Published on July 5, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour0
Small businesses start up for all sorts of different reasons – a passion for the sector, a desire to do something else, or a complete change from the norm. One Durham bottle shop opened its doors in April armed with all those aspirations, but a new baby and the motivation of personal tragedy created an unstoppable force.
Ben and Laura Younger’s Hop Knocker in Gilesgate, Durham, is proving very popular indeed, particularly among the student population. The couple juggle the opening times between his full-time career as an asbestos consultant and caring for two children – another full-time career.
“Laura had our baby nine weeks ago and we opened the shop eight weeks ago, so it was all a bit chaotic,” says Ben. “I’ve asked the company I work with for part-time hours; I can’t expect Laura to do it all.
“We decided to open the bottle shop and taproom because my mate had been battling cancer for three or four years and we always thought he was going to get better. One of the things he would always say was ‘do something that makes you happy’ which really spurred me on. I love cooking and originally thought about doing something in that line.
“Also our friends Chloe and Liam from South Shields died in the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 and at that time nothing else really mattered. But you have to keep going – for them as much as for us. The saying goes ‘you only live once’.”
Ben and Laura are heavily involved with the Chloe & Liam Forever Trust, raising money through beer events for the charity that was set up to nurture the talents of young aspiring sportspeople and performers to help them to reach their full potential – something that Chloe Rutherford (17), a talented performer, and keen cricketer Liam Curry (19) were tragically denied.
The Hop Knocker logo is based on the Durham cathedral sanctuary knocker and a green hop theme runs through the furnishings and décor. Solid timber tables suit the single-room space and a wide window ledge is a great people-watcher perch. Beers sit on metal shelving and with six keg taps and a pallet-wood counter, it’s a simple but highly effective operation.
“There’s still a lot to do in the shop,” says Ben. “We started off with three layers of bottles on four shelves but now we’ve stopped having to double up which we had to do to make it look more full.
Every now and again I think ‘how did I do this?’.
“I love it when people come in and sit at the tables, not previously having known each other, then they leave together for a drink in Durham. We like to get families in, we’re a family business, after all. And people like the personal touch – Laura jokes that her choice of candles, cushions and potted plants get more likes on Facebook than my beers do.”
The Hop Knocker word has spread – the owner of Leviathan Brewery in Birmingham took a train with his beer and the Tooth & Claw experimental micro at Camerons Brewery have been hosting tastings of the different beers they produce which is expected to be an ongoing feature.
Ben says: “We’re mixing things up with beers that people have never heard of plus all the popular stuff – you need to have that balance between high end and what you might call gateway beers.
We’ve been to the US, France, Holland, New Zealand and Spain and enjoyed beer wherever we’ve been and I’m trying to get hold of some New Zealand products. People are enjoying new takes on familiar styles.”
Ben admits the day-job is stressful and he tends to take it home with him, but he reckons he’s getting it right.
“I’ve found a balance juggling three things,” he says. “The proper job, which I like to call it, plus home life with my wife and two children and this new venture which has gone too far now to be called a hobby.”