Pubs might be closing down at an alarming rate up and down the country and every Government budget in the last few years has piled more and more financial pressure on the alcohol industry.
But despite the difficulties, breweries producing real ale seem to be thriving – and a handful of so-called ‘micro-breweries’ appear to be doing very well indeed right here in Ilkeston.
In the first in a series of articles on the emergence of such businesses in town, I visited Nutbrook Brewery in West Hallam to find out the key to their success.
An unassuming gravel track led me off High Lane West and into a working farm where I was quicky greeted by a magnificent handmade wooden bar.
Dean Richards – the senior half of the father and son team which runs the brewery – informed me that the bar was made next door to the Advertiser offices at Shed2 Studios using locally sourced wood and by a highly skilled Ilkeston carpenter.
It became a running theme that the pair work hard to be as local as possible in what they produce, which is also, they explained, a great selling point.
“We want to keep it local,” explained Dean, who works alongside son Chris, 27.
“We don’t want to be forced into some business unit somewhere – we want to employ local people and local people only.”
Nutbrook is based at Oakfields Farm, which has a farm shop on site selling produce, most of which is directly from the farm itself, alongside the beers.
Farmer Andrew Wint said: “They complement each other
“People come for the shop and see the beer, or vice versa, and the two businesses grow together.”
Dean, a business skills specialist started Nutbrook in his garage in Hallam Way five years ago after a chance meeting with the head brewer at Marstons in Burton.
“I asked him, why does my home brew taste like home brew?” he said.
“He gave me a guided tour of the brewery and the rest is history.”
From humble beginnings, Nutbrook moved to the farm in 2010 and now produces about 3,000 pints every two weeks – quite a lot for a micro-brewery.
The quality of the ales has won Nutbrook the coveted Beer of the Festival award at the last Derby CAMRA’s winter beer festival for Coveted Fifth.
They now supply dozens of pubs across the East Midlands, including the General Havelock, the Newdigate Arms and the Spanish Bar, here in Ilkeston.
But another part of their success is diversity, offering brewing experiences to real ale enthusiasts at £265 for two.
“It’s great fun and there’s no obligation to buy,” said Dean.
Alongside making specialist one-off beers for customers and events – including Starter’s Orders, especially for the Olympics – they also cater for functions, taking their mobile bar with them.
“We are filled out both in terms of retail wholesalers and bottling – it’s gone through the roof,” said Dean.
“We don’t need to push to keep things going.”
The pair’s dream is to one day own a pub with a microbrewery on site.
With such entrepreneurial skills at their disposal, I’d say that dream is not too far away.
In future articles we will take a look at Muirhouse and North Star breweries in Ilkeston.