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I paid a visit to Elland Brewery recently to meet the new team there who are aiming to build on the brewery's heritage and develop the business. Based in the West Yorkshire town of the same name, here's what I found.....

There is a buzz about Elland Brewery these days.

That was evident when I called in to see the team recently to find out some of their ideas for moving the brewery forward over the coming months and beyond. The brewery, much loved both in the local area and beyond, had been the subject of speculation over recent months as the ertswhile owners had gone their separate ways and other members of the team had left, consequently setting off rumours about the business's future.

The roots of Elland Brewery can be traced back to the Barge and Barrel pub, across town by the side of the canal. In the 1990's a brewery had been set up by the avuncular John Eastwood in the former children's playroom, where he developed beers such as Nettle Thrasher, a popular bitter, and Myrtle's Temper, a strong dark ale allegedly named in honour of his wife. The beers were sold under the name of the Barge and Barrel Brewing Company in the Barge and Barrel and other local free houses and built up a popular following. In 2002, the Barge and Barrel Brewing Company merged with the West Yorkshire Brewery run by well-known brewer Dave Sanders, to form the Eastwood and Sanders' Fine Ales, which then became the Elland Brewery in 2006 as the two founders went their separate ways, John eventually returning to brew at the Barge and Barrel, whilst Dave went on to work at several other local breweries over the subsequent years.

The Barge & Barrel...where the seeds of Elland Brewery were sown

One of the beers that had originated from the early days was 1872 Porter, a 6.5% creamy rich complex beer with chocolate and liquorice notes based on an original recipe dating back to 1872. This was the beer that really put Elland Brewery on the map, the beer winning multiple awards at CAMRA beer festivals up and down the country, culminating in being voted Champion Beer of Britain at the Great British Beer Festival in 2013. Speaking as someone who is more of a lover of hoppy ales, I have to agree that 1872 Porter really is a stunning beer, and like Bad Kitty, the vanilla porter from Malton's Brass Castle brewery, it is a rare example of a dark beer being the most famous beer from a brewer's portfolio. Unless you are Guinness of course!

After the original partners had gone their separate ways, the Elland Brewery continued to flourish through the noughties under different ownership but around 2014 it was bought by Steve Francis and Mike Hiscock. The brewery went through a rebrand, and over the subsequent years built up a reputation as a reliable brewery with an expanding range of cask ales. In 2018, the Elland Craft and Tap was opened by the brewery in a former building society branch in the town, and was an immediate success with cask ale lovers, Elland having seen a decline in its number of pubs and those offering decent ales over the years. The beer range typically included a number of Elland beers alongside guest ales in both cask and keg, and continues to be popular with both locals and visitors alike.

Whilst many people continue to think of the bar and brewery as both being run by Elland, in actual fact the two entities split some time ago. The two owners found they had different interests and priorities, with Steve wanting to focus on developing the brewery and having little interest in the bar, whereas Mike had more interest in running the bar. So they amicably went their separate ways, but continue to work together with the brewery still supplying Elland beers to the bar. Rumours about the brewery's future began to circulate earlier this year though when the head brewer and salesman both left the business, which was obviously a big blow for a small team, putting pressure on those remaining to maintain business as usual.

Against this background, Steve's son, Joe, joined the business as managing director a few months ago after working outside the brewing industry over the past few years. He has set about stabilising the business, bringing new people on board, and planning ahead for the brewery's future. We had originally arranged to meet a week earlier, but had to postpone when Covid struck the team. On a warm and sunny afternoon, I arrived at the Heathfield Industrial Estate where the brewery occupies three units. I knocked on the open door, and pushing my way through a chain curtain, I was greeted by three tall guys, one of whom was Joe.

Elland Brewery MD Joe Francis

We made our way past the brewing vessels and stacks of barrels to a tiny office for a chat. Joe and I were joined by Scott Hutchinson, who has recently joined as Marketing Manager having in a previous life worked for Vocation Brewery. He is keen to develop the brewery's profile and standing within the industry, and cited as an example Black Sheep as a brewery who he feels have a good reputation and have recently begun to innovate and develop new and different beers as a potential role model. Scott, who was walking with the aid of a walking stick following a recent accident, and whom everyone seems to call 'Hutch', would also like to strengthen links with the local community and the town. He is as he puts it, there "to witter" as the team look at everything they do and how they can improve and develop, ranging from branding to the beers they brew.

A few minutes later, we were joined by the third guy. David Bamforth, otherwise known as Trigger, who has been appointed head brewer after working at several breweries around West Yorkshire over the past few years. I had first come across him when he was working at the Halifax Steam Brewery just up the road from me in Hipperholme several years ago where he was a familiar sight in his long black leather coat. Since moving on from there he has worked at breweries in Baildon, Halifax - with the short-lived Boothtown Brewery, and then Darklands, whilst more recently he had been working at the revived Salamander Brewery in Bradford. He is keen to get stuck into not only maintaining the core range including 1872 Porter but also bringing some new beers into the range where feasible.

Elland Head Brewer David 'Trigger' Bamforth

The beer range is being based around a core range consisting of Elland Blonde, a 4% creamy, hoppy session ale with hints of citrus fruits, Nettle Thrasher, which is a 4.4% amber bitter with a nutty and fruity taste, fragrant hop notes, and a dry finish, the afore-mentioned 1872 Porter, plus two others, the revived 'Ell and Back, a 4.1% smooth amber ale, and a 3.5% golden ale, Afternoon Threelight, which is light, balanced, and refreshing, as it says on the pump clip, and which I sampled whilst I was there. Capacity is currently around 10 barrels a week.

Elland Brewery

Chatting to the guys both at the brewery and afterwards, and somewhat appropriately, in the beer garden at the Barge and Barrel, where they were hoping that a recently-delivered barrel of the recently revived 'Ell And Back would be available on the bar (it wasn't) I was struck by the confidence and positive approach of the guys; Joe more considered and measured, whilst ideas were fizzing from both Hutch and Trigger who over a pint also disclosed their mutual interest in fire-breathing and other circus tricks. It will be interesting to see how things develop as all three of them aim to breathe new fire into the Elland Brewery, but based on a couple of hours in their company it looks likes being another interesting and positive chapter in the history of the brewery.

I wish them every success....

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