Abbeydale have, for some time now, been one of the most consistent (as in consistently good) beers available in Yorkshire and beyond. Driven by sheer nosiness and curiosity (as all writers are), I contacted them to pick their brains. Luckily, Sue Morton was more than happy to answer my questions, and I share them all with you here.
Leigh: So, how's business?
Sue: Absolutely fine. The brewery has grown, sometimes steadily, sometimes rapidly in its almost thirteen years. It is always necessary to manage the growth so that we maintain the quality of the beers and also continue to give good service to our old customers as well as our new ones. At the moment we are having to manage the orders to stay within our capacity.My husband Patrick started the brewery. He was an enthusiastic and very competent home brewer from when I first knew him. He started his working life in the family scissor-making business in Sheffield, leaving that for a more corporate life in the eighties, travelling the world as a process control engineer. When he tired of that and wanted to start his own business, a brewery was an obvious choice. So he gave up a well paid job, worked for a few years at Kelham Island Brewery and then, with the help of his father who had sold the scissor business and was looking for another project, started the brewery.
Do you remember your first brew?
Yes, I remember it well. It was August 1996, Absolution, the brewplant was cobbled together on the mezzanine floor in what then looked like a huge shed (it now looks like a much smaller and very crowded shed though it is the same place). The beer was fine and the very first delivery of it was made to The Three Stags Heads in Derbyshire which sells Absolution to this day.So, what are your favourite beers?
So many. We make beers we like to drink (An excellent point, often lost on brewers - Leigh) , . Highlights are always Moonshine and Brimstone. But there are then memorable specials Belfry, Alchemy, Deception are particular favourites....And what non-Abbeydale beers are your tipples of choice?
Personally I love Oakham beers - Inferno is a favourite. Anything pale from Marble - especially Janine's One or Pint as it now seems to be called, and of course their Ginger, Allgates beers, Brewsters, Ufford Setting Sun is a favourite as is Severn Vale's Severn Sins. It's also good to try the new micros that come along, some of them are producing splendid beers.
Further afield I love some of the Belgian beers - Pat has a soft spot for the sour reds such as Duchess de Bourgoyne and the Cantillon beers, I prefer some of the trappists especially Westvleteren. We both love some of the North American craft brewery beers. Wherever you go on the States there always seem to be a few local craft breweries turning out lovely beers in keg and bottle. My personal favourites tend to be the IPAs. I could go on but that's probably enough.
What's your proudest achievement?
What's your proudest achievement?
Can I choose two?
Every year Sheffield CAMRA do a real ale survey in Sheffield, to compete for the honour of having more real ale on offer in the city than any other city. There is a keen rivalry between some of the northern cities. One of the outcomes of the survey, which targets pubs serving real ale, is that they identify the most frequently encountered real ale. In 2007 it was Greene King IPA. In 2008 it was Abbeydale Moonshine. That made us really proud.
And then recently a couple of local cavers, Rob Eavis and Robbie Shone, were exploring a hitherto unexplored part of the enormous Titan cave system under the Peak District when they made a breakthrough and discovered some new caves. The colours in one of these caves reminded them of their favourite beer, Absolution, which they drink at their regular haunt, The Red Lion at Litton. So they named the new cave Absolution. We didn't know the cavers at all but Rob emailed us to tell us so we are trying to get a party together for them. That kind of thing is just wonderful. I have attached the special edition pumpclip we produced which shows Katie Dent, Rob's girlfriend and part-time barmaid at the Red Lion in Absolution shortly after its discovery. Read more on www.peakdistrictcaving.info/cave0901.htm.
I see the brewery is expanding. Any plans to bottle?Yes - the brewery continues to expand steadily; but no, we don't plan to bottle. For us, beer should be enjoyed in good company in a pub. Pubs are struggling, why would we want to contribute to their demise by making our beers available in bottles and especially cheap in supermarkets. We supply real ale off-licences like the Archer Road Beer Stop in Sheffield who will supply any quantity of take out from 1 pint to 18 gallons and most pubs will allow people to buy carry outs - we have 4 pint containers for that purpose. If you want to enjoy our beers, go to the pub.
Any advice for budding brewers out there?
Talk to lots of brewers before you try to start up, preferably go work for one for a bit. Remember it's about selling beer as well as making it and that it is about consistently making really good beer that helps to sell itself.
What's your fondest beer-related memory?
So many to choose from! Sitting in any pub and just counting the people drinking our beers. But recently some of my best memories have come from the summer beer festivals we have organised at our pub The Rising Sun at Nether Green. We have a large car park at the back so we were determined to run beer festivals there. We do them around the middle of July and are on the third this year (9-12 July). We do 60+ beers and it has proven to be very popular and successful. For me the pinnacle is always Saturday evening when my hard work is all done and I sit back and relax and watch everyone enjoying themselves. Although we have generally had poor weather, both years the Saturday has been quite good or at least dry. I have attached a few pictures, including one of Patrick surveying the festival with great satisfaction.
Hopefully lots more beer and fun for all involved. If it weren't fun, at least most of the time, we wouldn't do it.
Abbeydale really do represent a modern, yet tradtional Yorkshire brewery that continue to operate successfully without compromising on thier values. If you see any of thier wares, particulary my favourite, Daily Bread, give them a try.