From a loyal, beer loving customer to resident wine guru and manager of the Peckham branch of Hop Burns & Black, Nathan Taylor has left his desk job far behind.
“When we hired Nathan,” explains HB&B owner Jen Ferguson, “it was on the basis he was a great guy with a big interest in beer, and we got the added bonus that he’s incredibly proactive and puts a lot into the business.
“As we’ve grown, Glenn and I have got busier and busier and it’s impossible to keep the plates spinning, so we need someone like Nathan who is always encouraging us to do different things and keep our focus on the interesting rather than just the urgent and the important.
“He’s been invaluable in growing our portfolio and making wine a much more prominent presence in the shop. He’s been a leading force in re-igniting our wine tasting evenings and was instrumental in starting our coffee service in Peckham. His attention to detail is great. He is a man of many talents.”
Nathan joined the company in September 2018, having worked for over 10 years in engineering recruitment, which he admits he didn’t enjoy. His interest in wine was piqued when Alchemy, his local coffee shop, started running natural wine nights. He began moonlighting, pouring wine for customers and learning.
“I left my job with a view to working with beverages,” he says. “I was interested in coffee, wine and beer but while there are 100 different beer styles, essentially how they are made is very similar, whereas wine is so much more affected by variety, the process, the terroir, everything – it’s endless and every day is a school day.”
Nathan has already completed the first two levels of Cicerone beer course and is about to embark on his WSET Level 2, which Jen and Glenn will be funding.
“The thing I enjoy the most is the hospitality side of it,” Nathan explains. “I love talking to customers about the new wines we have, and especially now we’ve started doing our drinking in again and wines by the glass.
“I’ve started doing weekly crib sheets for the rest of the staff about what’s new in, giving tasting notes and the story of the maker. We are spread out across three sites and because of the pandemic we haven’t been able to be together, tasting new wines.”
Inevitably the growing range is influenced by Nathan’s preferences: his favourite at the moment he says is the Ruth Lewandowski Feints. “I really like a lot of carbonic maceration reds. My taste is quite different to some of the stuff Jen likes – she says that I have expensive taste!
“We get a lot of day-to-day interaction with the customers so we listen to what they say they like to drink. We saw that other beer shops had expanded their wine ranges too and all of us were offering the same wines, so in the last couple of years we’ve really opened out in terms of who we work with.”
As Jen explains, to allow your business to grow there comes a time when you have to rely on other people. “It’s a big thing to hand over the reins. You’re quite nervous about it because you pour your heart and your soul into your business,” she says.
“For the first few years it was the Glenn and Jen show and we kind of ran ourselves ragged, so it’s been really nice to hand over to the managers and allow them to start owning their shops a little more. It’s been really lovely to get to the point now where we have Nathan in Peckham, Toby in Deptford and John our online manager and we can have the confidence to take a break and know that everything will keep going.”