Only a Northern Brewer

David Pollard, 1977.

This is the story of a first-wave British microbrewery that came and went, and of which little is remembered more than 40 years on: Pollard’s of Stockport, in Greater Manchester.

A hand­ful of small new brew­eries opened in the ear­ly 1970s, and the Cam­paign for Real Ale had come into exis­tence, but it was only after 1975 that a kind of chain reac­tion seems to have been trig­gered. CAMRA mem­ber­ship kept climb­ing, hit­ting 30,000 by March that year, and spe­cial­ist pubs sprout­ing across the coun­try to cater for ‘the real ale craze’. New brew­ers began to appear in ever greater num­bers, too, and among the orig­i­nal set was Pollard’s of Red­dish Vale in Stock­port, run by a tow­er­ing man with a droop­ing mous­tache and thick side­burns – David Pol­lard.

Pol­lard left school and went straight into the brew­ing trade in 1950, work­ing along­side his father, George, as an appren­tice at Robinson’s in Stock­port. He went on there­after to take jobs at var­i­ous brew­eries across Eng­land, find­ing him­self repeat­ed­ly shunt­ed on as, one by one, they fell to the takeover mania of the Big Six. He became increas­ing­ly angry and frus­trat­ed, as expressed in a 1975 arti­cle in the Observ­er:

The accoun­tants and engi­neers had start­ed run­ning things. All the big firms want­ed were pas­teurised, car­bon­at­ed beers with no taste or char­ac­ter.

In around 1968 he start­ed his own busi­ness – a small shop sell­ing home brew­ing equip­ment and ingre­di­ents, on Hill­gate in Stock­port. Until 1963 home brew­ing had need­ed a license but when Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer Regi­nald Maudlin removed that require­ment, a small boom com­menced. News­pa­pers and mag­a­zines were filled with recipes and how-to guides, and Boots the Chemist began to sell brew­ing kits to a new band of enthu­si­asts. Amidst all that excite­ment, Pollard’s shop was a suc­cess, and soon moved to larg­er premis­es on near­by Bux­ton Road.

Ther­a­peu­tic as home brew­ing might have been for him, how­ev­er, what he real­ly want­ed to be doing was mak­ing beer for sale in pubs and clubs. Buoyed by the rise of CAMRA, and per­haps aware of the recent small brew­ery open­ings in Litch­bor­ough and Sel­by, he bought £5,000 worth of new brew­ing equip­ment, and invest­ed a fur­ther £5,000 in premis­es and ingre­di­ents. The site he chose, large­ly because it was cheap and the water was good, was a small unit in the recent­ly-opened Red­dish Vale Indus­tri­al Estate in the coun­try­side south of Man­ches­ter, where the low, red-brick build­ings of a sub­stan­tial 19th Cen­tu­ry print­ing plant had been con­vert­ed into work­shops.

Pollard's Brewery, 1979.
Pol­lard’s Brew­ery in 1979 via The Red­dish Vale Coun­try Park his­to­ry web­site.

As well as new equip­ment, Pol­lard also pushed the boat out when it came to select­ing a strain of yeast. Where­as oth­er small brew­ers were sup­plied with buck­ets of from the back doors of big­ger region­al brew­eries, or used dried home-brewer’s yeast, Pol­lard approached the Brew­ing Indus­try Research Foun­da­tion at Nut­field in Sur­rey and arranged to be sup­plied with a pure sam­ple of one of the strains pre­served in their cul­ture bank. Yeast is such an enor­mous con­trib­u­tor of flavour and aro­ma in brew­ing that this deci­sion must sure­ly have gone a long way to ensur­ing his beer stood out in the local mar­ket. Had he arranged with Robinson’s to use their yeast, as might well have been tempt­ing giv­en his fam­i­ly con­nec­tions, his beer would almost inevitably have been very like theirs. His mis­sion was clear­ly to do some­thing dif­fer­ent – to give con­sumers some real vari­ety.

Anoth­er sign that he was part of a new brew­ing cul­ture was in the for­mu­la­tion of his recipes. Like Mar­tin Sykes at Sel­by, Pol­lard made much of the qual­i­ty of his ingre­di­ents, brew­ing with malt only rather than adding sug­ar to boost the strength, as was com­mon in larg­er brew­eries. Sug­ar has been used in British brew­ing for cen­turies not only to increase alco­holic strength while sav­ing on raw mate­r­i­al costs, but also to thin the body of the beer (to make it more ‘drink­able’); to add colour, in the case of dark sug­ars; and to add a range of often sub­tle flavours. Nonethe­less, this was to become an impor­tant dis­tinc­tion between big, old-fash­ioned brew­ers and those that were small­er and more youth­ful in their out­look. Pol­lard, like many who fol­lowed, wasn’t heed­ing the call of the SPBW to make beer as it used to be, but rather mak­ing beer as he want­ed it to be, and as he thought the mar­ket desired. That is, whole­some, and pure.

He began brew­ing test batch­es of John Bar­l­ey­corn (JB) best bit­ter in the sum­mer of 1975, with launch sched­uled for August. With a team of four work­ing every day of the week, Pol­lard expect­ed to pro­duce the equiv­a­lent of around four casks a day, to be deliv­ered in a dray which was actu­al­ly a repur­posed milk float. The ven­ture was in imme­di­ate suc­cess.

He arrived, unin­vit­ed, at CAMRA’s first nation­al beer fes­ti­val at Covent Gar­den in Lon­don in Sep­tem­ber 1975 with a cask of ale in the back of his Mini. After some nego­ti­a­tion, the team run­ning the fes­ti­val agreed to take it even though it hadn’t been ordered. As it hap­pened, the bar sell­ing it was mobbed, and every drop sold out ‘lit­er­al­ly with­in hours’, accord­ing to a con­tem­po­rary report in CAMRA’s newslet­ter, What’s Brew­ing. Drinkers were des­per­ate for some­thing, any­thing, new.

The fol­low­ing month, a pub in Hyde, Greater Man­ches­ter, owned by CAMRA’s new pub com­pa­ny, CAMRA Real Ale Invest­ments, began sell­ing Pollard’s JB and report­ed that it was shift­ing almost as well as sim­i­lar beers from bet­ter-estab­lished local brew­eries, Boddington’s and Hyde’s. It seemed peo­ple liked the oppor­tu­ni­ty to drink some­thing dif­fer­ent and, per­haps, to sup­port an under­dog.

By 1977, Pol­lard had expand­ed the brew­ery once, and had plans to do so again, up to a 100 bar­rel plant, to meet huge lev­els of local demand for his beer. The ‘micro-brew­ery’, as this type of set up would soon come to be known, was here to stay, even if Pol­lard’s itself would cease trad­ing in April 1982, fore­shad­ow­ing the Great Shake Out to come.

A ver­sion of this piece was first pub­lished on the Greater Man­ches­ter Ale News web­site and revised for inclu­sion in our short e‑book Back of a Beer Mat in 2015. Many of the details here come from either ‘David Pol­lard makes his pint’, The Observ­er, 22 June 1975, p.14, or ‘Sweet But Bit­ter Taste of Suc­cess for a Takeover Vic­tim’, Michael Hard­man, What’s Brew­ing, April 1977, p.5. We also referred to A His­to­ry of Stock­port Brew­eries by Mike Ogden, pub­lished in 1987.

25 thoughts on “Only a Northern Brewer”

    1. It is – sold off at around the time the brew­ery fold­ed, we gath­er. Aston­ish­ing, real­ly. Still looks to have a very 1968 frontage, too, from Street View.

  1. Fab­u­lous. When­ev­er I hear the “+/- thir­ty years” argu­ment about US brew­ing I remind myself that it’s “+/- forty years” since the UK brew­ers trig­gered the revival / preser­va­tion­ist move­ment. Much more acknowl­edged in the north­east where dis­ci­ples of the UK brew­ers brought the open square method still used in some spaces. If I were to ask to join you in a research project (as if I haven’t bad­gered you) it would be to trace the 1963–1980 home brew­ing play­ers, Ama­teur Wine­mak­er colum­nists and the Dave Line effect. I have a bit of that stuff hav­ing home­brewed in the mid-80s buy­ing my stuff from shops, sourc­ing their equip­ment and guides from Britain. But not enough. I’d love a crack at the AW archives. Have you come across a source of old issues?

    1. Alan, a “+/- fifty years” argu­ment might be more pre­cise in dat­ing the start ofAmer­i­ca’s “revival / preser­va­tion­ist move­ment.” Fritz May­tag pur­chased and ‘craft-ified’ Anchor Brew­ing in 1965.

      1. 1965 is also coin­ci­den­tal­ly (?) when brew­ing was revived at Traquair House in Scot­land. But I think Alan is fun­da­men­tal­ly right – those are out­liers and what came to be known first as micro­brew­ing, then as craft beer, *was* up and run­ning ear­li­er in the UK.

        1. I’ll defer to you on beer things U.K., but to call Fritz May­tag’s Anchor Brew­ing (and its sem­i­nal influ­ence upon the U.S. ‘craft’ revival) an “out­lier” is, at gen­tle best, revi­sion­ist indeed.

          1. But it was­n’t a new brew­ery. I think that’s an impor­tant dif­fer­ence. I’d liken it more to a small British region­al brew­ery that had dodged takeovers and retained an inter­est­ing prod­uct. More like Youngs than Pol­lards.

          2. My work­ing the­o­ry is mul­ti­ple foun­da­tions for US craft: Euro-imports, Austin and the sur­viv­ing region­als like Anchor and Yeungling plus the Cana­di­ans. East coast and west coast were not real­ly speak­ing to each oth­er in 1979–1981 so grew up spon­ta­neous­ly based on indi­vid­ual inter­est. The cur­rent trend of award­ing a gold star to one influ­ence or a few founders is both revi­sion­ist and a sign of the poor research that plagues US beer.

          3. What hap­pened between Maytag’s pur­chase of Anchor and New Albion start­ing up in 1976? If noth­ing much else hap­pened in those eleven years, then yes, Anchor is an out­lier, how­ev­er impor­tant and sem­i­nal it may have been in oth­er respects.

  2. I won­der if the Red­dish indus­tri­al estate men­tioned is the same one Thirst Class Ale cur­rent­ly reside on. Not sure but would be a nice foot­note to the sto­ry to have a well respect­ed local micro brew­ery on the same spot all these years lat­er.

    1. No it’s not the same one I’m afraid. This is an inter­est­ing piece – as far as it goes. The first (and as it turns out only) Pol­lards tied house, the Glouces­ter Arms on Regent Road in Sal­ford, was a right old dump and could­n’t have helped the brew­ery much. What hap­pened lat­er is inter­est­ing too with David Pol­lard going off to the USA and then return­ing to Stock­port with plans for a brew­pub which came to nought.

      1. Would be inter­est­ing to hear more. We’re draw­ing a blank on any sources after the ear­ly 1980s, except for an email we got today from some­one whose fam­i­ly had deal­ings with Mr Pol­lard con­tain­ing a fair­ly grim account (unver­i­fied, as yet) of what became of him after the brew­ery fold­ed.

  3. A crack­ing straw-coloured beer. Loved going into the pub oppo­site the Pic­cadil­ly con­course ramp (Coach & Hors­es ???) that always used to have it on in the late 70’s and ear­ly 80’s

    1. Yes, the amaz­ing­ly grot­ty Coach & Hors­es always sold it – lat­er a rare out­let for Win­kles Sax­on Cross Bit­ter too.

      1. And a rare out­let to the West of the Pen­nines for Tay­lors Land­lord in the ear­ly 1980’s ?

  4. I don’t think you’ve got it right about sug­ar. Its prin­ci­pal func­tions seem to have been flavour and colour, espe­cial­ly in Mild. That it was­n’t par­tic­u­lar­ly about cost is demon­start­ed by the fact that brew­ers con­tin­ued to use sug­ar even when it was more expen­sive than malt. And the invert and pro­pri­etary sug­ars usu­al­ly used in brew­ing aren’t 100% fer­mentable, either, so don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly make a nbeer thin.

    1. It’s pos­si­ble we’re over-extrap­o­lat­ing from the world of home­brew­ing where crap kits are bulked out with cane sug­ar. Cer­tain­ly by the 1970s peo­ple like Pol­lard did seem to view it as a nasty cor­ner-cut­ting addi­tive rather than an inte­gral ingre­di­ent, for what­ev­er rea­son.

      1. Depends on the sug­ar. I have long con­sid­ered Orval pos­si­bly the world’s finest beer, and that includes can­dy sug­ar. Cer­tain­ly some have been used for colour­ing and flavour­ing pur­pos­es, but there’s no doubt some brew­eries were using it on an indus­tri­al scale to reduce costs at one point, as the Amer­i­cans used maize and the Chi­nese used rice.

        1. I’ve nev­er seen brew­ing records where sug­ar was being used that way. Flaked maize or grits filled that role. If sug­ar was just being used as a cheap fer­mentable, thay’d have used it in its cheap­est form. But they did­n’t, they used rel­a­tive­ly expen­sive spe­cial­ist sug­ars.

          1. Quite right Ron ,
            Inci­den­tal­ly, flaked rice also crops up in an ear­ly Magee’s P.A recipe from 1903 , the sug­ar is the dev­il incar­nate idea, apart from being equine odure; prob­a­bly does stem from the severe lack of BREWING sug­ars avail­able to the home­brew­ers of the 70’s & 80’s.

        1. Well, it could be the oth­er way around. By the mid-70s Dave Line is writ­ing guides to how all malt beer can be made eas­i­ly at home. Per­haps its not so much sug­ar is evil as sug­ar is not nec­es­sary.

          1. Except sug­ar is nec­es­sary to get some British beer styles right. David Line may well have gone all malt sim­ply because the right brew­ing sug­ars weren’t avail­able to home brew­ers. They still aren’t, for that mat­ter.

          2. [Try­ing to respond to Ron… Not sure it will line up this far down the thread…]

            Good point. Resources were quite lim­it­ed. Must check with the Big Book of Brew­ing to see if he has an invert recipe.

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