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Campaigning for good beer in good pubs in north Lancashire and the Ingleborough area

CAMRA Lunesdale

Interview with George Palmer

(founder and former Head Brewer of Bryson’s)

Running a brewery is most CAMRA members’ dream, and stopping brewing must have been a huge decision. What led to it?

Where do I start on this one? Thinking back to the original start up in 2000, it was a dream come true. I’d been home brewing for longer than I care to mention, progressing from kits to extract to full mash brewing. ‘Doing it properly’ was the next progression and they were exciting times indeed. We originally started part-time and went full-time when I left the power station. The business grew, and with it the ‘behind the scenes’ work load. Before we stopped, I was working 80+ hours per week and Caroline was putting 30 odd hours in. I suppose you could say the dream became reality, and the reality became a nightmare. A classic case of not planning ahead. When I restarted about 18 months back, I had a plan for Palmer Family Ltd., and Bryson’s was part of that plan. Time goes on and things change. Quite a few things have happened within the family since the brewery restarted. I’m sure you’ll understand that these matters are personal and I won’t expand on them in print. The upshot is that I could not see the brewery featuring in Palmer Family Ltd.’s medium or long term plans as things stand. Rather than carry on, I decided that now was the right time to leave, both for me and the brewery, so I left.

This is the second time you’ve ceased brewing. What’s your response to the suggestion that you were never fully committed to the venture?

That is utterly ludicrous. I think that anyone who knows me would think the same. Why would I re-assemble and re-commission the plant, develop a new range of beers and spend time promoting them, training new staff, etc. if I wasn’t committed? You must remember that I have an income that is enough to live comfortably off, so restarting was not a necessity. It was a project that I wanted to see come to fruition and that I was fully committed to.

If there’s such a thing as a Bryson’s legacy, what will it be?

Bryson’s will carry on, the production at the brewery never stopped, so the term “legacy” may not be appropriate. I have left a fully operational plant with a staff capable of taking it forward. John Meehan, the Head Brewer, is superb. He is highly qualified and has brewing experience on large plants both in Australia (Castlemaine) and in the UK (Courage). He also has experience on smaller plants (though still a lot bigger that the Bryson’s set up). He has as his assistant Tim Hughes, who looks after the peripheral activities as well as helping out with the brewing. I have no say in how the brewery will progress, but expect to see an expansion in the bottle sales as well as the cask sales. I leave a brewery with what I believe to be a superb range of beers, very different from the previous range. I also leave another two achievements in Lancashire bitter having got into the top five in its category in the Tesco Drinks Awards, and recognition of the quality of Bryson’s new POS (point of sale advertising) material through being awarded second place in the Labologists’ competition (an annual competition run for charity, entered by most of the country’s brewers).

What are your thoughts on the current beer and brewing scene in the area?

I think I’ve made my views on Bryson's clear. As for Lancaster Brewery, I’d prefer not to comment, except to emphasise that when it comes to the Lancaster Brewery staff, Will, Gareth and the MWS guys at the depot are fine chaps who I still class as friends. As for the pub scene, I can only hope for the drinkers’ sake, that the tied system dies a quick death. There are some great pubs and superb landlords and landladies out there who could make a better living and provide a better service if there were no tie. But that’s a national issue for CAMRA and SIBA to campaign for.

If you had your time as a brewer again are there things you would do differently?

The obvious answer must be yes. The original set up would probably still be going, and probably running a 20 barrel plant had I planned things, rather than reacting to the current situations. All you would-be entrepreneurs take note! As for the restart, I think I made the right decision at the time. I could not foresee what was to come.

What are your plans for the future?

For the short term, we’re hoping to downsize (horrible term I know) house wise, which will require a good deal of my time. Long term we aim to retire to Tasmania and enjoy life to the full. Apart from that, I have started writing my first CV, and early next year I’ll distribute it and see what comes up that will interest me. I don’t envisage going back into brewing as a full time brewer or brewery owner, however, if the right offer comes along...

George Palmer was talking to Julian Holt