Allen's Garages was an old-fashioned business, with workshops purpose-built for those newfangled motorised carriage things at the beginning of the 20th century. When Peter Allen retired in 2010 he sold the site for redevelopment and I watched it being torn down. Having looked around North Norfolk for somewhere to establish my brewery I was beginning to despair of finding anything suitable. I considered a small industrial unit just outside Cromer and some farm buildings at Bradfield Hall Farm, Bradfield but they didn't seem quite right. Then, something urged me to peer into a dark and dirty window on West Street near my house. Lo-and-behold, when my eyes had accustomed to the gloom, I could see part of the old garage workshop had been bricked-up and apparently forgotten. I called up Peter Allen. 'No, I have no plans for it at all. Would you like the keys and have a look inside?'. Would I!
On going inside the smell of old garage hit me. A heady mixture of oil, grease, fuel, rust and grime. It was wonderful. Such character! Like a time-warp. It dawned on me that this was what I had been searching for and it had been under my nose all along. This dingy old garage was going to be my new career and I would bring it up to the standard required for a hygienic and efficient little microbrewery. It was March 2011 and I was very excited.
Just as I was getting going, talking to the council, cleaning the place up a bit, my wife Steffi had an operation to mend shoulder tissues torn in a fall in the street. Afterwards, she couldn't do anything and needed a lot of looking after. So little got done in the brewery that summer. But I was reading and visiting and going to training events, so the time wasn't wasted. It was September before she really started to mend and I could get on with the practical work.
I had been full of trepidation about the planning permission, the premises licence, the change of use, the drainage I needed and maybe the old floor would have to come up. The costs just appeared to escalate the more I looked into it. There was fire-proofing to consider and the Disability Discrimination Act, not to mention ventilation to extract my steam and smells in a residential neighbourhood. What about emergency exits? And what would all this cost? Was it big enough? Was it viable?
Stef was all for moving and finding a place in the countryside that had outbuildings and space but I had the conviction that I could make this work. And besides, I loved Chesterfield Lodge even though it was on the main road. It had character too. Designed by David Brandon RIBA in the cottage ornée style I had lovingly maintained it over the years and I wasn't going to give it up that easily. Besides, Winston Churchill stayed there and what a story that was, to base a beer around. It had to be done. I was staying.
The way it was in April-June 2011
June 2012 vs June 2011
Progress at the brewery
By February 2012 all renovation work had been completed. Brewing equipment from Iceni Brewery was delivered in fits and starts and by the summer I was brewing in my own brewery.
Until then I had been brewing with a borrowed Russian Doll kit in order to get some ale for Christmas, brewing on the dark side, with a smoked porter (3.9%), a robust porter (5.7%), a black IPA (5.7%) and a Baltic Porter (7.5%).
Sadly that Russian Doll had a major structural failure when the hoist jammed and two bolts holding the cantilevered mash tun sheared. It was full of wort and grist and I was lucky not to be injured.
In 2013 Brendan of the Iceni delivered three vessels but there were many unfinished aspects and defective parts and a lot more work was required before brewing could begin. Welding, pipework, malfunctioning heaters, cooling design, heat exchanger, pumps all need further work, so it looked like there wouldn't be any brewing that month (March 2013). Fortunately I had beer in hand from earlier brews and from a collaboration with Brew Wharf, so there was beer available for sale.