It was a rainy, drizzly afternoon, but nice and warm in Allendale Brewery‘s offices upstairs at the brewery, and I settled down to have a quiet chat with Tom Hick, Owner/Director, who founded the business with his father Jim well over a decade ago now.
Now Lucy Hick is on board too, as Financial Controller/Designer, Owner and Director, and the family-owned business is growing from strength to strength, as it has been, seemingly inexorably, since the building was purchased in 2005 so that a small-scale brewing operation could be in place by 2006. I was amazed to go through the sequence of renovations with Tom, which really came to fruition when the second half of the building was purchased in 2014 so that the brewing space could be extended into the front, with more storage for bottles and cans, in addition to the kegs and casks, at the side. New renovations mooted could include an in-house canning facility, though bottles will probably always be outsourced.
The brewery now employs some 13 people, with new staff coming in just this week. Tom wanted especially to mention Neil Thomas, Head Brewer and Director, who has been an incredible asset to the team as he’s concentrated on producing award-winning beers over the past decade. Neil is ably assisted by brewers Rick Lee, Ricci Flanagan and Paul McCourt, and of course the whole enterprise is brilliantly backed up by the office staff: Claire Lee, Business Manager; Jenny Hogarth, Sales/Admin; Brigitte Robson, Admin Manager; Sam on Sales. And then there’s the drayman Callum Galbraith and Nick Wright, Brewery Assistant. The brewery website helped me with the names, so I’ll hope to get a complete list to edit in as new staff settle in.
Well, I really didn’t quite know where to begin our chat, actually, especially since the beer badges have undergone such a dramatic transformation over the past couple of years, and it would take weeks to figure out all the amazing iconography, so my mind was a bit bedazzled as I sat in the conference room with some rough drafts surrounding us on the walls. It turns out that the new designs coincided with the brewery’s national listings of bottles with Waitrose and Morrison’s, from 2017. I had enough presence of mind though to ask about production quantities: last year saw 6000 hectolitres (a hectolitre is 100 litres of beverage, or about 200 pints to you and me) produced on the site. With a little calculator assistance to get the decimal right, we can calculate that production in 2018 was (200×6000=1,200,000pints). So, well over a million pints of beer — that amount of production puts Allendale Brewery in the top 10% of the 2000 brewers in the country, and, incidentally, now the top brewer in Northumberland.
Being something of a friendly beer drinker myself, I asked Tom about the sources of the hops, since our family really enjoyed the limited edition Victoria single hop IPA I got in for Christmas, which I already knew was brewed from Victoria’s Secret straight from Australia. In addition to other hops from Australia, other beers are brewed with hops from New Zealand and America, although a current beer ‘Lodestone’ is brewed exclusively with UK-grown hops. The beer range is constantly updated and growing, servicing contemporary tastes for ‘super-aromatic and punchy flavour.’
Lager is a significant component of the brewery’s production, but the ales are the overwhelming product from the large stainless steel brewing vats. Still, a couple of years ago the company’s Adder lager won the Best Czech-Style Lager Award in the UK, at the World Beer Awards competition, while last year the Best Session IPA Award for the UK at the same competition was taken by the company’s Pennine Pale. Interesting that both of these are my own special favourites!
Well, we reminisced a little about the development of the building, which had been an important workshed for Ridley’s Haulage, servicing lorry wagons from the 1960s onwards, and we gawked at the ancient photograph of the whole Allen Mill site which shows the building to the far right, in Nora Handcock’s Twentieth Century Memories (p.2). An amazing history, for sure, and now a vibrant bona fide treasure in our very midst.
Tom tells me that one of the new staff members has been recruited for their promotions abilities, and one of their early tasks could be to organise an Open Day, perhaps coinciding with the Agricultural Show, when folks are coming along past Allen Mill anyway, and the brewery could be another great place to visit on a sunny Saturday in late summer. That certainly sounds like great fun to me, and a double reason for a great day out in the countryside.
Then it was time to go, and let Tom get on with important business, but he kindly pressed a couple of cans of a new brew, a New England variety, into my hands to take home to bolster me as I wrote. So if I’ve stumbled on anything in this particular piece, we’ll have to blame the beer, shall we! Thanks Tom, it’s great to see the place growing so well!