Rugby league star-turned entrepreneur Andy Gascoigne is a perfectionist who speaks his mind and follows his dreams. The microbrewer reveals his plans for 2020, writes Lizzie Murphy.
Some of the best business ideas are said to have started on the back of a cigarette packet and in Andy Gascoigne’s case it was true.
In his early microbrewing days, the owner of Haworth Steam Brewery wrote down a new recipe for a beer called On Your Tod and it won awards at three different beer festivals over the same weekend.
However, disaster struck when the packet got thrown away and he spent years trying to remember it.
All of Gascoigne’s beers, including By ‘Eck and Over Yonder, are based on the Yorkshire dialect. The 57-year-old is a very proud Yorkshireman who clearly isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
“Yorkshire is my passion,” he says. “I couldn’t think of being from anywhere else. Some people might say I’m quite brash but I’m not really. You might as well say what you feel.”
Haworth Steam Brewery, based on the village’s cobbled Main Street, is one of the smallest independent microbreweries in the country. It also produces small batch handcrafted gins as well as its own range of tonics.
The brewery’s bistro is always fully-booked at the weekend thanks to a popular home-cooked menu by Gascoigne’s wife, Mandy.
The business, which turned over £1.2m last year and is profitable, is a true family affair. The couple’s daughter, Kelly, takes care of sales, while Gascoigne’s brother works in the brewery.
It’s a set-up that he is very happy with. “It’s making my family a bit wealthier rather than other people, and I can trust them,” he says.
Gascoigne, who grew up in Wakefield, started his career in the Royal Green Jackets regiment of the Army after leaving school but returned home after his father died.
He embarked on a 20-year professional rugby league career during the 1980s and 90s after he was spotted by coach Peter Fox who signed him up to play for Hunslet in Leeds. He went on to play for Bramley, Hull, Keighley, Leeds and Doncaster before finishing his career in York.
At the same time Gascoigne started a business with his brother building conservatories. “I’d work Monday to Friday during the day and played rugby in the evenings and at weekends,” he says. “That’s how it was in those days.”
The highlight, he says, was playing for Doncaster when the club was promoted to the Super League. “We got the keys to the city and went on an open top bus and all that. It was a fantastic year for me.”
When he retired, he embarked on his first pub venture, taking over the Waggon and Horses at Oxenhope. However, he soon got bored. “I never wanted to just run a pub, it was too easy for me, so I decided to learn how to brew,” he says.
Gascoigne learned the beer-making process by working for free at a brewery in Rochdale. He took the knowledge back to his own pub and launched a microbrewery. “I just fell in love with doing that job,” he says.
After a few years, Gascoigne decided he wanted more of a challenge so he sold the pub and the conservatories business and the family bought a former fish and chip restaurant on the Isle of Seil off the west coast of Scotland to convert into a pub and microbrewery.
Channel Four followed the Gascoignes’ adventure for a year as part of a documentary called Life Begins Again. It proved to be a savvy business move as people came from all over the world to visit the pub they had seen on the television. “We had a whale of a time and made some great friends there,” he says.
The Gascoignes ran the Oyster Bar for six years before they sold the business for four times what they paid for it and moved back to Yorkshire.
“I got a bit homesick and I was so bored in winter because nobody was there. I think it’s just the way I am, I’m always looking for the next move.”
The couple moved to Leeds and decided to take a break from business for a year but Gascoigne started getting itchy feet after nine months and discovered an old greengrocers in Haworth he could turn into a pub. “Mandy didn’t want to do it,” he recalls. “It was falling down, it was complete madness.”
Gascoigne talked her round to the idea, they did it up, and opened what is now the Haworth Steam Brewery.
However, the brewery part of the business was based in Cleckheaton where another pub, the Rose and Crown, came up for sale. Gascoigne bought it in 2014 without realising how much work it would take to restore. “It was horrendous, it took me 18 months to do it up,” he says. The brewery was relocated to the back of the pub and it was a huge success, winning a number of awards.
However, after 12 months, they decided to let go of the Rose and Crown, relocate the brewery to Leeds and move their focus back to the Haworth pub and bistro.
Gascoigne’s feet soon started itching again and in 2016 he decided to enter into the gin market. “I couldn’t believe it, everyone wanted to buy it and it flew,” he says.
As well as selling a range under the Haworth name behind the bar, Gascoigne also sells through a wholesaler to independent retailers and pubs. He has since developed a range of sweet shop-inspired flavours under the Miss Molly’s name.
A range of tonics followed. He now distills 10 gins, produces nine tonics and brews about eight beers.
However, the saturated gin market is becoming a challenge. “There’s a gin in every town now. Keeping that market has been difficult,” he says.
Although Christmas is expected to boost sales – the firm will also have a pop-up shop in the White Rose Centre Debenhams in Leeds from November 24 – Gascoigne is concerned about what will happen to the gin market in 2020.
To counteract an expected shrink, he plans to launch a new range of beers with ring-pull tops plus a range of soft drinks with a sour twist in the New Year. “You have to keep going onwards and upwards, you can’t just stand there,” he says.
Gascoigne describes himself as a workaholic. “I work every day in one form or another. There’s no such thing as perfect but if I don’t like something, even if other people do, then it doesn’t make the cut. You’ve got to like something to put your name to it.”