Independent breweries in Calderdale cautiously optimistic as hospitality sector re-opens

There is cautious optimism among Calderdale’s independent breweries that better times are around the corner.

Thursday, 6th May 2021, 9:25 am
Manager Sam Davidson at Halifax Steam Brewing Company, Hipperholme.

Breweries, like other hospitality businesses, have had a tough time trying to survive during the coronavirus pandemic, with lockdowns forcing them to close their premises.

But with society beginning to return to normality ahead of what could be a busy summer, breweries across Calderdale are hoping to make up for lost time.

Sam Davidson, from The Halifax Steam Brewery and Cock o’The North brewery tap in Hipperholme, said: “It’s been very hard during the lockdowns, you’re losing a lot of money and you’re touch and go whether or not your business survives.

Brewery manager Ryan Truswell, left, and director Steve Francis at Elland Brewery.

“Hopefully Covid keeps decreasing and things get back to normal.

“If it wasn’t for the support of our wonderful customers over this difficult period, things could have been much bleaker, so I can’t thank them enough.

“It’s good days and bad days at the moment, we had some really good weather for two weeks, so can’t complain, but then on other days we’ve been empty when it’s been raining.

“We’ve been completely shut from November 4 until April 12 so we’ve got debts to pay and I’m hoping for a very good summer.

Eagles Crag Brewery, Todmorden. Directors, from the left, Chris Milton, Dave Mortimer and Charlie Wildman.

“The most important thing is people looking after each other, staying safe, and we’ve got to fight this virus and make sure it stays away for good.

“We can’t run before we can walk, it’s got to be a slow process.”

Chris Milton, from the Eagles Crag Brewery in Todmorden, said: “It’s been a major struggle because the only beer we’ve really been selling is bottled beer, which is of a lot less value.

“Our main product is cask ale, so because the pubs have been closed we’ve been selling very little. We’ve been selling a bit but mainly for home delivery, nowhere near the volume we would normally sell to pubs.

“The bottles have kept us going. We’ve sold them to various shops but we’ve also had our bottle shop open and had really good support from some of our regular customers who come to the brewery on a Friday afternoon and buy bottles, that’s kept us going really.

“We’re starting to sell cask beer again but everybody’s very tentative.

“It’s only the pubs with beer gardens that can sell the beer.

“Once you’ve opened cask beer it doesn’t keep forever, so most pubs have been buying kegs, but we do very little of that.

“The pubs are nervous about buying cask beer but at least they are buying it now. Our sales are not what they were a year ago but they’re creeping up so we’re optimistic about May, probably June.

“We don’t think we’ll see a return to normal until the end of May, middle of June.

“There are still restrictions in place so we don’t think it’ll get back to normal until the end of June.

“A lot of pubs have guest beer. We do have regular customers who have our beer on all the time, but we deal a lot with the guest market.

“A lot of pubs have reduced the number of guest pumps so all the small breweries are fighting over getting their beer onto those guest pumps.

“We think it’ll improve towards the end of May but I think the real improvement’s going to be at the end of June.

“We’ve had to completely diversify from cask into bottle, bag in the box and having our bottle shop open.

“We’ve not been able to have our bar open. It’s been tough, very tough, and we’ve had to change our business model altogether. Now we’re switching back again.”

Ryan Truswell, brewery manager at Elland Brewery, said: “We did our first brew last week, our first one since November, so we’re all quite excited and fingers crossed, the road is going back to normal.

“It’s not been easy, we’ve all been on furlough. We’ve been doing a small amount of sales of bottles to local shops and customers which we’ve been hugely grateful for, and kept us ticking over.

“Everyone’s been in the same boat, so you can moan but we look at it and think ‘we’ve had customers that have been supporting us through all three lockdowns’ and we’ve always been looking forward to the day we can get cracking again.

“From May 17 onwards we’ll be back full time hoping to supply pubs and everyone will be happy again.

“We’re hoping everyone will be dying to go to the pub again and see their friends, and we’ll get some normality back in life.

“Every brewery I’ve spoken to, their loyal customer base has been buying direct from them, and it’ll be great to see those people back in the pub again.

“It’s a bit of an unknown but we’re feeling positive.”

Angus Wood, Founder of Stod Fold Brewing Co, said: “When the pandemic first hit, we made the hard choices early and decided if we could keep our staff safe, we’d keep working, so we developed our delivery/takeaway service for food and drinks.

“As we pressed on through each lockdown, there were some days when we questioned our commitment, and there’s no doubt we’ve emerged a little poorer on paper, but we find ourselves richer in all other measures. It seems that by cracking on, we retained the best people and added some great new talent to our team. Across the business it’s the highest quality and most motivated team I have ever known. What price can we put on that?

“Our goals have never been clearer or our focus keener. Our vision is for our business to be 100 per cent hand crafted in Halifax - from the drinks we make to the food we serve. At the brewery, we have been busy planting orchards to produce our first ciders and in a major development we hope to install a distillery to make our own brandies, whiskeys, rums, gins – you name it!

“We’re also partnering with Exley Hall Farm in Halifax to produce the brewery’s grain. As far as we know, barley has not been grown in Halifax since 1988, but was for generations previously, so we have high hopes for a good crop up on the hill.

“Our decision to invest exclusively in Halifax led us to sell Stod Fold London, and buy out our partners at Dean Clough. This year we plan to make Stod Fold Dean Clough an unmissable local destination so we’re expanding the bar and taking on the unit next door to create a second and quite different contemporary space with a cocktail bar, events, exhibitions and local musicians. Through the expansion we also hope to introduce customers to our new distillery products and freshly created locally sourced food menu.  We love the Mill and the community of other businesses working alongside us – it’s the perfect location to build the thriving and creative community hub we desire.

“Are we optimistic for the year ahead? Absolutely. We believe in Halifax and the Stod Fold Team that has emerged from the challenges of the pandemic. Ultimately, we’re in Halifax for the long haul, I’d like to think Stod Fold will be serving pints to Halifax for generations to come.

“If we invest in local people then we hope they will invest in us. At the brewery in Ogden we dream of orchards and distilleries, at the bar and kitchens of Dean Clough we dream of rosettes and stars. We believe we can fulfill all those dreams in Halifax.”