The Lake District and Cumbria craft beer scene is flourishing, with an array of fabulous small breweries and distilleries offering up a varied range of tastes inspired by the beautiful countryside.
At Tractor Shed Brewing, Graeme Mitchell and his team blend international flavours with local tastes, and the quirky location makes this a really unique spot to sample craft beer in Cumbria. Read on to discover more about Graeme and the humble beginnings of his innovative craft beer company.
A grain of inspiration
I remember the Matthew Brown Brewery in Workington closing in 1986. I was just starting to enjoy beer (I won’t say how old I was) and it didn’t seem right! Matty’s Light at 2.6% was my tipple, the Slalom Lager and Slalom D being far too fizzy and strong for what I needed at the time. Like many in the town, I was angry and, I guess subconsciously, decided to do something about it.
Off to Newcastle University to carry on my (beer) studies I went. Four years later I had organised a Freshers Week, been elected President of the Student’s Union and secured various sponsorships with Newcastle Breweries – famous for “Newcy Broon” (or a “bottle ‘a dog” as the locals called it). Perhaps this explains why my studies faltered…
Whitbread Beer Company saw something in me and provided 11 more years of ‘beer development’. A spell in the USA launching Boddingtons as part of this was to prove mind-blowing. I was exposed to the explosion of ‘craft’ American beers such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada - American beer with flavour! Looking after beers such as Hoegaarden, Leffe and Staropramen in the UK strengthened my belief in beer authenticity and a sense of place. To me, it was always much more about the liquid in the bottle than the label on it.
Moving on to smaller things
When Whitbread was bought, merged and globalised, I was left looking for something more ‘real’ to engage with. I wanted to be a bigger cog in a smaller wheel, I suppose. A corporate career programme had concluded that I really wanted to be a lumberjack. Rather than relating to a Monty Python song, I took this as a metaphor for someone who would rather be outside with their sleeves rolled up, making something worthy, as opposed to sitting inside at a desk.
So with my wife, Rachel, and two young boys, Oliver and Matthew, I decided to take my midlife crisis early and up sticks from the comfortable South to move ‘home’ to West Cumbria and Workington. The side benefits were, of course, that our kids grew up close to their grandparents and developed decent accents. But how to bring in the money? Open a brewery, of course!
We started out as Mitchell Krause Brewing in 2009, an acknowledgement of my Anglo-German parentage. This seemed to support the idea of brewing a range of exciting ‘British Brewed Beers of the World’, too. After all, why should we, as a proud beer brewing and drinking nation, need to import certain styles of beer when we are more than capable of brewing them here? Our launch beers were a Czech-style Pilsner, an American-style Pale Ale, and a German-style Hefeweiss. Can you spot the influences from my Whitbread days? It was revolutionary, particularly in West Cumbria!
The trouble was that we were in the middle of a global financial crisis and this meant we had to gypsy brew to start with. That is where you have your beers, made to your recipes, brewed by someone else. It’s a good way to start a beer business, though. It lets you learn, make mistakes and fine-tune recipes and strategic direction without costing the earth. The goal was always to have my - I mean our! - own brewery, though.
Moving into the tractor shed
Fortunately, having grown up on the family farm, we were lucky enough to have buildings. Our old tractor shed seemed a suitable spot and so Tractor Shed Brewing was born and the original launch beers became Whistling Pig Pilsner, Mowdy Pale Ale and Heifer Hefe. We’ve added a Jinny Howelt Helles (German lager-style) and Clocker Stout (much better than the Irish Stout you may have heard of) along with Kessin’ Blonde. All are available year-round in pubs, hotels and shops throughout Cumbria and directly from the brewery if you’re passing.
We always wanted to stand out from the crowd. We were the first Cumbrian microbrewery to brew a lager and the first to sell it in cans. We’ve recently launched a limited edition Experimental range and so far have brewed a Kveik IPA (using a Norwegian farmhouse yeast), a Mango Berliner Weiss and a New England IPA. We’ll be brewing a whisky cask conditioned beer this winter amongst other weird and whacky brews.
Gin, a beer garden, and even more beer
The opening of a brewery beer garden after lockdown and the upcoming launch of Hawk Hill Gin (distilled on the farm) seems to have kept us busy and, I suppose, supports the lumberjack theory. We’re proud to be making really good local drinks, made by really good local staff and stocked in really good local outlets. We hope you find them if you’re staying in one of the delightful cottages with Sally’s Cottages, and please feel free to take some home and share with your family and friends. It feels great to be brewing in Workington again!
Find out more
This is a guest blog written by Graeme Mitchell of Tractor Shed Brewing. Find out more about classic and recent brews, as well as live music events, on their Facebook page.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing,
please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.