Here’s our full story in Chris’ own words:
We started the brewery in 1999 in the back room of my pub, the Queen’s – but it wasn’t a great start. The first case of foot and mouth was on the farm surrounding 3 sides of the pub so even before it hit the papers they closed down the village, culled the stock and started those horrendous pyres.
We lost 85% of our trade overnight and the pub kept open for environmental inspectors who were checking the farms and it was selling the beer from the pub that kept us going.
So when we were building back up, the Good Pub Guide said that brewing our own house beer, as well as our passion, counted for a lot.
At that stage it was still fairly rare to have a pub with a brewery actually attached on the back – especially one which made such quality beer.
But if I think about it, it really all started when we moved into the Queens in 1996. We’d been buying local beers and meeting local brewers and there wasn’t many in the area maybe 8 at the time. Got on well with all of them but it did slowly occur to me buying the beer that none of these guys were rocket scientists and it didn’t feel like it would be the most difficult thing in the world to do.
I kept thinking when we get stable, when we get the rooms refurbished, when we’ve got the right level of trade I’ll take time out and have a little potter at this.
Then in December 1998 I broke my hand and was told not to work for 2 weeks -which coincided with a brewing course at University of Sunderland. So after we moved everything along and converted an abandoned toilet block, it was a tiled room with all the drainage so we knocked all the walls out and scoured the country for bits and pieces of second hand equipment and put this incredibly Heath Robinson brewery together.
Bits of washing machine hose had to stand on upturned beer crates to get parts of it to work and everything was cobbled together.
And then we tried making beer. Or at least I should have been making beer but my daughter decided to be born so I had to put off brewing by a month. So in 1999, Tirril Brewery was officially making beer.
This was the home of our second brewery – and is the country largest stately house restoration.
When we first saw the place we wandered round we saw one room we thought would work as a brewing room and another that would work as a fermenting room.
We spoke to the guy who directed the charity and he opened up the original plans from Cottingham from 1823 and there it said brewing room and bakery and we actually put the brewery in the 1823 brewing room. The odds of that were beyond belief. Hence our 1823 ale.
It was great. We had a bigger brew kit, we’d learned more about brewing distributing and customer service. Plus we had some distance between the brewery and the pub, so it allowed us to focus on the art of what we were doing.
We’d seen this house and by luck no-one was interested in buying it for ages. Everything was overgrown, windows were broken, the barn was ramshackled. I drove round the block trying to get India (Chris’ daughter) to sleep and saw the estate sign had fallen down.
We booked an appointment but couldn’t quite work out what was what. But the house had all of its original features and we fell in love with it. At our second viewing the lady who owned the house said have you seen the outbuildings over there they are included in the sale. And I went oh my god and went straight to the bank manager and said we’ve got to get this.
Alison (Chris’ wife) was going ‘oh the garden is bigger than I thought’ and I was going ‘brewing room, fermenting room’ and there was a bit of a conflict of interests but Alison went for it although there was a bit a niggle that all our money went on the brewery and it would be really nice to finish the house one day.
We also felt at that stage having a brewery and a pub was too much of the same work at the same time so it was really differentiating one from the next. So we decided to part company with the pub and put the money into the brewery.
State of the art kit, everything squeezed between beams, to the extent that the last piece of kit only squeezed in because the beam was bent. We had to judder it in and the roof rattled and we thought we were going to lose the slates. A massive project that became even bigger when we realised that our barn was propping up next door’s barn with only with a pile of rubble in between. When we started digging the rubble out they both nearly fell down so it ended up with a steel frame inside it to hold the whole brewery together.
The house and barn are 200 years old. Originally it was one of the 4 main houses in the village. There was an archaeological survey done on the history of the village, and this farmhouse and barn have been here right from the start of the village.
We bought it in 2006 and it took 2 years to get the work done and to get all sorts of permissions, we jumped through loads of hoops but from the first brew here we’ve never looked back. It’s given us loads more capability and consistency and we’ve been able to build our business but all the time sticking to our ethos – always great service and quality products.
And now I have a brewery in my back garden – what more could I want?