Published on February 14, 2017 | by Alastair Gilmour0
The Year of the Rooster
Teamwork is the name of the game at one North Yorkshire brewery and is a familiar face around the region’s pubs, writes Alastair Gilmour
According to the Chinese calendar, this is the Year of the Rooster. It’s also a timely event, being a taster to a North Yorkshire brewery’s 25th anniversary in 2018.
Knaresborough-based Roosters Brewery has developed a reputation for producing flavour-full and aroma-rich beers that excite the senses. Five years ago the business, founded by Sean and Alison Franklin in 1993, was bought by the local Fozard family who knew Roosters beers inside out and were keen to continue their success.
Over the past 24 years, Roosters has progressed from being a cask beer-only brewery (brewing beers ahead of their time) to packaging them in four formats – cask, keg, bottle and can. Twin brothers Tom and Oliver Fozard have seized that tradition of experimentation without losing sight of quality and consistency.
“We’ve always drunk Roosters beer,” says Tom Fozard, “ever since the both of us worked in pub kitchens as teenagers, sneaking pints after shifts and collecting glasses.”
Tom edited trade magazines for a publishing company, while Oliver worked for Daleside and Copper Dragon breweries – two outfits with terrific reputations.
“Oliver knew brewing well, but it took seven months for me to understand it all,” says Tom, who studied at Brewlab in Sunderland.
Roosters occupies a corrugated steel building on the banks of the River Nidd. The unusual shape of Nissen huts such as these, used widely during WWII for billeting troops, could present difficulties in some hands but brewers are by nature inventive and resourceful souls, so every piece of equipment and storage space takes maximum advantage of the half-cylindrical structure.
The line-up of five fermentation vessels, five conditioning tanks and two small bright beer tanks standing to attention along one side of the brewhouse ready for action is an impressive sight, as are the 45 hop varieties sitting in a cold store, a measure of the faith that the brewing team have in the power of the little green cone, let alone the £40,000 bulk expenditure on them.
A wall full of framed certificates, plus gold medals from the prestigious World Beer Cup and the International Beer Awards shout “because you’re worth it”.
And straight away, it’s noticeable how well the brewhouse team works closely together with a bond that goes beyond ordinary workmate status. It’s camaraderie laced with humour and mutual respect.
Tom says: “We’re really proud of our team here, they’re never off sick. All the guys have breakfast and lunch together and sit around discussing the job. We all buy into the ethos – everybody gets it – and have the same sort of mindset.”
“It’s been steady progress since we took over five years ago. It was cask beer only at first and it remains a big part of our heritage which we’re very proud of – still 85% cask – but we’ve introduced craft keg and we can our beer in-house. We do 900 cans an hour which isn’t massively fast but it’s all hand-fed, so we can fill 5,000-6,000 a week.
“That proved to be one of the best decisions we’ve made. It’s a massive market and limited for us only by storage space. We can’t keep up with demand.
“It’s all about organic growth; we’re not looking to be the next regional brewery and have no grand plans to be massive but to focus on brewing the best products we can. We tend to just keep our heads down and get on with it – but who knows what the next five years will bring?
“We still get a big thrill out of seeing people our beer on the bar and we still want it to be a treat and not in every pub all the time. People can become less engaged (with your product) if you’re in eight out of ten pubs.”
Yankee (4.3% abv) is Roosters’ flagship beer, representing about 40% of total production, then comes Baby-Faced Assassin (6.1% abv). Tom and Oliver have introduced the likes of jasmine tea, orange peel, lemongrass, coffee and ginger as flavour sources, pushing people’s perceptions and taking drinkers on a journey from the core range, creating excitement and complementing what’s already lurking in grains and hops – and having a bit of fun along the way.
“The Roosters approach to beer has always been led by an emphasis on flavours and aroma, with bitterness more as a balance and a byproduct of the hops,” says Tom. “We do these things because we want them to be very good beers and don’t want to be just another one following.
“For example, our Throwback Vintage Stock Ale (5.3% abv) developed 18 months ago has just been released. It’s an old-school ale using Chevallier, a classic heritage barley from the Victorian era, with dark Muscovado sugar and conditioned on staves from red wine oak casks. We took our time with it and will always do things like that when we’re ready to do them.
“Growth and development have always been within our means; we don’t have reps out on the road – in fact a lot of our beers sell themselves. The North East has some brilliant pubs – Newcastle in particular. It’s an area we love and we’re lucky to be in the likes of the Crown Posada, Lady Grey’s and The Schooner on a regular basis.”
The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person is born has a profound influence on personality, saying: “This is the animal that hides in your heart”. The year 1993 when the brewery was born was also a Rooster year – so plans for 2017 are well worth crowing about.
Regular Roosters’ beers:
Yankee (4.3% abv)
Yorkshire Pale Ale – YPA (4.1% abv)
Fort Smith American Pale Ale (5.0% abv)
Baby-Faced Assassin (6.1% abv)
Buckeye Pale Session Ale (3.5% abv)
Highway Fifty-One Dry-Hopped Pale Ale (3.7% abv)
Londinium Tradtional Coffee Porter (5.5% abv), a collaboration with Taylors of Harrogate.
Limited-edition February specials include:
Throwback Stock Ale (5.3% abv) and All Star Yakima Pale Ale (4.3% abv).