How Old Now Brown Cow?
Unbelievably, Brown Cow brewery run by Sue and Keith Simpson was 15 years old on 17th July 2012. Do you remember 1997? Chelsea won the FA Cup, Pete Sampras was Wimbledon lawn tennis champion, Woolworth’s announced the closure of its remaining stores and after 18 years of Conservative government, Tony Blair became the youngest Prime Minister since 1812 as Labour swept back into power to the anthem of “Things can only get better”. And on the real ale front, it certainly did get better in Yorkshire as Brown Cow brewery was born in Barlow near Selby.
Sue and Keith moved to Barlow in 1984 into an ex public house, the former Brown Cow Inn ,which was built in 1790 and had a license until 1957 after which it became a private house. At that time they had absolutely no plans to start a brewery on site and carried on with their full time jobs for the next thirteen years.
However after having been made redundant Sue found that she had time to make things instead of buying them. Of all the things that she turned her hands to, her beer brewing was the best. With husband Keith passionate about “proper” beer the seeds were sown, largely encouraged by the licensee of the Chequers pub at Ledsham where the landlord, Chris Wraith said “You brew it and I will sell it”. Sue did her homework, undertook a basic training course and bought a 2.5 barrel plant. On July 17th 1997 the first beer was officially brewed and the Chequers took the beer.
The brewery itself is in a small renovated building behind the Simpson’s home and houses what has grown to be a six-barrel plant, currently producing its maximum capacity of 17 barrels a week (612 gallons). Much of the equipment has been purpose-built. Unique items include the labour saving cask washer and tilting mash tun.
Over 1300 (300 different) beers have been produced over the years, many with unusual names. Keith must have an unwritten book in his head waiting to burst out with all of the wondrous stories relating to these unique beer names. The five core beers are equally marvellous and of these Captain Oates Mild and Mrs Simpson’s Vanilla Porter are particular favourites when they appear at festivals.
Sue is firmly in charge of brewing although she now receives help with some of the labour intensive jobs. In 2004 Keith decided that he had done enough to aid the computer revolution and took the plunge to run the business on a full time basis with Sue. Keith has only once brewed a beer and that was due to unusual circumstances. In 2005 it had been agreed to brew a special beer for the Rook and Gaskill in York called “Hang ‘em High”. Unfortunately, Sue was out of action due to a fall and Keith stepped into the breach to save the day. Under strict close supervision (ie Sue sat on a stool in the corner !), using a new fermenter Keith brewed the beer which turned out rather well by all accounts.
Their beers are now served throughout Yorkshire and beyond.
And of course – Brown Cow beer is still also served at Chequers pub, Ledsham – where it all began.
Author: David Litten