CUMBRIA'S beer industry is booming. The county-brewed Wolf Warrior hit the pumps in Bardsea last month and in Eastern Europe, thirsty Slovaks are knocking back bottles of a beer made in Coniston.
EIGHTY years ago, the English clergyman and essayist Sydney Smith posed the question: “What two ideas are more inseparable than beer and Britannia?” That was back in 1934, and in 2014 all you need to do is substitute ‘Britannia’ for Cumbria.
The county is an unofficial capital of real ale – home to around 35 independent breweries – although the financial value of the industry is not known, says Cumbria Chamber of Commerce.
Neighbours Yorkshire have around 50 micro-breweries but 10 times the population and the small matter of six cities in which to sell them.
And it is not only in beer where Cumbria excels – 300 miles from cider-producing Somerset, The George and Dragon at Dent took silver in the national CAMRA title for Cider Pub of 2013.
And only this month, ‘Wolf Warrior’, produced by the award-winning Stringers Beer in Ulverston, rolled off the production line.
The town is said to take its name from the Old Norse name Úlfarr or the Old English ‘Wulfhere’, which roughly translates as ‘wolf warrior’.
Wolf Warrior beer is made by Stringers’ head brewer Jon Kyme, 53, of Lindal-in-Furness, who started off as a humble home brewer.
While working in Liverpool, he met his partner, Becky Stringer, and the pair quit their jobs in IT and the NHS to set up Stringers Beer in 2008, which is now on the town’s Low Mill Business Park.
The enterprise usually has five beers on the go and is capable of brewing up to 65 ‘nine gallon firkins’ a week – that’s 4,700 pints to those unfamiliar with brewing lingo.
Wolf Warrior, at 3.5 per cent, was made for and distributed entirely by the Cockermouth-based Independent Lakeland Breweries, which says Cumbria is producing ‘some of the best real ale in the country’.
Ben Paxon, for the company, said: “We think it will be a big hit with our clients and their customers in pubs, bars and restaurants across Cumbria.”
Mr Kyme has his own theories about the success of the Cumbrian real ale industry. “Good beer is always in the top five things that tourists identify with the Lake District – the lakes, scenery, walking, good food and a good pint at the end,” he says.
Richard Greenwood, of Cumbria Tourism, says Cumbria’s brewers are seeing demand from outside the UK with export markets opening up around the globe in countries such as Italy, Slovakia, Germany and the USA.
Across in Coniston, Ian Bradley, 45, and his late dad Ron established the Coniston Brewing Company back in 1995.
They originally worked out of a former pigsty at the back of the family-run Black Bull Inn and hotel.
The pub has had the Bradley name over the door for 40 years with Ian’s mum, Susan, at the helm. It is now exporting its award-winning Bluebird Bitter (4.2%) to places like the Caribbean, Australia and Sweden.
One of its stouts goes to Italy, and Mr Bradley says large containers are shipped to America.
Only this year it has begun to send bottled versions of its Bluebird Bitter, XB Bluebird (4.4) and its Old Man Ale (4.8 per cent) to Slovakia.
The idea came from brewer Peter Scholey, from Oxfordshire, who has an eye on the overseas market and a Slovakian wife, Vanda.
The brewery employs six men – Glenn Todd, Ian Waring, Graeme Hill, Raymond Hill and Peter Johnston, who are all Coniston lads, plus Peter Waugh, who travels in daily from Millom.
For its beers, Coniston Brewing Company uses the ‘soft water’ from Levers Water – a tarn high on the side of Coniston Old Man, which ‘pipes’ it back to the business. Ian, a dad-of-one, said: “When the brands start winning big prizes over here you start being noticed by the importers. It usually starts with a trickle and then grows. “It’s a great trade to be in – people enjoy the products and you get a lot of praise.”
Neil Bowness, from Kendal, runs his own company by day but is also a ‘beer ambassador’.
He said: “A trip to the local these days means we’re not only supporting our nearby pub but we are also able to enjoy a pint of truly local beer. Hawkshead Brewery, Barngates, Cumbrian Legendary Ales, Dent and Kirkby Lonsdale all feature regularly in national awards – and for good reason – and are making regular appearances in both high-profile bars and large supermarkets across the land.
“Cumbria’s beers are also finding a discerning audience beyond our shores – Millom’s groundbreaking Hardknott Brewery and Ulverston’s Stringers are just two names whose brews are finding favour in Italy and attracting interest across Europe,” adds Neil.
MORE TOP STORIES: