Behind the scenes at Lancaster Brewery
- Credit: Archant
Rob Devey visits a brewery that is thinking big about the export market
There was a time when ‘proper’ beer was all about flat caps and middle-aged chaps in mufflers. As a recent survey revealed, real ale is now gaining popularity among younger people and women. Part of the reason for that is initiatives by atisan makers such as Lancaster Brewery.
The brewery has been on the go since 2005 but it has only really taken off following a move two years ago to Lancaster Leisure Park where it has a visitor centre.
‘We were treading water before,’ says Phil Simpson, director at C2 Investment, which runs the brewery along with pubs including The Sun in Lancaster and The Palatine in Morecambe. ‘We decided we wanted to attract a younger audience who wouldn’t normally drink cask ales so we went for a more contemporary style.
‘We started using simple names – Blonde, Amber, Red and Black – for our ales and introduced modern branding and we emphasised our use of traditional brewing methods, with no additives or chemicals like in some big brands. It has worked well. We still get our older guys but we now attract huge numbers of drinkers in their 20s and 30s.’
Deals with national pub companies like Punch and Wetherspoons and stores including Tesco, Waitrose and even Selfridges have followed. And the brewery recently launched a new brand, Tales From The Brewhouse, to increase its appeal to women through beers flavoured with ingredients including lemongrass and strawberry. ‘We realised we were missing out on half the market,’ says co-director Matt Jackson.
‘I was in The Sun recently and noticed the number of women coming through with ale. That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.’
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When it comes to the beer, Matt is proud of the brewery’s laboratory-developed yeast, giving its beer a unique taste, and there are brewery tours for purists. But it is not just about the ale - they hold regular events, especially for charity.
‘We’re proud of the fact we’re from Lancaster and it’s important we have strong links with the local community,’ added Matt, who spent 38 days walking from Land’s End to John o’ Groats to raise £4,500 to help The Cornerstone - a Lancaster organisation which helps the disadvantaged and disabled. It was be used to start cultivating a nearby allotment
Self-sufficiency is also important to the brewery. It has just started keeping chickens behind the visitor centre, and the eggs will be used in the brewery cafe and its sister pubs. Two pigs will arrive before Christmas to supply them with pork.
Matt plans to feed spent grain used in brewing into an anaerobic digestion plant to power the boiler, while the brewery’s rooftop photo-voltaic panels already produce energy. He also wants to use an old 140m deep bore hole on the site to extract up to 80,000 litres of water a day from an underground reservoir network for use in the brewing process. ‘My dream is to be carbon-neutral by January,’ he says.
The idea has never been simply to make a quick buck it has taken eight years for the brewery to turn in a profit. C2’s pubs have subsidised its gradual growth from a three-man operation to one which employs 32 people, including five brewers. It can now produce nearly 3.9 million pints a year, and is currently operating at just over two-thirds capacity.
They already export to Norway and are ready for another crack at the US market with a stronger Blonde ale featuring a Lancashire rose and Union Jack.
Within two years Matt hopes to be exporting 125,000 pints and 100,000 bottles every month – including to the Pennsylvanian town of Lancaster.
So while you might not come across many flat caps if you are ever Stateside, do keep your eyes peeled for that familiar red rose.