It’s not every day someone goes on a trip to Germany and gets so inspired by a community brewery that the minute he steps off the plane back home he decides to set up his own, based on a famous Sunderland brewery name.
Whilst it’s taken seven years to get here, Steven Smith and his business partner Michael Thompson, who both live in the city, have been able to successfully rescue the Vaux name and bring back the brewing of Vaux beer to Sunderland and the wider North East.
It has been a real labour of love for Steven in particular, who has invested a huge amount of time as well as money to get to this point but the effort is now paying off. He said: “The time really felt right for our company to start up. We are seeing development on the former brewery site now. It’s 20 years since Vaux closed and I think that enough time has elapsed that people are very keen to celebrate its past, rather than just sadness at its demise. It was a hugely important part of our city and that is why people seem so keen for us to succeed. It really does spur you on when you hear from people who love what we’re trying to do. It makes the years of work all worthwhile to be honest.”
The first step was embark on test recipes and from there Vaux Brewery developed its first beers for two decades. Steven and Michael, along with their friends Matthew Jackson and Ross Palmer chose to work with a Sunderland University spin-out company, Brewlab, to create their first beers. Brewlab is one of the world’s leading beer development facilities, and is also based in Sunderland. The company was also home to some of Vaux former staff, keeping the expertise in the city.
Michael commented: “We wanted the business to be lean and scalable and after we looked at all the different options we decided contract brewing was the best way to launch our first beers at this initial stage. It’s not something we intend to do forever but it’s right for us at this point on our journey.”
Steven added: “The whole point of us starting this business was to play our part in regenerating Sunderland, creating more pride in our home city and at the same time contributing to the craft beer market.”
The company launched four beers at Easter including a Session IPA, a German kölsch style beer, a New England IPA and a Best Bitter. The Session IPA, named ‘Decent Days And Nights’ after a song by the famous Sunderland band, The Futureheads, has been particularly popular with bars and other venues in the city.
The kölsch style beer is based on a style of beer originating from Cologne and is called ‘Alter Ego’. It is a hybrid beer which uses ale yeast but is matured like a lager. The fact that it’s fermented at higher temperatures and matured for six weeks produces a more complex beer than a typical commercial lager.
Michael explained why this particular beer was something they were particularly proud of producing: “We wanted to produce a beer that was approachable for people who typically drink lager whilst retaining our focus on creating a beer we’re proud of. The yeast for this beer comes from a brewery in Cologne and has been cultured for us by Brewlab so that the beer is as authentic to the style as possible.”
The company also released a Best Bitter named ‘Ernest’ and a New England IPA named ‘Kicks Like A Mule’ which were released as part of its relaunch at Easter and were favourably received. The company’s first four beer recipes were fine-tuned following a tasting session where the company invited email subscribers to a private event.
That tasting session was set up at Fausto Coffee on Roker seafront in Sunderland, where supporters of the business gave their frank views of a total of 9 different beers. After making a few tweaks the company chose four beers to use as part of its launch at various venues including the iconic Dun Cow and other venues in the city’s Minster Quarter.
Steven said: “We have spent the last few months fine tuning those recipes and planning further recipes for release in the coming months. Such is the interest in the business we seem to be developing a fan-base rather than a customer-base. There is a huge amount of affection for this name and our products which is great to be a part of to be honest.”
We are also very excited to be now stocked in the Sunderland Empire and that our own IPA will be the only one on offer at the Book of Mormon launch. The audience for this show is exactly our demographic.
The company is keen to collect images of the old brewery in Sunderland or photos connected to any memorabilia. Anyone with photos can send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next month the entrepreneurs share the second stage of their plans and launch the new phase of craft beers.