Meeting at a National Temperance League summer school isn't how most ideas for a brewery start. But that's exactly how Jim Harrison and Alex Buchanan met aged 14 and now, 35 years later, the two friends are part of the team behind Thornbridge Brewery.
After moving to Thornbridge Hall in Derbyshire, Harrison decided that he wanted to apply his marketing skills to the sale of re-branded, high-quality beer bought in from an outside micro-brewery. "The market for beer is very fragmented and micro-breweries seem poor at marketing," explains Harrison. "This looked like a real opportunity."
Indeed the market is fragmented with 31 micro-breweries in Derbyshire alone and some 84 across the East Midlands. But despite the large number of micro-breweries, Harrison wasn't able to find one that could supply the high quality beer he wanted in sufficient volume.
And so in 2004, he decided to create a micro-brewery in a converted barn on his estate and brew his own. "Right from the start, we hired brewers of the highest calibre – this was never going to be a lifestyle business," he says. "We built a professional management team and grew the brewing capability under that."
The head brewer is Stefano Cossi from Italy who is supported by brewery manager Kelly Ryan from New Zealand, both highly-qualified and talented brewers. And both of whom fit well under the brewery's motto of, "Innovation, Passion and Knowledge." The quality of the beer produced by the Thornbridge team was recognised in September 2005 with a First place award at Sheffield Beer Festival. Since then, the team has collected an amazing 86 further awards. Little wonder that Oz Clarke rates their Jaipur beer as one of his favourites and visited Thornbridge Brewery with James May in the first episode of their Oz and James Drink to Britain BBC2 series.
Harrison believes that the key to success has been professional marketing coupled with brewing the highest-quality beers. Sales have grown from £50,000 in 2004 to a projected £650,000 this year and the business is set to expand into new premises that will allow them to triple their capacity per brew.
So what next for Harrison and the Thornbridge Brewery team? "We want to grow but stay green," says Harrison. "Spent hops go on our vegetable garden and we've found customers for spent grain – the Thornbridge herd of wild boars that is about to take occupancy of our woods."
Thornbridge Brewery (01629 641000; www.thornbridgebrewery.co.uk)