The return of real ale to Bollington, Cheshire's Happy Valley (with audio)
Real ales hadn't been brewed in Bollington for almost 80 years. Then Lee Wainwright came along
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This recording is courtesy of The Macclesfield & District Talking Newspaper For The Blind
The Macclesfield & District Talking Newspaper For The Blind produces an 80 minute weekly recording of local news and an additional 80 minute audio magazine which are sent free of charge to around 200 blind and visually impaired people who live in Macclesfield, Bollington, Poynton, Prestbury and surrounding districts or who have links with the area.They have been providing this service for more than 35 years. All volunteers are unpaid and our work does not attract statutory funding of any kind.
For more information please look at the charity's website, www.macctn.org.uk
It is unlikely that a young Lee Wainwright realised the impact he would have on Bollington. But the 36-year-old, along with wife Kirsten and brother Kym, has revived two old traditions in Cheshire’s Happy Valley.
The Vale Inn pub had been empty for most of a decade when the former IT worker took it on just over five years ago. He was determined to reclaim its place at the heart of the village. Within a year it had won a clutch of awards, including Pub of the Year and Pub of the Summer Season.
But it was when Lee and Kirsten, who gave up her job as a solicitor to work with Lee, started dreaming about brewing their own ales that things really took hold. Beer had not been brewed in the village for almost 80 years, following the closure of the Heavers Brothers’ site in Dyers Close. But it was a chance meeting with a friend at Stowmarket Beer Festival that formed the early days of Bollington Brewing Co.
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‘We only did it because we wanted our own beer at our wedding,’ joked Kirsten. ‘But we had always wanted to have a go. We met this brewer who had a brewery in Suffolk, right near where I grew up and he was selling his kit. By the end of that night we’d bought it all.
‘Real ale has always been at the heart of The Vale but we were ready to make our own.’
Lee and Kirsten’s wedding guests weren’t disappointed and since then the couple, along with head brewer Kym, have gone from producing 15 casks of beer a week to 45 a week.
They have made up and experimented with many varying beers and flavours, including bestsellers Bollington Best and Oat Mill Stout. It was these two which were awarded both Gold and Silver awards in the Champion Beer of Cheshire Competition at Nantwich Beer Festival. It the first year the beers were eligible for the CAMRA competition and the first time in the competition’s history two of the top three awards had been awarded to the same brewer. The first cask of their suitable named First Brew also sold out in less than three hours. Not a bad achievement for the trio who only started up the brewery in 2008.
The lovely taste of their brews, Lee said, is owed to the water that runs off the fells at in the nearby Peak District. ‘The water in Bollington does help us, said Lee. ‘It tends to be quite good for brewing which is something we’re pleased about.
‘We never expected it to go so well. Winning at Nantwich has to be the high point for us. We got the phone call and we were so excited we went straight down there to celebrate. They kept running out of the beer because it was so popular.’
The lovely taste of their brews, they say, is owed to the water that runs off the fells in the Peak District
The secret of the family business’ success is likely to be down to their hard work and commitment to brewing and their passion for the community. As well as being involved with various local events, including the Bollington Fell Race and the Bollington Festival, Lee is also on the executive board of the Cheshire Peaks and Plains committee and is determined to keep enthusiasm for the area strong.
The trio now have designs on setting up another pub in a village near Macclesfield. But iconic Cheshire brewers like Robinson’s need not worry about competition. They are determined to keep production small and run pubs dedicated to the communities they are in.
‘We don’t want to be really big,’ admitted Lee, who met Kirsten while working at The Bridge Inn pub in Chester. ‘We are a family business and we set it up so we could provide the best opportunities for us as a family.
‘In Bollington, we are very involved in the community and any others we set up have to have that same standing. We will always be in Cheshire. We are proud of our roots and we will serve our beers for as long as people want us to. We’re now looking forward to the next step.’