Steve Briscoe: How I founded a Peerless brewery
I am a native of Cumbria, but I left home aged 16 to take up an apprenticeship with GEC Telecoms in Coventry.
It was the start of 30 years in an exciting industry. I rose from telecoms engineer to teaching people from all over the world at the Liverpool training school in the late eighties.
Finally I ended up as a sharp- suited sales and marketing executive. Over the years I enjoyed visits to more than 60 countries. But I loved getting home for a quiet pint of cask-conditioned ale.
That love of real ales developed in those early days in the Midlands. I mainly drank milds – Ansells Mild was consumed in vast quantities by thirsty car workers.
An early trip to Bass Brewery in Burton-on-Trent – the holy shrine of brewing – fuelled my enthusiasm. I took up home brewing and experimented with many brews. Finally, I decided to hang the suits in the wardrobe – they are still there – and set up my very own brewery in Birkenhead.
Although all the equipment was bought second-hand, the Peerless Brewing Company was still a huge investment for us – my wife, Rose, is a co-director.
Seeking a name we needed something memorable, but hopefully with a local connection. The long defunct Birkenhead Brewery had used an advertising slogan proclaiming “Peerless Ales”. It inspired us – and appears to be well chosen.
In just three years we have won many trophies from SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers. For the second year running, in 2012 we swept up four awards at the SIBA Northern Beer Competition. Our Jinja Ninja beer was also named the UK’s Champion Speciality Bottled Beer at SIBA’s National Beer Competition.
And after launching our new range recently, top beer guru Roger Protz is to include our Full Whack IPA in his new forthcoming book: Another 300 Beers To Try Before You Die! Truly terrific.
Business has gone from strength to strength. But as a small brewer you must be prepared to roll up your sleeves – brewing, cleaning, selling and delivering to pubs.
Now I have two enthusiastic young brewers on board. They have had a great input into the range, such as our new Peerless Pale.
This is a very exciting time for the brewing industry. Yes, it’s very competitive – UK independent brewers now number more than 1,000. But sales of cask ales are growing. People want beer with taste and provenance as they reject the bland mega brands.
Our focus at Peerless is totally on quality. Many people define brewing as an art. However, I believe that brewing is largely a technical process. Only by following rigorous processes can brewers produce consistently good beer.
Our challenge is to grow sales further outside the Wirral/Merseyside region.
I know we will never make a fortune. But there is nothing more satisfying than sitting in a pub watching people enjoy your beer and thinking “we made that”. The suits can stay in the wardrobe.
Steve Briscoe, managing director and head brewer of the Peerless Brewing Company, Birkenhead