Two real ale enthusiasts have teamed up, with the backing of their former boss, to launch their very own brewery in north Northumberland.
The VIP Brewery, based at Hawkhill Business Park in Lesbury, is starting to get on its feet after a hard slog transforming an empty shell into a fully-functioning brewhouse.
The business is run by Phil Steel and Phil Bell, who used to work at the VIllage Inn in Longframlington, with the backing of the pub’s landlord, Terry Maughan.
Both Phils enjoyed brewing as a hobby and weekend activity, before going on an intensive training course, run by Brewlab, an internationally-recognised centre for excellence in the brewing industry.
The business was incorporated in 2011 and took on the site at Hawkhill at the end of the year, spending many months working to transform the site into an efficient five-barrel brew plant.
Phil Bell said: “It took plenty of work to get it transformed.
“It took lots and lots of time and effort and you could never see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“It was a good eight or nine months of working on it.
“But the last few weeks have been about brewing and now a few pubs in Alnwick have the beer, as well as the Village Inn.
“The feedback’s been pretty good and we know we can sell two or three casks of the Lite a week.”
What’s more, it’s good to be working for themselves.
“It beats getting a real job!” he added.
But that isn’t the limit of their ambitions.
“The hope is we can build on this and we want to set up a 20-barrel kit in a different area as well as keeping this one,” Phil Bell said.
Phil Steel said: “Both of us are really passionate about business, that’s the other thing that drives us.
“In the current climate, you have to get out there and do it.
“We both work pretty much seven days a week.”
“Between us, we get about half-a-day off a week,” Phil Bell added.
But all the effort has a pay-off, as the pair are creating something themselves.
“You can take a lot of pride when someone says the beer is really nice,” said Phil Steel.
“The best bit was when that very first pint was pulled through.
“We are having a lot of fun, but we are also learning every time we brew.”
And businessman Terry is supportive, describing them as ‘keen and enthusiastic’.
At a taster day for pub landlords and other guests, the VIP Brewery had three of its beers on offer.
• Village Lite – An extremely light easy-to-drink session ale with a distinctive citrus after-kick.
• Village Bike – A smooth English-style bitter with a slightly sweet tongue feel and mild aftertaste.
• Village Copper – A well-balanced ruby-coloured bitter with subtle hints of ginger.