There are lots of ingredients that go into making a great pub, but one of the most important surely has to be the quality of the beer. At the Three Shires Inn we are lucky to be based in a county with a veritable host of fantastic microbreweries, all producing great beers which can be enjoyed to quench your thirst after exploring the fells or just as a refreshing companion as you sit by the fire in the winter months.
We’ve been dropping in on our regular beer suppliers to find out a little bit more about their life in brewing. First up is Ian Bradley, managing director of the Coniston Brewery, which makes a much-loved range of traditional beers including the famous Bluebird Bitter.
The brewery has grown steadily since it began making beer to serve in Coniston’s Black Bull Inn, which Ian’s parents Ron and Susan began running in 1977.
“We first started brewing beer in 1995, when we were just one of six microbreweries in Cumbria,” says Ian.
“Dad went to Chichester to see his friends and they went to this little pub down the road that had its own brewery and he came back with the idea of doing it here. We went to a start-up brewing course at Sunderland University to get the basics and we met a brewing consultant and from the off the beers were really good. Everyone was really enthusiastic and it was obvious how big a market there was for these small breweries.
“The first two beers we brewed were the Old Man Ale and then the Coniston Bluebird Bitter and after three years of doing it, we won Champion Beer of Britain with our Coniston Bluebird and that really put us on the map. Over the years it has won dozens of awards but that was probably the pinnacle.
“There’s nothing particularly crazy about the recipe; it’s English Challenger Hops, some pale Maris Otter malt and a little bit of Crystal Malt, yeast, and obviously the mountain water from Levers Water behind us here in Coniston.
"There are probably lots of breweries making beers that are very similar, but with beer that doesn’t necessarily mean the result will be the same. We use a unique yeast and the water has its own special flavour and the equipment we use is unique as well, so I guess it all just comes together. We are always getting such good feedback from people about Bluebird and it makes it all worthwhile.
“We’re still based in the same building that I started the brewery in. We’ve added some tanks and things, but the guts of the brewery - the mash tun, the copper and the hot liquor tank - is still the original kit we started on. We’ve added more fermenters over the years and we built an extension on the brewery about 10 years ago so we had more space for conditioning. But everything is still handmade and there's no automation at all in the equipment.
“There are lots of flavoured beers you can buy now and ones that are super-hoppy, but over the years we’ve stuck to the traditional end of things, making bitters, stouts, English-style IPAs, pale ales and barley wines, so we’ve got about 10 to a dozen in the range. Every couple of years we’ll come up with something new and we’ll sell all of these at the Black Bull and in the pubs around the area.
“We make an IPA which, when we brought it out, was considered to be quite hoppy, but it really pales into insignificance compared to some of the hoppy beers these days. I guess we’ve always aimed to make beers that you can happily sit in the bar and sip away all evening. It's just about producing good beers on a small scale with the basic ingredients of water, hops, malt and yeast. It seems to have worked pretty well for us so far.”
Want to Know More?
Visit the breweries website to find out more about Coniston Bluebird and their award-winning range of beers.