No business like brew business for Potton's new beer baron
PUBLISHED: 12:02 06 May 2018
As the taxi powered through the driving rain and green Bedfordshire fields whizzed past on either side, the driver exclaimed: "I had no idea someone was brewing in Potton again."
When the popular old Potton Brewery closed after new owners ran it out of business, its customers were left disappointed.
However, one man is reviving brewing in the town.
Tucked away in a small unit just off Potton’s Market Square, the Potton Brewing Company is run and owned by Richard Haigh.
“I got into home brewing about three years ago and I know the guys who run The Rising Sun,” he starts, by way of explaining how the company was set up.
“For years we’d been talking about setting up a brewery and stopping the commute into London, so it just gradually formed as an idea because of too many trains cancelled and bedtimes missed.”
As an architect, Richard had been working in London for the past 20 years, travelling to and from the capital on a daily basis – but with a young family to look after, it became too much.
“I’ve lived in Potton on and off since about 1997,” he said.
“I moved to London for a few years, lived with my girlfriend who is now my wife – but we moved back to Potton in 2008.
“I was still working in London though, so for the last 20 years I’ve been commuting, doing work for several architectural firms.
“It just got the point where I had a young family and I didn’t want to be doing a three-hour commute every day.
“I did a brewing course last April. I saw that as make or break if I enjoy it and it makes sense, I’ll properly put plans into action.”
Sat high in the rafters, overlooking the brewery floor through a thick cloud of steam, Richard explained how he found this old, out-of-sight building.
“I discovered this place last May,” he said.
“I put a request out on Facebook and the guys who rent the unit opposite told me about this place.
“It was pretty much a derelict shell. It had a hole in the roof, a hole in the wall and was full of rubbish.
“I started clearing it out last summer, so I haven’t been here long.”
With a site found for his microbrewery, Richard set up a minibar at Potton Summer Fayre, allowing the public to try his homebrew beer – and receved what he described as a “brilliant” reaction that was “unanimously positive”.
The two-and-a-half-barrel brewery – which became fully operational early last month – produces 20 casks of beer a week, equivalent to 720 pints.
Brewing four core beers, with “experimental” beer being made every few months, Richard’s new enterprise has made a positive start.
“When I said to people about setting up a brewery they said ‘oh that’s a brilliant idea’ and ‘we’ve really missed having a brewery’, so there was a ready-made market for it.
“From chatting to Bob, who ran the old brewery, he told me their single biggest account was with the public. It wasn’t with any of the pubs – they sold more beer to the public than they did to any pub.
“There’s not much brewing going on in the area, so there’s little competition and a massive demand for local beer.
“I brew four core beers here.
“The first is Republic IPA, which is a 4.2-per-cent really pale beer.
We’ve got a Best. Everyone has to have a Best, it’s just traditional.
“I’ve got a slightly sweet, very smooth Porter which is 4.7-per-cent – and an American Red.
“When I was just doing homebrew stuff I tried pretty much everything. If I could, I’d brew anything and everything.”
Richard is currently running the brewery single-handedly on a part-time basis but he is keen to expand the company if demand for his beer increases.
He told the Comet: “It’s just me at the moment.
“I don’t want to be doing the 100-hour weeks that the likes of Brewdog do, but I would certainly be interested in employing two or three more people.
“Depending on how demand escalates, or doesn’t, I’ll either move to doing it full-time or stay part-time.
“If there is demand to expand I’d definitely be interested.”