Armed with some old tanks and a rusty Peugeot 205, Nick Stafford had an idea; he was going to open a brewery. Not that he felt he had much choice, however, finding himself unemployed twice during the course of an economic downturn in 1990, having previously been a head teacher at the age of 28. With a brother already in the industry (founder of Dentdale) and a ‘I can do it better’ moment, Hambleton Brewery was founded at the bottom of Nick’s in-law’s garden in 1991. With moves in both 1994 and 2007, the scale of operation is now a far cry from the original garden brewery but one constant still remains; Nick’s passion to make great beer. After all, isn’t that what we all want?
It hasn’t always been plain sailing though with one of their synonymous beers, Nightmare Porter, named as such after a nightmare brewing day back in 1993. Fast-forward to 2021 and challenges of another kind have plagued Hambleton and many others in the industry for that matter. Nick explained that surviving the pandemic has been the brewery’s biggest achievement to date, “Eighteen months ago we did not know if we were going to make it to our 30th birthday, but we made it in March this year. Everyone had to make sacrifices. But the work we have done to reset the business and survive Covid has also put us in a new, stronger position for the future.”
Having finished the construction of a new warehouse during the pandemic, plans to re-design their visitor experience and to install a canning line, the future is certainly looking brighter for Hambleton than it did back in 2020. But it would be fair to say that without a solid foundation and years of hard work, the future may not be as promising as it is currently. The aforementioned Nightmare Porter went on to win CAMRA’s inaugural Supreme Champion Winter Beer of Britain Award in 2007, Thoroughbred Pale won Best Beer Award at the 2015 Taste Awards and the brewery was also awarded a 3-star Great Taste award in 2019.
Likewise, they claim to be the first commercial brewery to have released a gluten-free beer with GFA launching back in 2005. It is easy to see why they decided to do this too with Nick advising that, “One particular week I received six phone calls enquiring about gluten free beer [and] I thought there must be something in this.” Since then GFA has won Tesco’s Beer Innovation Award in 2006 and was crowned the UK’s best Gluten-Free beer in the 2015 World Beer Awards, making their numerous revisions and money spent on lab testing worth it.
Despite the landscape constantly moving within the brewing industry, Nick does believe there has been some change for the better over the last 30 years. “The most favourite change has been that the consumer now expects to find a craft beer in either a pub or shop. This change from 1991 is massive. Instead of being treated as a ‘tin pot outfit’ a craft brewer is welcomed with respect and a willingness to try anything,” Nick says. Whilst he aired concerns over the ownership of small and large pub chains and the limited access to these which is offered to craft breweries, his faith in the consumer is still there, “Thank God for those people who persevere in trying to access the truly massive choice of great craft beer in the UK and pay a price for this value for money.”