Brewing beer began as just a hobby for engineer Adrian Chapman. It developed into an enthusiasm, and has now flourished into a full-time business as one of the North’s latest up and coming micro-breweries.
The 42-year-old Yorkshireman and his wife Emma run Wishbone Brewery Ltd in a former woollen mill in Keighley, and are glad they joined the beer business.
They brew a range of 18 beers – ranging from ‘session’ blonde at 3.6% ABV up to a hefty 6% black porter – with plenty of variety in between and monthly specials too.
It’s a far cry from the beer Adrian used to brew on the hob – a process he describes as ‘kitchen mayhem’. Instead of using beer kits with thick gooey malt extract, as so many home brewers do, Adrian emulated the real thing in the laborious mashing and sparging process that extracts the sugars from the malted grain at the correct temperature. His beer went down well with friends and workmates, but it remained Adrian’s hobby until he was made redundant from engineering.
He went to work for a local Yorkshire brewery as a cask washer, graduated to a brewhouse team leader, provided some new recipes and studied for and passed his Institute of Brewers and Distillers exam.
Meanwhile, the idea for starting his own micro-brewery, which had been in his mind as he made his home brews, was developing into a business idea and in 2011 he registered the name Wishbone Brewery. The name is a loose connection to Whitby where Adrian and Emma got married. Whitby famously has a whalebone arch on the cliff top which looks similar to the wishbone shape. It was also chosen so as not to be connected to a place or region, just in case they have to expand or move premises.
It wasn’t really until 2013 that Adrian gave serious thought to Wishbone. “I’d been taking on more roles and responsibilities, and I thought I’d be better working for myself,” he says.
He had talks with a local business adviser, added up costs, talked to pubs, discussed investment from his family, and began a search for likely premises. After being gazumped for premises and dismayed by the horrible state of some places, he settled on the ground floor and first floor in a mill shed that used to be part of Sir James Hill Textiles on Chesham Street just off Dalton Lane in Keighley.
“My dad used to work here and I still remember the smell of wool grease the place had from when I was a kid going to work with him on a Saturday.
“It needed a lot of work and eight months to get the premises in a fit state fit for brewing.”
The brewhouse was equipped by Mirfield company PureWeld, and fermenting vessels were built to order in China. All the dry goods such as malted grains are lifted to the first-floor malt loft and grist case, and the magical process of brewing and fermenting is on the ground floor, all carried out by Adrian himself. Emma is in charge of admin and they have a part-time sales person, dealing with 200 outlets in a 50-mile radius.
There’s also the Wishbone Brewery Tap on the ground floor, where beer enthusiasts can enjoy the beer twice a month, when the bar opens for Friday and Saturday sessions, with the added attraction of food from Keighley’s Lemon Tree Cafe and Bistro on the Saturdays. Customers can bring in their own take-aways on Fridays.
Adrian is keen to point out the difference between fined and unfined beers, and his brewery’s website (www.wishbonebrewery.co.uk) goes into detail about it. Isinglass finings, a fish by-product, are added to beer to ensure it’s clear when served – “for people who drink with their eyes” – but the stronger Wishbone beers, above 5.6% ABV, are unfined and may appear a little hazy. “Adding Isinglass finings isn’t essential to be able to drink tasty beer,” he says. “The added bonus is our unfined beers are vegetarian and vegan friendly as no fish-derived products are added to our unfined range.”
Starting a brewery from scratch took some major decisions and a lot of hard work, but Adrian reckons it’s been worthwhile and is looking forward to expanding.
“Sales are going in the right direction,” he says. “We’re looking to take more people on in the future. If I’m brewing, I can’t be doing other jobs like washing and filling casks, so I’ll need a brew house assistant at some point.
“We’ll also need more equipment so that we can do more than one task at a time.
At the moment we brew cask beers only, but in future we could do German, Belgian and French style beers in kegs, bottles and maybe cans.”