When I reached out to author B.A. Summer, about the opportunity to read the fiction book Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits, I had no idea what I would uncover. “B.A. Summer” is the pen name that Jane Peyton uses, and Peyton is a leader in the UK’s alcohol industry. With several non-fiction books to her name (her real name), she is a renowned drinks educator, writer, public speaker, and founder of School of Booze. Now she writes fiction too. I was eager to interview Jane to learn more – And here is our conversation.
Disclosure: This sponsored interview highlights how one woman is carving out a niche in a huge industry and doing so with grace, confidence, and great success.
Interview with Jane Peyton
I couldn’t resist laughing with Jane at the start of the interview. But rest assured, her career is anything but a laughing matter, as you’ll see from this woman’s impressive credentials, range of services, and in-depth knowledge.
Jane Peyton, you are a drink expert. Many of us would joke we are too. But, seriously, what does this mean in your field of work?
I am the founder of a business called the School of Booze, and I joke that a person never graduates from School of Booze because it entails lifelong learning! Yes, we can be experts in a field through practice alone – and I know many drinks experts too who fit that description 😊 But in my case, I am certified by the official education bodies for drinks knowledge in the UK where I live.
The certifications are recognized worldwide and were issued by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Beer & Cider Academy. I also write non-fiction books about alcoholic drinks, particularly drinks history, and because of all the research I’ve done, I am considered to be an expert in the field.
What is a fact (or two) about the history of alcohol that might surprise us?
Women were the original brewers of beer, and for thousands of years, they were the primary brewers. They still are, in some African and South American countries where beer is brewed communally for the village. For millennia brewing, it was considered to be “women’s work” because beer is liquid food and was made in the home for the family. Beer supplies soluble nutrition, and so it was a source of valuable calories.
Most pagan deities of beer are female (whereas the deities of wine are male), and in several creation myths, beer was given to humans by females. Those facts never fail to surprise people.
Another fascinating fact is something I recently learned as I researched cocktail history for my book The Philosophy of Cocktails (published June 2023). Without some independent-minded women during America’s Gilded Age (roughly from the 1870s to the end of the 19th century) who adopted the habit of drinking cocktails despite being besmirched by mainstream society as morally suspect, cocktails would not have become so widely established.
And during USA Prohibition in the 1920s, more women than men were bootleggers selling illicit liquor. Women tended to do it on a small scale to support the family rather than as a large criminal enterprise, but there were some women who ran large distribution networks of illegal alcohol.
Ok, yes, you surprised me! Let’s talk next about School of Booze. Such a great name. What inspired you to create it?
I founded School of Booze in 2008 because I wanted to have my own business. My previous careers had been as a PR executive in an agency with fashion and shoe clients, a TV producer of documentaries, and a journalist and copywriter. I made a Venn Diagram of what my personal and professional strengths and talents were (production, writing, being organized, events planning, public speaking, engaging groups of people, and keeping their attention); what I enjoyed (teaching, pubs, beer, cider, wine, being sociable); and how I could monetise it.
Where the three circles interlocked, it was apparent that I must start a business that combined drinks-related events and drinks education. And that is still the core of School of Booze, although I have expanded the services I offer over the years.
School of Booze offers online learning courses. What can we expect to learn, and how do we sign up?
During the COVID pandemic, I wrote and recorded content for downloadable learning courses in beer, cider, and wine knowledge. I could not leave my home because of lockdown, so I recorded the material in my bedroom and tried to make it as soundproof as possible. This was impossible because I live on the south coast of England and the gulls are VERY noisy. I had to wait until they had gone to bed and quietened down, and that was always late at night!
My intention was to offer a solid foundation of knowledge and make the information easy to understand and learn. I also wanted to ensure they were value for money and offered convenient learning. The slogan is “On Your Device, In Your Place, At Your Pace”.
People who take the courses learn the basics of beer, cider, and wine (separate courses for each drink). How they are made; ingredients, where the aromas and flavours come from; different styles of each drink; how to match with food; history; health benefits; how beer, cider, and wine culture varies around the world; how to taste like a professional; how to judge like a professional; how glassware affects the aroma and flavour; interesting anecdotes, and more.
By establishing these courses, I was shortlisted in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2021 in the Pivot category because of changing the focus of business from in-person work to online in response to the pandemic.
You definitely pivoted to meet needs. Now you’ve got me curious about what other services School of Booze offers.
In addition to corporate events incorporating beer, cider, wine, spirits tasting, and (or) British pub experiences, School of Booze offers staff training to hospitality venues and drinks brand owners in beer, cider, or wine knowledge.
I also offer drinks-related copywriting services and drinks consultancy. Consultancy is a vague phrase, but, for me, it involves projects such as designing glassware for a premium international beer brand, recipe development for new drinks, and devising new types of hybrid drinks for global beverage companies.
That’s a great range of drink-related services. Among your many firsts is being UK’s first accredited Pommelier (cider sommelier). Congrats! What other awards have you won over the years?
I’ve been very fortunate to win many awards over the years because School of Booze offers several types of service, and I have a niche. Awards and accolades include:
- Named as one of 10 Visionary Business Leaders To Follow by World’s Leaders magazine
- UK’s first accredited Pommelier (cider sommelier) through the Beer & Cider Academy
- Drinks Educator of the Year from Imbibe Magazine. Also a finalist the previous year
- Women of the Year award from the Women of the Year organisation
- Britain’s first Beer Sommelier of the Year awarded by the Beer Academy and British Institute of Innkeeping
- School of Booze named Tour Company of The Year (England) by Travel & Hospitality Awards Europe
- School of Booze was in the Top 100 SMEs in London & South-East
- Great British Entrepreneur Awards (Finalist)
- Best Corporate Events Business Leader (South East England)
- Lifetime Achievement in Beer awarded by the British Parliament All Party Parliamentary Beer Group
- Experience of the Year, England for Jane’s London Pub Tour from Travel & Hospitality Awards (Europe)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement in Beer from the Beer & Cider Marketing Awards
- Travel & Hospitality Awards – Winner Of Alternative Tour of the Year (London) for Jane’s London Pub Tour & Beer Tasting
- Gold and silver medals for beer writing, awarded by the British Guild of Beer Writers
- London pub tour voted Top Global Experience and Best British Operator two years running by Trip Adviser’s tour agency Viator
One of my favourite accolades is being a Guinness World Record holder for hosting the world’s largest beer-tasting tutorial – 1,236 people. The record still stands!
Wow. You recently spoke at an international cider conference in Spain. What is one memory you take away from the event?
I had a marvelous time exploring the cider culture in Asturias, northern Spain. It is one of, if not, the world’s oldest cider culture.
What impressed me most is the way cider is so embedded in society and the Asturian sense of self. They have cider traditions and making/serving techniques like nowhere else. There is a great deal of pride in Asturian cider, and they are hopeful that their application to UNESCO for the cider culture to be included on the intangible culture heritage register will be approved soon.
As if all this is not enough, you’re also an author. Please share a bit about your latest book.
Writing is one of my favourite activities, and I have written ten non-fiction books about architecture, interior design, and alcoholic drinks. I always wanted to write a novel, and I’ve finally done it. Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits was recently published under a pen name (B.A. Summer) to separate it from the non-fiction books I write under my own name. So far, reader reviews have been fantastic, and there is much affection for the loveable characters I conceived. Sole Brethren is to be a trilogy, and I am already drafting the sequel, Sole Brethren: Left To Their Own Devices.
I describe Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits as a magical realism romp. It is amusing, pacey, escapist, and upbeat. It is a story about Cordelia Tanner, a leading designer of luxury shoes who, with her twin brother Rex, invents a 3D wearable hologram shoe technology called “Footloose”. It proves so popular that millions of people opt for Cordelia’s wondrous holographic shoes, which hide the fact they are really wearing their scruffy old comfy running shoes underneath the hologram.
Chaos ensues when people stop buying real shoes and this quickly leads to the collapse of real shoe production, retailing, and all associated businesses, such as shoe repairers and shoe polish manufacturing. A swaggering shoe mogul called Richard “Call Me Rich, cos I am” Nailer tries to destroy Footloose, and there is plenty of drama as Cordelia and Rex scramble to save the real shoe industry.
Fortunately for Cordelia, she can periodically escape the shenanigans through her mind-blowing psychic ability she calls “psychomatricks” that permits her to enter historic realms and visit, amongst others, the charming Lancelot, 18th-century superstar Master of Ceremonies to High Society. When she realises that performing psychomatricks with her best friend, the enigmatic Elodie L’Archambeau, multiplies the effects, this presents them with opportunities and adventures they could never have imagined.
I could not write a novel without including alcoholic drinks, so there is a fictional Champagne brand called Bonheur and a perfect pub called The Weasel.
I look forward to the read! Who did you write this book for, and why?
I had been plotting Sole Brethren since 2010, but I never had time to write it. When the COVID pandemic closed the world down in 2020, I finally had time.
Like people around the world, I was isolated from family and friends and had an almost non-existent social life. Going out for excursions and adventures ceased, so I decided I would write about close friends in a family situation and their glittering lives of beauty, culture, travel, fun, games, dancing, and shenanigans, who would do all the things humans were temporarily prevented from doing. I had such a wonderful time imagining the characters, bringing their personalities to the page, having conversations between them in my head, and accompanying them on their adventures, albeit only in my imagination.
My intended reader is a person who enjoys high concept amusing and upbeat yarns where the story is plot-driven and there is a strong sense of place and community, with loveable characters who the reader would want to be friends with if they existed in real life. Sole Brethren might appeal to fans of Angela Carter, Armistead Maupin, Lewis Carroll, and Oscar Wilde.
However, one of my cousins, who never reads anything other than true crime and travel books, loved Sole Brethren and was effusive in her praise, so perhaps Sole Brethren will appeal to a wider audience than I thought. I hope so!
Get your copy of Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits
Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits is available in paperback and eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, and Kobo. The paperback can be ordered from other book shops too.
For signed copies (shipped from the UK), go to the publisher page. I have my copy and will review it on the blog when I’m done.
Connect with Jane Peyton (B.A. Summer) online
For Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits, her social media address for Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram is @BASummerWriter
She also has author pages on this website. There are also blogs about different aspects of Sole Brethren: If The Shoe Fits.
For School of Booze, find out more about the services available, online courses, and Jane Peyton all in one website. Check out School of Booze today.
School of Booze is on social media too. Follow on Twitter @SchoolOfBooze and Instagram @School.of.Booze
Top photo: Meet Jane Peyton. Taken by Lucy Williams Photography.