The boys from Utobeer talk beer, bickering and pork pies
Richard Dinwoodie and Mike Hill set up Utobeer in Borough Market in December 1999. Since then Utobeer has expanded and is now a hugely respected name in the specialty beer world, sourcing beers from all round the globe
Richard on Mike
Like in any long-term business, Mike’s role has changed over time and as the business has grown. As well as Utobeer and The Rake in the Market, we also run Tap East, which is a specialist beer bar and microbrewery in Stratford, as well as a wholesale business, so there’s a lot going on. He tends to look after the secretarial side of life, operations and at the same time basically manages Tap East and the brewery. We also partly own a mobile canning facility, which goes to different breweries and cans their products. Mike is really the one who runs that aspect of the business.
Strangely enough, when choosing somewhere to go out with friends, the quality of the beer isn’t necessarily Mike’s main priority—if he’s looking for a restaurant, for example, he will look at the menu or the atmosphere of the place, not just the beer offering. He’s always able to find something interesting wherever we go. If we aren’t going for the full fine dining experience, Mike loves a traditional pork pie with a really good, reasonably hopped best bitter—as long as the person brewing the beer has skill and isn’t trying to create a huge hop bomb. It’s not particularly exciting in the culinary sense, but if both are well made, from good ingredients, it’s a great combination.
Mike believes you don’t have to get fancy to get a good meal. It is quite easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of what beer goes with what food, but Mike thinks that on the whole, a well-made British ale like Mallinsons will go very well with traditional British dishes. For him, the best place to enjoy it would definitely be a small pub in the country with a roaring fire in the background and a wet dog nearby.
Because we have been together so long, we do bicker a lot and are told by all staff it can be quite amusing at times. But we have also been told that it can be quite forceful—suddenly the office will be empty and we can’t find anyone to work.
For me, the best thing about working together is my ability to take absolutely no notice of Mike at times. I suspect that he will say the worst thing about working with me is my ability to take absolutely no notice of him sometimes. The good thing is, if one of us thinks we are wrong, we do have the courage to apologise. Though to be fair, that doesn’t happen very often.
Mike on Richard
Richard tends to do the accounts stuff for the wholesale side and Tap East and a lot of the purchasing for Utobeer. He is a real perfectionist, in terms of getting things right on the computer and making sure all the accounting figures are exactly as they should be. All stuff I find boring. I know how important it is but doing what he does for Utobeer would do my head in frankly. We have different skillsets, so between us it works pretty well. He is very good at negotiating with beer suppliers and in situations where he is the customer. He does a lot of that for the company, and people know and trust him.
While I am pretty much myself when I’m dealing with customers, Richard does have a ‘game face’. He is hugely knowledgeable and likes the interaction with the customer—talking to them about the different beers’ characteristics and back stories—but the point where you start selling isn’t natural for him so to some extent there is a bit of an act, but it is really just a modified version of himself.
Richard loves what he does and is happy to talk about beer at any point of any given day. Personally after 5pm I prefer not to be talking business but because of the nature of what we do, we will inevitably talk about beer in some form when we go out for a drink, especially if we are with friends—one of the first questions is often, “so what do you recommend?”
If I was choosing a night out for Richard it would be somewhere relatively small with an outside area. It wouldn’t matter if it was a pub or a bar, but the beer would have to drive the drink offering. There are enough good pubs around that you can normally find something that is reasonably good, but he has been known to head for gin and tonic because he thinks the beer where we have ended up is so awful.
Cheese and ale is one of Richard’s favourite food combinations, which makes Borough Market a dangerous place. He loves a nice hoppy pale ale with a big strong cheddar like a montgomery. He’s a big fan of Founders All Day IPA because it is one of the less alcoholic IPAs, which is what you need if you want to sit down in the afternoon for some cheese and beer and not write off the rest of the day.
In some ways, though we bicker a lot, working together is quite easy. We have known each other and worked together for so long that we inherently trust each other. We understand how the other thinks and that is one of the best things about working together. You don’t want your business partner springing too many surprises on you.