Sophie Wood

Barmies, a handmade slow baked snack made from the barm of skilfully crafted beers, is the brainchild of 28-year-old Sophie Wood from Nottingham. Sophie came up with the idea for Barmies while studying for an Advanced Diploma in Artisan Baking at the School of Artisan Food.

“The diploma gave me an opportunity to be creative, work with my hands and learn new skills. I’d been working as a food technologist, but I wanted to learn a practical skill which would perhaps allow me to start my own business. The diploma gives you the time, space, equipment and ingredients to let your creativity go wild. It’s very hands on and you get such personalised teaching. You get the use of this great facility and there are so many brilliant ingredients available to you. The School is like another world; while you’re there it’s like being in a little bubble and I still have that feeling when I go back.”

Barmies are made using the traditional process of fermentation with the natural ancient ingredient beer barm, the yeasty froth that was traditionally taken off fermenting beer and added to bread to help make it rise. Barm has different flavours and characteristics depending on the brewery and type of beer it comes from. Sophie started developing her idea for Barmies while studying at the School.

“Claire from the Welbeck Brewery ran a workshop focusing on the use of beer barm in bread. I was fascinated by the relationship between beer and bread and the fact that bakers and brewers used to work so closely together. I thought about my local pub which is owned by a brewery, and realised there might be an opportunity to create a bespoke offering for them.”

“The beer drinker has become a connoisseur with the choice of quality craft beer available, but there’s a lack of interesting and tasty bar snacks to go with them. The fact the barm is a by-product of the brewing process and is damaging to the environment when disposed of also means Barmies provides a service for the breweries.

“The School gave me the time and space outside of my normal life to come up with my idea, to realise it was possible and to learn the skills I needed to make it a reality. I learnt bread making techniques from Wayne and how to structure a viable business from Yvonne. The patisserie side of the diploma led by Graham and Rose teaches you about the importance of ingredients and flavours, stressing you need to put good things in to get something great out.

“The advantage of working on Barmies while at the School was that I could benefit from the tutors’ expertise. I knew Wayne would steer me in the right direction. He always makes you work it out for yourself, but is there to help. The first Barmies I made were interesting! So, it was a continuous process to keep practicing and get the product right.”

Barmies are now available in three flavours (Olive Tapenade, Smokey Chipotle, Garlic and Lime and Black Beer, Cheese and Sesame) created by incorporating the finest craft ales into the dough. Two days a week Sophie rents space from a local bakery in Nottingham.

“There have been lots of challenges to overcome; with marketing, production, finance and packaging. Bringing out a new brand is difficult, especially as Barmies is a whole new concept. However, being a finalist in The Seed Fund process has given me the confidence that my product is good because industry experts believe in it. They’ve helped me so much and are continuing to mentor me.

“Despite also having lots of support from my family, it can sometimes feel like you’re on your own when you start your own business. You have to be prepared to undertake every role in the business which can be daunting. But I love the freedom to be creative and never knowing what’s going to happen next. When you’re working on something that’s your passion it gives you the adrenaline and drive to keep going forwards. Barmies is an opportunity to expose a wider audience to the benefits of fermentation and natural food made with care. It’s taking the ethos of artisan food I learnt about at the School beyond the realms of an artisan bakery.”

Find out more about Barmies.


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