As part of our regular Meet The Brewer Sessions, we catch up with the creators of some of our favourite beers.
This week, we find out more about Thirst Class Ale - whose Hoppy Go Lucky pale ale features in our Manchester Craft Beer Box HIP_2.
We spoke to founder and brewer Richard on taking the plunge from part time enthusiast to full time creator, building a brewery from scratch, and avoiding the ire of wedding shop proprietors...
Who are you?
I’m Richard – I set Thirst Class Ale up back in 2014. My passion for great beer began at uni in Sheffield during the late 90’s – the Sheffield beer scene was (and still is) among the best in the country and I spent most of my uni days avoiding lectures and drinking superb beers in great pubs.
Once I graduated (I must have gone to some lectures!) and moved back to Stockport I started a career in IT that kept me going for the next fifteen years. During that time I continued to visit great pubs and enjoy great beer, but it wasn’t until around 2012 that I got really into the new wave of American beer styles coming onto the scene. I became an immediate hophead and started attending the new and exciting beer festivals that were popping up and really getting to enjoy the variety available.
In 2013 I started home brewing properly – it was something I’d dabbled with at uni but this time I did it properly using malt and hops instead of the kits I’d used before. Totally bitten by the bug I started brewing loads of different styles and entering competitions that I did surprisingly well at – winning several gold, silver and bronze awards in national events.
In 2014 I won a home brewing competition ran by The Beermoth shop in Manchester. The prize was to brew my award winning beer with Jay Krause (now of Cloudwater) who at the time ran Quantum Brewing in Stockport. Brewing my beer for commercial release was about as exciting as it gets and this was the turning point that led me to open my own brewery.
Tell us about the brewery.
My initial thought was to brew part time so I could test the water without giving up my livelihood! I found a small unit in the centre of Stockport and brewed at weekends. I ordered some basic tanks from Italy and built the brewkit myself from scratch. It was a 300 litre kit and we still use it sometimes to try things out on. I was able to brew most weeks and the beers went in to casks, kegs and bottles.
The unit was underneath a wedding dress factory showroom, and the proprietor would come down most Saturdays and complain that the smell of the hops was putting her customers off! I stayed there for about eight months during which time everything I was brewing was flying out – the test had worked and it seemed the next step was to go bigger and take the plunge and quit my job. I handed my notice in towards the end of 2015 and found a much bigger unit (far away from any wedding dress manufacturers) in the Reddish area of Stockport.
Once again, I ordered in tanks and built the brewery mostly myself. It was a hard slog but I got the first beers out at the start of 2016 and have never looked back! I ran the brewery single-handed for a couple of years but we’re now a team of three – Peter, Mark and myself. We have a vague core range of beers but we also like to experiment with different styles and ingredients. To date we’ve brewed more than 100 different beers!
How have you found lockdown?
Lockdown has been tough for everyone and we’re no exception. We very quickly had to find new ways of doing things in order to survive. Initially everyone but me was on furlough and I spent the first few weeks after the pubs closed delivering beer direct to people’s doors. This non-contact delivery service worked really well and meant we got to sell through our stocks of beer before they went out of date which would have been devastating!
We finally sold through all our bottle stock so turned to putting our beers into cans to meet demand – initially using a mobile canning company who brought their canning machine to our brewery, but eventually we got our own canning line which we’ve had since February which gives us more scope to do smaller runs of more interesting beers!
Because we were brewing much less we also had chance to try a few things we’ve not been able to do before. In February we launched our first lager – Born Slippy – which has received some really positive reviews. Due to the length of time a lager needs to stay in the conditioning tank it’s not something we could have done when we were brewing to capacity as we could have brewed four of five beers in the same amount of time.
In November we also put our first beers ever in to barrels to age – again this isn’t something we’ve had the time or space to do so we’re really excited when we get to release them later this year.
Other than that we’ve really just done what we’ve needed to do to keep going, and like everyone else we’re excited for things opening up and being able to get to the pub again!
Tell us a bit more about the Hoppy Go Lucky?
I think we first brewed HGL back in 2018. People had been pointing out to us that most of our pale ales were around the 4.8% mark and they wanted something a bit more sessionable to drink! We put our heads together and came up with a 4.1% recipe that still had plenty of mouthfeel with a decent amount of hops and bitterness.
We launched it thinking it would be a prototype and something that we would potentially need to tweak but it got plenty of attention from day one and people really loved it so we’ve kept it the same ever since!
I personally really enjoy drinking HGL – I find a lot of pale ales these days are super pale and massively hoppy, whereas I really appreciate the hop-malt balance of this beer.
Any plans for the future?
We’re excited about our new cans and our upcoming barrel aged beers. We’re also hoping to produce a lot of new specials now we’re canning in house – I used to come up with all the recipes but now Peter and Mark are getting involved too and they’re coming up with some really great ideas.
Opening a taproom is something we’ve talked about quite a bit – and we were close to doing it prior to the pandemic hitting but fortunately we hadn’t committed to anything and we obviously decided it wasn’t the right time – but who knows, maybe we will in the not too distant future.
At the moment we’re just really keen to get through the pandemic and get back to the pub!
You can keep up to date with Thirst Class Ale by following them online and on social media: