Moorhouse - the Burnley brewer going for the female market

PUBLISHED: 11:40 14 May 2012 | UPDATED: 04:24 10 February 2013

David Grant has transformed the business

David Grant has transformed the business

It was once small beer in the brewing industry but this Burnley business is booming. Now they are going for the female market, writes Martin Pilkington

Even with his long experience in the brewing industry, David Grant faced a daunting challenge in turning round the moribund Moorhouses Brewery when he joined in October 2001.

My first weeks sales here were 34 barrels, he recalls. It was horrendous. Things needed changing. We were still in the 60s with a 60s image, not moving anywhere but backwards.

That those changes happened is obvious we meet in the shiny new brewery that proves the business is now moving forward as indeed it needs to having invested a cool 4.5 million in the project.

The reason he joined the business fittingly offered the job in his local pub by owner Bill Parkinson was the freedom he was given. Bill said to me I wont be able to pay you a lot but I will give you a business that you can run yourself. And he has never interfered, unless I have asked for guidance.

Davids experience with Courage, Marstons and Wilsons Breweries gave him a head start in knowing what could be done. And there was also the small matter of the great beer. In 2000 wed won Supreme Champion Beer of Britain, awarded by CAMRA, so we should have been doing really well. But we werent, and I didnt know why other than the lack of a can-do attitude. I couldnt change the attitudes so I changed the people.

With a largely new team in place things picked up. By 2005 business was going pretty well. We put additional plant and machinery in the old building we had on Moorhouse Street, and had a capacity of about 280 barrels a week a barrel holding 288 pints but by 2008 we were peaking above that production level and bursting at the seams.

Happily. this coincided with Burnley Councils drive to clear and redevelop depressed areas of the town. Initially the authority wanted to move the brewery, but eventually helped it expand on the site it has occupied since 1865.

Davids eyes roll when he talks about the challenges that banks and designers in particular presented even before the practical problems of knocking down one brewery while building the other, without interrupting production.

It was a logistical nightmare, but everyone had the right attitude - it was just great because everybody was in it together.

The spacious new building with its six columns of windows facing the world is a long way from the outmoded image that prevailed a decade ago. Its something which makes a real statement about the area we work in, says David. So too does the workforce that now stands at 38 there were 12 in 2001.

Naturally the most important thing about a brewery is the beer. The new premises and plant have allowed the four master brewers a freer rein. Because we have all this extra capacity we have new possibilities. Before we could only brew the five core beers all the time. Now we put together a calendar of seasonal or monthly beers designed by the brewers. They each have three months where they can do virtually anything - as long as it is not ridiculous - and it has to be commercially saleable!

Sales are edging towards the planned 500 barrels a week by end-2013 to meet their financial targets, with the capacity to do more than 1000. And other areas of the business are progressing in leaps and bounds. Were securing a Halloween spot with Morrisons to take 105 pallets of beer. Five years ago thats what we would have sold in 12 months, David says.

The environment in which Moorhouses is managing to thrive is a tough one. Weve still got about 22 pubs a week closing in the UK, and it was as high as 34 or 35. But there were 60,000 public houses here and we were over-pubbed - there had to be a cull at some stage. Times have changed, we dont have 10,000 people pouring out of factories at four oclock with a raging thirst, and it has become more acceptable to drink at home.

David sees hope for the pub trade in two trends. One of them is the rise of the micro pubs, like old beer houses with cask ales and not a great deal else. They are becoming more popular since the change in the licensing laws, operating with one or two staff at most.

Another trend offers further encouragement: David says more women are getting interested in real ales, and not just as drinkers but as beer writers and brewers. Moorhouses will host a beer festival in late July aimed at women. Why should beer festivals just be for men that outdated (and wrong) image of beards and sandals? The beers that will be available will be brewed only by females; we will be encouraging our female audience to wear Royal Ascot hats, to make it a bit different; and we have enlisted Melissa Cole, a beer writer based in London, to do tutored tastings in private just for the girls.

In a not unrelated vein the company whose most famous brew is Pendle Witches has also started a social media campaign to obtain a pardon for those women hanged in Lancaster and York exactly 400 years ago. David agrees that given their brands include Blond Witch and Black Cat this could cause Moorhouses problems: Pendle victim of injustice doesnt sound as good but well come up with something.

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