Ahead of the Pack
With a fanatical fan base and seasonal favourites consumed as fast as they can be brewed, Saltaire Brewery is looking to, carefully, expand to the next level
Article by Andrew Steel
UNESCO World Heritage Sites are a thing of rarity. Barely over a thousand have been designated by the United Nations; only 30 of them in the United Kingdom and its overseas territories. Three of them are bridges; two of them are cathedrals; two more are Neolithic settlements. Only one site makes beer however – and that is Saltaire Brewery, nestled away in the shadow of Salt’s Mill, in the model village of Saltaire on the banks of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal.
Multiple brewhouses could make a claim to being at the forefront of the craft ale boom in Yorkshire, but few are setting the pace like the Shipley-based independent. Acclaimed on a global scale – three of their beers have won gold at the International Brewing Awards – they’re in the process of putting the finishing touches to a second microbrewery on site, one that will allow them to boost their output from three-and-a-half to six million pints per annum. When Riddle sit down to talk with Nick Helliwell, the team’s sales director, he is a man modestly assured in the product delivered.
“I think what really helps us is that we became established just before the boom kicked in,” he notes. “If you look back to 2005 or 2006, there was no wave of independent brewers. We were fortunate in hindsight to have kicked things off here before craft beer and microbreweries became a staple. By the time that boom happened, we already were selling to pubs and bars, and had our beer stocked in supermarkets across the region. In terms of the newer breweries, we’ve kept our nose ahead of the rest.”
Saltaire can be brewing up to ten different varieties in a week; in addition to a core trio in the form of the Saltaire Blonde, Saltaire Pride and Cascade Pale Ale, they have almost forty seasonal and speciality beers that are available in cycles, from the Kala Black IPA to the Amarillo Gold. Their most popular seller is their stout Triple Chocoholic, a desert beer that frustratingly remains seasonal for its many clients and fans.
“It is a shame about that,” Nick remarks. “Both Marston’s and Wetherspoon’s made enquiries to having it on permanently throughout the year – but it tends to explode when exposed to heat due to fermentation which makes it rather impractical from May onwards. It’s ridiculously popular though; we haven’t been able to meet demand for it the last two seasons.”
Indeed, their aforementioned second plant will be pressed into service for the summer, and on adjacent land, they plan to build their own bottling facility, with their current content put into glass by Robinson’s, in Cheshire. It’s an expensive expansion effort – but Nick observes that the brand won’t grow unless they seek to make the step up.
“In a way, we’re reaching the end of a chapter of the story here,” he says. “We’ve been going for just over a decade now, and in that time we’ve grown from a small local brewery to a brand that is stocked nationally by several supermarket chains and served everywhere from your local to high-street chains. But we’ve still been doing this with facilities that are unable to cope with the growth we’ve undergone – so we need to consider new avenues as we prepare for the next chapter, that of become a medium-sized brewery.”
Already, their range expands beyond traditional ABV limits – their introduction of the Saltaire XS range, including a delightfully light and warm Belgian Red (7.2 per cent) and a thick malty smooth Imperial IPA (9.5 per cent), has seen them push more intense hop combinations to the forefront. Nick however is adamant that their original, tried-and-tested range remain true to form.
“When we started out, we gained a very devout local clientele in Yorkshire,” he states. “A lot of our drinkers were traditionalists who still favour a glass bottle or cask over a can or keg. So whilst we’re expanding our business nationally, we want to remain loyal to our core fanbase, who prefer their pints served by hand-pull. We may be looking to advance as a brewery – but we’re adamant that we won’t forget our roots.
Saltaire has undoubtedly been at the forefront of northern craft beer for the past decade – so it is unsurprising that they are looking to broaden their horizons. So where do they see themselves in five years’ time? Nick is optimistic on their future. “We’ve got a roadmap for the coming decade. If, as we say, this is the end of a chapter, then we have the pages in front of us for the next one. We want to be not just a recognisable brand nationally; we want to be known internationally. We want it so that when tourists come to London, the name on their lips for a pint when they land is Saltaire. That’s the vision – and it’s one I think we can nail too.”
Enquiries: Saltaire Brewery, County Works, Dockfield Road, Shipley / 01274 594959 / http://saltairebrewery.co.uk/saltaire/