” Buy a man a beer and he wastes an hour.
Teach a man to brew and he wastes a lifetime. “
I bloody hope not! Charles Papazian was President of the American Brewers Organization and founder of the Great American Beer Festival, which means that he definitely knows a lot more than I do about the subject matter, so perhaps I should listen to him and look for something else to do. I did, however, have something else to do and most people would probably agree that being a secondary school History Teacher is not a waste of time at all. Indeed, teaching did me well for nearly twenty years. I worked in schools in Yorkshire, Staffordshire, Hungary, Malaysia, The Middle East and The Netherlands. For years I combined a noble profession with fantastic opportunities to travel and during these times I met and worked with some wonderful people. So why would I decide to leave this to, in the words of Charles Papazian, waste a lifetime brewing beer?
The simple explanation is that as my love for teaching declined, my love for beer remained constant! But it has to be more complicated than this and Helmsley Brewing Co. was probably born during a trip to Japan, of all places. I took a trip to the Land of the Rising Sun in February 2012 to see Tokyo and to ski in the mountains, both of which were amazing, but I digress (I do that a lot). More specifically we were in a department store in Ginza and we found ourselves, as you do, on the basement floor in the booze section. I was drawn to a section entitled Beers of the World, which very few of you will find surprising. On inspection, however, I noticed that this Beers of the World, which contained beers from countries including Belgium, the USA, Japan, Malaysia, Holland, Germany, India, Thailand and Denmark (probably), had no beers from the UK. I looked again, rubbed my eyes and started to think, which is rare for me when on holiday. The whisky section, unsurprisingly, was full of the usual suspects and even, somewhat ironically, included a single malt from the excellent English Whisky Company. But in the beer section there wasn’t even a bottle of dog! Anyway, back to my thinking. It occurred to me that we English are very good at drinking beer because I have seen it many times with my own eyes and it isn’t always pretty! Our Celtic brethren love their whisky and our European friends love their wine, brandies and vodka, but the English drink beer. Granted, many Englishmen drink rubbish beer, but they still drink beer. It also occurred to me that we are also very good at making beer. I attended my first CAMRA beer festival in the mid-80s and was instantly bewitched by the taste of what was compellingly called real ale. Brews like Old Tom and Old Peculiar introduced me to proper beer for the first time and, living in Stoke at the time, I grew to love the early brews by Titanic in Burslem. The next twenty odd years of the brewing industry has been, as they say, history, but we are absolutely blessed with the range and quality of beers that we have on offer in the UK today.
So that was it, we are good at drinking it, great at making it but not so good at taking our beers to the rest of the world. At the time I felt a touch disappointed, indignant maybe that Sierra Nevada and Duval had made it to Tokyo, but that English beer had not. I decided at that moment that putting an English beer on those shelves would be a noble cause to work towards. And so it was that I planned an acute change of professional direction over the months to come.
Now in early 2012 I was living and working in Dubai, which sounds glamorous and in many respects it was, but I felt very much that I needed a change in professional direction. So, on returning from Japan I booked myself onto the excellent Brewlab Startup course and was excited to find out more about the industry. Although I had some experience of home brewing, I knew that doing it commercially would be much more challenging and the course itself confirmed a number of things. The first was that it was going to be expensive and bloody hard work! The second was that I didn’t just want to set up a brewery anywhere. I wanted to create a brewery where people would come to see us, enjoy the beer and share the experience. This place turned out to be Helmsley, nestled between the North York Moors and the Howardian Hills. Perfectly placed for York and the coast, the countryside is, in my humble opinion, the prettiest in Yorkshire. My specific love of this area has also been fuelled by my long term love of motorcycling, having spent many an afternoon standing in leathers drinking tea, talking and bike fancying in Helmsley’s market square. Yes, Helmsley is a gem of a place. A chocolate box Yorkshire market town, poured into glorious countryside, it brings together the best of old and new Yorkshire. The history of Helmsley is clearly evident. It has a castle, a stately home, a country estate, a market square, a beautiful church and a strong rural heritage and identity. When you look closer, however, you recognise that Helmsley has moved with the times, with swish hotels, a spa and a growing national reputation for quality gastro-pubs and restaurants. Add to that, an international reputation for outdoor activities and field sports and the fact that it is surrounded by some of the best motorcycling roads in Europe, and it is easy to see why Helmsley is such a vibrant place. When I think about the future of the brewery and the ethos for quality and creativity that we are to embody, I am convinced that there is only one place for us to be…right in the heart of God’s Own Country. Maybe this isn’t going to be such a waste of time after all!
Kyle visits Japan and the first considers starting a brewery.
Kyle attends Brewlab in Sunderland to find out more about brewing and the brewing industry.
Return to the UK
The move to Ryedale and the search for premises begins.
Kyle visits 18 Bridge Street in Helmsley for the first time.
Kyle leaves his final teaching job with the intention of starting a brewery in 2014.
Kyle joins SIBA as a non-brewing member and attends first Beer X.
After meeting Charlie Bamforth from the University of California at Beer X, Kyle travels to California to brew at the Davis campus. During this visit, I spent time at Sierra Nevada in Chico and visited a number of other Craft Breweries. Kyle meets Alex Barlow of All Beer for the first time and an important member is added to the team.
On return, Kyle commits to Bridge Street building and the lease commences 1st July. Kyle and Rich start the building work at Bridge Street.
The building work continues.
The brew kit arrives and is installed by ABUK.
The first brew takes place. Howardian Gold, Yorkshire Legend and HiPA! are brewed for the first time.
We have our first visitors to the brewery and tap.
Helmsley Honey is born, using locally sourced honey from the North York Moors.
Striding the Riding, the official beer of the Cleveland Way, is brewed and served in local pubs for the first time.
Our first bottles arrive from Bottled in Cumbria and are sold to retailers for the first time.
We live through our first MAG Rally in Helmsley and have an amazing weekend!
We spend the entire summer brewing to capacity, ahead of schedule. Jim joins the team.
We launch ourselves on the SIBA Beerflex programme, which means that we can sell beer to tied pubs for the first time.
We brew Santa’s Little Brewer for the first time, which is our special seasonal mulled stout.
The brewery orders the Moravek, which is our very own bottling and kegging machine.
We have another great MAG weekend and are invited to supply beer on site for the September event.
Helmsley beers are served on site at the September Mag Rally. Jack joins the team.
The Moravek arrives and we bottle our own beers on site for the first time.