’” she chuckles.
Bates—who is known to friends and peers exclusively by his last name—is a quiet, though not necessarily reserved, man. He grew up in Laurens, a small town in South Carolina—“I am a Southern man and I ‘belong’ to the Appalachians far more than I do to America,” he would write in a blog post years later. He learned to brew at the now-defunct Little River Brewing Company in Laurens, in between tending bar and the occasional kitchen shift. A youth spent hunting, fishing, and dressing his kills fostered a natural affinity for cooking, which translated easily to brewing. “I worked at various other places, either high-end restaurants or breweries here and there,” he says, “until I met Miranda and came over here.”
But once he relocated to London, Bates was forced to take a step back. “The beer landscape in 2009 and 2010 was pretty shit,” he says, in the thickest Southern drawl I’ve ever heard. “It’s such a short time ago, but when I moved over, there were three breweries in London. That was it—Fuller’s, Meantime, and Truman’s, or something. There were no brewing jobs, so I fell back on cooking.”
Over the next four years, Bates pulled from his culinary heritage of low-and-slow and seasonal cooking when working for a series of fledgling restaurants and kitchens. He developed the recipe for the flagship burger—The Dead Hippie—at popular burger chain MEATliquor, and later helped roll out menus for BrewDog’s new food program. But all the same, he never stopped brewing. “I just made beer at home,” he says, “until the brewing thing kicked off here and I got back into it.” After six months pursuing a brewpub idea that never came to fruition—“I got pretty far down that road,” he says—he was offered a job at Brew By Numbers, then a new brewery on South London’s burgeoning Bermondsey Beer Mile.
“I think, when he was at Brew By Numbers, it was very much about exploration,” says Hudson, thoughtfully. “That’s something he’s always had about him.” At Little River, Bates had trained under an ex-chemical engineer who’d grown up in Germany, and who brewed little other than traditional German and English beers. Stouts, Bitters, and Ambers, and Pilsners and Hefeweizens, piqued a young Bates’ interest in beer, and instilled an understanding of brewing fundamentals. After just a few months at Brew By Numbers, he was promoted to head brewer, a role that gave him the chance to continue exploring, including with mixed-fermentation and farmhouse beers.
“The beer landscape in 2009 and 2010 was pretty shit [...] When I moved over, there were three breweries in London. That was it—Fuller’s, Meantime, and Truman’s, or something. There were no brewing jobs, so I fell back on cooking.”
— Derek Bates, Duration Brewing Despite the promotion, Bates was restless. After unsuccessfully approaching the owners twice, a year or so later, with the hope of buying in and having a little more control over the brewery’s direction, he and Hudson began to work on plans for their own brewery. In April 2017, Duration Brewing, in its earliest and simplest form, was born.
“I think it started in Bates’ head long before I came into it,” says Hudson, with a hint of nostalgia in her voice. “Back then, I was helping him out and he was saying, ‘Oh, no, but I’ll find a business partner.’ I think I had to muscle in a little bit, if you like. He saw it very much as a pure vision, and I came in and sort of said, ‘You need some help, and I want to help. Who else do you trust?’”
YOU GOTTA SPEND SOME TIME, LOVE Bates is not a man given to bursts of excitement or energy. He sees no need to fill silence with noise, even if that discomfits the people around him. “People joke I speak too much, because I barely speak at all,” he writes on Duration’s blog. “I hope that means I’m not a rude man, just a quiet one.” By contrast, Hudson is vibrant and exuberant, always with a mischievous grin and infectious energy, the extrovert to his introvert. Bates’ sights are set predominantly on the beer; Hudson’s are on, well, everything else.
“My job is to give people a way to access what we’re doing,” she says. “Bates is, at a very high level, thinking about the direction he would like beer to go in, the kind of beers he wants to deliver, and then the execution of those products. How people can understand what Duration is about, and how it can be tangible to them—whether that's on a label, or the website, or how we present at an event; what experience could be open to people when they come for a visit—that’s the bit I want, because I think I’m more of a people person. It’s not necessarily going to translate if it’s just Bates and his beers.”
A career’s worth of experience in production and project management, across theater, interior design, and charity—Hudson established the U.K. arm of Snehalaya, an NGO providing essential services for women, children, and LGBT communities affected by poverty and the commercial sex industry in India—had left her with the drive and energy, and necessary skills, to launch her own business.
“Back then, I was helping him out and he was saying, ‘Oh, no, but I’ll find a business partner.’ I think I had to muscle in a little bit, if you like. He saw it very much as a pure vision, and I came in and sort of said, ‘You need some help, and I want to help. Who else do you trust?’”
— Miranda Hudson, Duration Brewing From the off, the Duration brand she created was sleek and polished, with an enthusiastic and personable social media presence. Quickly, Hudson’s face—and perhaps, a little reluctantly, Bates’ too—became a regular sight across London’s beer scene.
Duration’s first beer launched four months after Bates left Brew By Numbers in 2017, even though Duration’s own, brick-and-mortar site was still years away. Rather than wait, Bates and Hudson opted to brew a number of collaborations to introduce their young brand to the industry, and build awareness among drinkers.
Fool For You, made with Manchester’s Cloudwater Brew Co, was their first stake in the ground, their declaration of intent. A Saison brewed with five different strains of yeast, one single hop variety, and with British gooseberries thrown in the whirlpool, the beer represented a culmination of Bates’ experience and interests. Here is a farmhouse beer meticulous in its fermentation, utilizing seasonal, native produce, he was saying. Here is something different.
And people took notice. “That really opened a door for us,” says Hudson, “because someone asked, ‘Well, who’s this from wherever-nowhere doing a collab with Cloudwater?’ I think that got a few other breweries interested.” A flurry of collaborations followed, with Brixton Brewery, Left Handed Giant Brewing Co, DEYA Brewing Company, Verdant Brewing Co, and Gipsy Hill Brewing Company. Beers like If We Must (a grape must Double IPA brewed with Verdant) and Barnstormer (the Gipsy Hill collaboration, fermented on cherry wood with three strains of yeast) revealed Bates’ creative, sometimes esoteric approach.
“It’s really refreshing to see breweries come to the marketplace with a unique offering,” says Cloudwater’s founder Paul Jones. “To know that Duration intended to get started with a beer style that doesn’t necessarily take center stage anywhere in the world—Saison—and with a focus on domestic ingredients, it certainly gave me great confidence that they’ll probably help bring people into beer. They took a stand that wasn’t just jumping on board with an identikit selection of beers, that follows in someone else’s footsteps.”
In September 2018, still months prior to breaking ground on their own site, Bates and Hudson launched their first beers solely under the Duration banner. Turtles All the Way Down (a Hazy Pale Ale) and Bet the Farm (a Continental, Belgian-influenced Pale Ale) were announced with characteristic polish on social media, accompanied by vivid designs and flashy animation. The former represented Bates and Hudson offering the market what it wanted; the latter showing it what they were about. This one’s for you; this one’s for us.
“You give people what they want and then you take them somewhere else,” explains Hudson. “‘Turtles’ to us is ‘hops’: ‘What supports the turtle—oh it’s stood on top of another turtle. Yeah, but what’s underneath those turtles? Oh, it’s another turtle. It’s turtles all the way down.’ That’s from a song—Bates wasn’t thinking of the Terry Pratchett book—but it’s also an Indian philosophy. It’s that infinite regression, and that’s a false idea of how things sustain themselves.”
Bates puts it more simply. “If I’m not peppering in a few things that are knocking around my head, and trying to call the beer drinker away from a monoculture of nothing but Pales and IPA—which are delicious, but that’s all we’re ever making or talking about anymore—then I might as well pack up shop,” he says. “What’s the fucking purpose?”
FOOTSTEPS CROSSING FLATLANDS The idea for Duration bloomed in Bates’ mind well before he had pinpointed a location for the brewery, but he knew he needed to leave the city. Norfolk was a savvy choice: the agricultural county has everything a brewer with a produce-led approach could want, including a history of barley cultivation and several nearby maltings. In addition to its convenience—it’s only a couple hours from Hudson’s family and the couple’s network of friends in London—its weight of tradition appealed to Bates. “Bates really wants to exist inspired by where he is, and so we searched high and wide for a suitable location,” Hudson says. “He wanted hardwood trees, to be near a river, to have a sense of tradition; something historic, with a truth to it.”
The location they settled on met all of those criteria and more. The historical, then-derelict barn Hudson discovered through an old friend had a freshwater source in the River Nar. It sat on a country estate—part of which is farmland used for grazing sheep and growing barley, and part of which is in the early stages of a rewilding endeavor—and it had cherry trees. It would be big enough to house a brewery, and it had outbuildings. It was perfect.
Given the location deep within the countryside, Hudson and Bates imagined Duration taking the form of a neo-farmhouse brewery: it could espouse the values of farmhouse brewing, in a place about as rustic as they come, but with a state-of-the-art kit. It would also fulfil Bates’ dream of running a destination brewery.
Since the couple’s earliest plans for the brewery took shape in 2017, they hustled to make their vision happen. Their investor pitch consisted of a rustic banquet in the barn with AI modeling of the proposed interior and brewhouse, and a presentation from Cloudwater’s Jones. Meanwhile, Hudson explored every other funding avenue she could think of.
“It’s really refreshing to see breweries come to the marketplace with a unique offering. To know that Duration intended to get started with a beer style that doesn’t necessarily take center stage anywhere in the world—Saison—and with a focus on domestic ingredients, it certainly gave me great confidence that they’ll probably help bring people into beer.”
— Paul Jones, Cloudwater Brew Co “We received two grants, one for our landlord to diversify his farm, and one for us to bring in employment,” says Hudson. Over 10% of the brewery’s set-up costs came via a LEADER grant from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development. Receiving planning permission allowed other grants to be approved, which in turn proved the project’s viability to prospective shareholders. The numerous collaborations hadn’t just been to build the brand—Bates and Hudson used subsequent sales data and press as evidence for bank loans. Finally, they sold the apartment above their South London home, which they rented via Airbnb.
“The thing about us, that I think was either sensible or foolish,” Hudson says, “was that we put a fair bit in, rather than do a bootstrap model. We thought maybe that worked if you were setting up in 2012 or 2013, but if you really want to land, it’s better to really think ahead. We tried to really future-proof: we spent a lot of time working with our brewery installer, BrauKon, to customize the kit in order to make all of the different beers we were going to make.” All in all, the whole project would cost Bates and Hudson close to a reported £2 million ($2.47m). At no point, however, did either of them consider doing it any other way.
“With the whole build and the equipment, we’re setting up for the future,” Bates tells me. “I’m never thinking six months ahead, I’m thinking five years ahead. We could’ve easily cut corners—we could have not put in water treatment and made mediocre beer that’s harsh and calcium-heavy, and unpalatable; Lagers that are astringent and bitter because of the carbonates on the hops—but we didn’t. We put all of that in place to begin with.”
Going the long way round when building the brewhouse wasn’t solely for the sake of beer quality. Bates chose equipment with future workers in mind, opting for a more automated kit that will allow staff to work with their brains rather than their bodies. “I’m not looking to hire people for six months—I’m looking to hire them for six years, or longer,” he says. “It’d make me no happier than if the day I come to retire, we still had some staff that worked here from day one.”
“If you don’t put that all in place from day one, too, what the fuck are you doing?” he asks. “You’re just hiring labor, and churning and burning your way through people. That’s not what we set up the company for. It’s easy to talk the talk of sustainability, but sustainability to me is also ensuring that it’s preserved, and here for 100 years from now.”
FAR-OFF DESTINATIONS I first visit West Acre in the summer of 2019, a year or so into the build. The thick, buttressed walls of the ancient barn are lined with timber studs, so an entire wooden skin can be layered over the brick. Shining steel scaffolds tower over the freshly poured concrete floor, under which cans of beer have been placed; piles of plywood and power tools sit where tanks will eventually be installed. Contractors’ scribbles jitter next to centuries-old masons’ marks, throwing into clear perspective the stark contrast between old and new.
From under the solid safety of hard hats and fluorescent in hi-vis vests, Bates and Hudson, who finally upped sticks and moved to Norfolk in February 2019, lead the way through the buildings, verbally mapping out the site as they go. The main barn will become the brewhouse, with the lower section set aside for the canning line and cold store. Into the once-tumbledown stables, they plan to install custom-made foeders and a coolship, with a lab at one end. In a third building, which also hosts a colony of bats, water-treatment equipment will be fitted. But first, a bat house has to be built.
“I think they’ve already done a good job sticking to whatever philosophies they undoubtedly set for themselves when they opened up this brewery. It’s hard to find breweries anywhere these days that are opening up with a West Coast Pale, IPAs that are clear, attenuated, easy-drinking beers; a Witbier, and 3.8% Grisette.”
— Todd Boera, Fonta Flora Brewery “I don’t want to kill shit for no reason. I don’t think anybody should,” Bates explained. “Bats are one of the biggest pollinators outside of bees—didn’t know that.” In addition to providing safe accommodation for the bats, they have to ensure that water treatment emissions won’t disturb water vole habitats or brown trout streams. The River Nar is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, so any wastewater will have to be thoroughly treated, likely to a higher degree than any water on the way in.
Beyond conservation and environmental concerns, the site itself is protected: the barn is Grade II listed, and the priory grounds on which it sits are Grade II* listed—“which is basically the same listing as Stonehenge,” quips Bates—meaning the barn is of special interest, and the grounds are of “more than” special interest. Any work, no matter how trivial, on a listed building is difficult, requiring countless sign-offs and permissions. Building a state-of-the-art brewery in a listed, crumbling ruin on historical land, however, is a different beast: throwaway matters like the drilling of a hole, or the digging of a trench, require lengthy discussion, negotiation, and compromise.
“As much as it’s preserving the whole countryside, we also picked a building that we preserved,” said Bates. “Otherwise it would just be crumbling and falling down. If you’re going to do things right, it’s alright if they take a little bit longer.”
THE SOUND OF SETTLING Fast forward to late February 2020. The afternoon sunshine washes the renovated barn with a gentle warmth, one that heralds the arrival of spring. The steady plop of mash automatically leaving the tun punctuates the damp, post-rain air. There’s a buzz, and a lone barn owl in flight, and the sound of crowds forming.
On any given day, the vast brewery—now clinical, with white-painted walls and a mass of stainless steel, a lifetime away from dirt floors and crumbling walls—is all but empty, with just Bates and newly hired production manager Hamish Cross working the brewhouse. But after four months of brewing—the first brew was in late October 2019—a gaggle of long-time supporters and fans have gathered at Duration for an open day. Throughout the day, locals show up to buy beer fresh from the cold store, via an end of the barn Hudson has dubbed the “brewery kiosk.”
Bates and his guests, Todd Boera and Jeremy Inzer of North Carolina’s Fonta Flora Brewery, have mashed in late, and with good reason. The unseasonable warmth means they must delay transferring wort from the kettle to the virgin coolship in the old stables next door. This significant moment, coupled with the first-time filling of one of three Foeder Crafters foeders, is what we’re all waiting for.
“It’s an honor to be here with them today filling up one of the first foeders,” Boera tells me, while we’re waiting for the transfer to begin. “Bates and Miranda are such a great team, and I think they’ve already done a good job sticking to whatever philosophies they undoubtedly set for themselves when they opened up this brewery. It’s hard to find breweries anywhere these days that are opening up with a West Coast Pale; IPAs that are clear; attenuated, easy-drinking beers; a Witbier; and a 3.8% Grisette. These are just not styles that many folks are doing anywhere, so I would like to believe that because they already set that plan for their trajectory, that’s what they’re going to stick towards.”
Boera, horticulturist and founder of Fonta Flora, has known Bates a while. “Bates was the fella that came up to my booth at Mikkeller Beer Celebration Copenhagen four or five years ago,” he recalls. “He was the fella who worked in London, with the strongest Southern accent that I’d ever heard in my whole life. I just got to be friends with him from that moment on.” It makes sense that they’d be kindred spirits: Boera, too, is a brewer with a strong focus on seasonal, local produce, and his experimental yet considered approach to brewing has clearly had a strong influence on Bates.
Not long after the launch of Turtles and Bet The Farm, Bates returned to Cloudwater to brew a new beer under the Duration name. Deep Roots was a Saison brewed with purple carrots and charred lemons, with a light burgundy body and a bright, pink head. Jones visited West Acre for the return leg of their early collaboration, and the result was Petrichor, an IPA that aimed to capture the lingering scent of recent rain, brewed with locally grown Norfolk beetroots.
“I mean, putting beetroot in an IPA? We’re one of the few breweries in the United States who do those kinds of things, let alone seeing those things happen in the middle of nowhere,” says Boera, with a twinkle in his bespectacled eye. “For a new brewery to start doing that is, I think, really gutsy, and I think it shows what they’re standing for from the jump. Let alone brewing styles of beer that aren’t the trendiest at the moment, but then doing it in the middle of nowhere is also incredibly badass, incredibly risky. But I’ve always been a firm believer in high-quality beer with awesome people attached to it. And then this story and this property, and everything that they’re building out here—it’s easily one of the most stunning grounds for a brewery that I’ve been to.”
“On the face of it, this crazy power couple of Bates and Miranda have no place whatsoever being in that part of the U.K. But at the same time, their love for what comes out of the ground and what they can do with it in beer, it actually aligns them in a fascinating way with the people immediately around them.”
— Paul Jones Now, after a drawn-out build with a number of delays, Bates and Hudson are settled, and laying down deep roots. With their young daughter, Mila, happy in a new school, and friendships with new neighbors blossoming, they’re in the process of establishing themselves in a county known for its distrust of outsiders and fierce, local pride. The fact that this young brewery is working with local produce, says Jones, may be the very thing that helps them settle in.
“I think the fact that when you get out of big cities, you get into communities that are much more in touch with the land, and what they produce, and what their industry actually is,” he says. “Where Duration are, they’re nestled in amongst all of these longstanding, land-owning families, and they’re in another world. But those people, those families, those field workers, those farmers, they’re immensely proud of what they produce. I think that the really fascinating thing is that, actually, in that community, considering that Duration are facing this wall of ‘wine, or traditional beer, or nothing,’ they’re actually able to pick that apart because of the local connections that they’re developing by using local produce.”
“On the face of it, this crazy power couple of Bates and Miranda have no place whatsoever being in that part of the U.K.,” Jones continues. “But at the same time, their love for what comes out of the ground and what they can do with it in beer, it actually aligns them in a fascinating way with the people immediately around them. It’s going to be really bloody interesting to see how that works out. I think it’ll work out really, really well.”
WHEN THE SUN SHINES AGAIN And everything seemed to be working out well, until the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. The ensuing crisis has forced the closure of the U.K.’s pubs, bars, and restaurants, taking with them almost all of the country’s demand for draft beer. In the two months or so since events began to unfold, Bates and Hudson have reacted quickly, despite their cold store being packed with fresh kegs. Like so many other breweries, they’ve pivoted to direct-to-consumer sales of packaged beer, moving an increasing number of cans themselves through their web store. As well as successfully applying for further grants and investor loans to help them weather this storm, they’ve also made a social shift towards digital hospitality, running beer competitions, brewery tours, and meet-the-brewer events virtually. They’ve even donated beers to their local hospital, and are participating in the “Buy The NHS a Pint” scheme. As Hudson puts it, they’re hunkering down.
“In hindsight right now I probably wouldn’t have a Grisette, and a floral Wit, and a beet beer in our fucking cold room knowing that we were about to go into this sort of shit,” Bates says, dryly. “I’d probably have had a load of Pale Ales and IPAs to get us through this, but it is what it is, and I wouldn’t change it. If my curiosity spurs me to do it, then we just have to somehow establish why it’s worth drinking, or why it’s worth trying, or why it’s worth thinking about something slightly differently. That’s part of our job—same as making the beer is. And there’s no clear-cut answer as to why I’m going to make a fucking Pilsner with koji after all of this is over with, and see how that goes.”
This approach is indicative of why the pair’s outlandish project is one of the more daring moves the U.K.’s beer industry has seen in a long time: an established brewer and a talented everywoman uproot their young family from a city in which they were settled to literally bet the farm on a project that takes its inspiration from destination breweries half the world away.
I think back to the moment in late February, when the wort hit the cold steel of the coolship and steam began to rise into the winter air. It felt like that bet was paying off. From the rare smile on Bates’ face, proud from under the peak of his cap, to Hudson’s adoring gaze, it was clear they felt much the same. As bottles popped, and as Hudson eagerly poured celebratory beers into mouths wide open like baby birds’, the feeling was one of significance, and joy.
“Bates actually picked [the brewery’s name]; he wanted it to have a sense of permanence, but, also, it’s time—in musical terms it’s the distance between two beats,” muses Hudson. “So it’s a period, an interlude. It’s transient, it’s fleeting. We’re here for a minute, and we’re making our little mark at the moment.”
Words + Photos
Lily Waite