Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A New Brewery for Cumbria

A couple of years ago I did some sums to confirm a hunch I had – that my home county of Cumbria then had the greatest number of breweries per capita of all UK counties. Confirmed it I did, but I've chucked out the nice little spreadsheet I made and I can't be bothered making it again so I can't give you any figures.

Of course, that really tells you that Cumbria is sparsely populated but it gets lots of tourists who come to drink our beer after spending the day get rained on. It is well populated by big inhospitable hills and sheep and damn cold lakes, which is nice if you like those sort of things. If you calculated the number of breweries per sheep, the score would be very low because of the surfeit of said mammals. On the other hand, London would probably be top of the league table of breweries per sheep. Nice one London, another feather in your cap.

Cumbria's breweries per human capita figure will soon be getting a little bigger, or rather, a little biggar.

There's a pub I go to, The Queens Arms at Biggar Village, which I will take you to if you ever visit my home town of Barrow-in-Furness. It is a community pub in the best sense of the expression. The QA is possesses a courtyard and some near-derelict outbuildings usually referred to as "the barns". Putting the barns to some useful purpose is a common conversation for the villagers. The idea of creating an art gallery fortunately didn't get off the ground. Barrow really isn't an art gallery kind of a town. Fortunately beer is known to be consumed in the area, and the idea of creating a brewery occurred to lots of people.

The owners of the pub didn't have deep enough pockets nor the know-how to go about creating a brewery so the regulars got their heads together and came up with a plan.

Two years ago the ball started rolling. Without really knowing how go about it, the idea of a co-operative took hold. It was decided shares would be £200. People soon started buying shares. I chipped in in September 2013. I soon found myself on the managing committee as I gave people the impression I knew what I was talking about. Nothing much happened for many months. Slowly we started to fill our information vacuum. By the summer of 2014 we had found an advisor to help us with the formation of the necessary co-operative legal entity – an Industrial Provident Society. Meanwhile we heard Unsworth's Brewery of Cartmel were looking to upgrade their kit and sell their shiny 2.5 barrel kit. So we bought it. That's our kit you see pictured on Unsworth's website.

With the co-operative in place and the kit in storage, we embarked on getting change of use planning permission for the bit of the barns we wanted to use. Six months of stress ensued. Unfortunately the barns are listed buildings. Not only that, they are adjacent to an site of special scientific interest. And adding to the complexity, they are close to a flood plain. One of the many hoops through which we had to jump, was a bat and owl survey. Had the the barns not been listed, a bat and owl survey would not have been necessary – which presumably would have meant we could have murdered any resident bats and owls with impunity. As it was, no evidence of bat or owl roosting was found. Thank goodness.

Planning permission was finally granted just before Christmas 2014. With the ball well and truly rolling, we can think about preparing the premises. The barn doors need rebuilding, a drain needs digging, the walls and ceiling need patching up and lining, and water and electricity supplies need installing.

While this is going on I'm doing the marketing groundwork, this blog post included. Branding isn't finalised but this is what we're using for now:

Our Facebook page is up and running, and naturally I would like you to give it a like. 

A couple of weeks ago we had a bit of a celebration for getting the planning permission and to present the share certificates, all for the benefit of the local media. As you can see we have a celebrity shareholder who is known to have a keen interest in beer and breweries. 

There are still lots more hurdles to jump before any beer gets brewed. One of those hurdles is just who the hell is going to brew the bloody stuff? If any brewers of your acquaintance are at a loose end please urge them to get in touch.  


StringersBeer said...

A brewer? What's the money like? My weekends are currently "free".

Jeff Pickthall said...

Who mentioned money?

StringersBeer said...

That's your problem, right there.