Nick Dolan of RealAle

In May of this year, Nick Dolan opened a new local business, Real Ale on the high street in East Twickenham. As you might have guessed from the name, Real Ale offers a wide selection of the finest real ales and ciders that are produced by British micro-breweries. Previously, you could only get these by visiting the breweries or a few local outlets.

We interviewed Nick by email and can personally recommend that you visit his store and try some ales.

Nick, what are your associations with St Margarets? Where did you go to school?

I was born and raised in St Margarets, attending Orleans Infants, St Stephens and The Unicorn School. I have one brother and two sisters who all schooled in the area and my parents have been involved in local affairs. My mother was a founder of the Orleans Nursery School and my father has run businesses from offices in Richmond and St Margarets for the last 20 years.

I have always been interested in serving the public in some part of the leisure/service industry. I have previous experience of dealing with the public from working with Grand Illusions in St Margarets and a period in Western Canada when I first worked in the warehouse and delivery side of a large private furniture store, followed by being the Operations Manager for a delivery and private storage company.

What gave you the idea to open the store? What got you interested in real ale?

Nearly two years ago, the father of one of my childhood St Margarets friends was on holiday in California and noted that some vineyards make their own wine and sell it on site. He is a barley farmer in north Norfolk and had the idea of opening a farm shop selling mainly real ales brewed locally from the barley on his farm. He invited me to help him establish the business. This was excellent experience since it meant I was involved in the complete spectrum from renovating old farm buildings to setting up deals with suppliers, formulating administrative processes, marketing, etc. Once that business was up and running, I left the Norfolk farm shop and decided to capitalise on my experience and contacts to open a retail outlet in [South West] London and bring premium specialist real ales from widespread British micro-breweries to this area.

But why in East Twickenham?

The first major challenge was to find a suitable outlet. Attempts to find a shop in St Margarets were unsuccessful so the search area expanded a little and resulted in me finding a good corner location just west of Richmond Bridge.

How has the response been?

The response has been very encouraging. This is especially so considering that the main period of business will be the Halloween/Christmas/New Year period and the last couple of months have been difficult for some traders while many [people] have been away on vacation. With the pending start up of our website we expect to increase business substantially with orders from throughout the UK. We are also negotiating to supply some restaurants and clubs in London and even to export to Australia.

You market it like fine wines, do you think people understand this?

The real ales we sell are premium products from micro-breweries which have small production volumes but the owners of which have a passion for quality and characteristic flavours. Our shop is designed to have a delicatessen ‘feel’ since we want to convey the message that the real ales we offer are for drinking in moderation, often accompanied by specific dishes. This ‘message’ is something that will become more accepted as our market expands.

Are there any really special beers that you have or are really hard to get?

Most of our real ales sell for between £2.25 and £2.75 per 500 ml bottle. However we have a few much stronger ales (grading almost to a barley wine) that sell for twice this and which have a following amongst a growing band of cognoscenti. Some of our real ales are brewed in such small volumes and on an ad hoc basis that they are not common even in the vicinity of the micro-breweries that make them. While we try to supply some of these we have to strike a balance, since an unpredictable supplier is not somebody we want to keep making excuses for to customers.

As a principal, we do not stock any real ales that can be bought in supermarkets or in large retail chains; we are focussed strictly on niche products which have an intrinsic appeal due to their scarcity and inherent quality.

Can you recommend some beer to food pairings?

[In the store] we have a list of all our real ales in stock with tasting notes and recommended companion dishes, such as red meats, poultry, fish, curries, desserts and cheese.

Come meet Nick and taste some Real Ale at the St Margarets Autumn Event on Saturday, 17 September 2005.