To hear Dave Sweeney talk, you’d think he actually enjoys his work. Hardly surprising considering he runs a highly successful company that not only brews its own ale but now has a brewery tap in which to sell it, and a huge following in its home town and much further afield. Oh, and the beer’s not bad either.
Bolton’s Bank Top Brewery, a recent destination for thirty Lunesdale CAMRA members and friends, is a cheering success story at a time of prevailing economic gloom: it has brewed a million pints in just 11 months. This was just one statistic quoted by Dave Sweeney, Head Brewer and manager at the brewery, in a fascinating talk about the origins and development of the company.
Set up in 2002 by local brewing legend John Feeney (who retired in 2008), it was the first commercial brewery in Bolton since 1970. After a slow start, the enterprise went from strength to strength. Eventually a situation where they were brewing 17 times a week on a 5 barrel plant necessitated bigger kit and all-round expansion.
Now there is a team of 10, one of whom is Jen Burroughs who graduated with a degree in brewing from the prestigious Heriot-Watt university, and a fleet of 4 vehicles delivering the beer. But despite the expansion, the ethos of Bank Top remains what it always was: “A family-style brewery, synonymous with Bolton” — to quote Dave.
Four of Bank Top’s finest were freely available on hand pump in the brewery — Old Slapper, Captain Kidd, Gold Digger and the sumptuous, award winning Dark Mild — and supping these gave added flavour and body to that part of the talk that dealt with choice of malts and the effects of global warming on hop production.
The most exciting feature of the firm’s expansion is the acquisition of a brewery tap, daringly named “The Brewery Tap”, to which we adjourned for the remainder of the evening. All the beers are available on seven hand pumps, with an eighth dispensing a guest ale. This is a marvellous local, with a large, friendly and loyal clientele. There’s no wide screen TV, no electronic games and no juke box — just fine ale and conversation. Here it was good to meet up with John Feeney again, who had been in charge on our first visit to the brewery.
For all the new developments, Bank Top remains true to its original mission. Firmly rooted in the local community, it brews wholesome, handcrafted ales — no nonsense, full-flavoured beers that bring tradition into the 21st century and delight the customers. As Dave Sweeney put it, “There’s nothing more rewarding for a brewer than seeing a satisfied expression on drinkers’ faces.” Put like that it sounds simple. Achieving it requires a bit of magic — and there’s plenty of that at Bank Top.
Our thanks to Dave, Jen, John and Kev for making our evening so enjoyable.