Little Valley aims to overcome bottleneck with £200,000 plant

LITTLE Valley Brewery has plans to invest around £200,000 in a bottling plant to cope with rising demand for its beers.

Sue Cooper and Wim van der Spek

The brewery, which sits high on the Pennine moorland of Cragg Vale near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, is owned by couple Sue Cooper and Wim van der Spek, who have big expansion plans for the business for 2014.

Ms Cooper told the Yorkshire Post that Little Valley is one of the few micro-breweries in the UK which produces wholly organic and vegan real ale. The brewery’s beers are produced in bottle and in cask.

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Dutchman Mr van der Spek, a master brewer and qualified food scientist, set up the business in 2005, with Ms Cooper, who worked primarily in the not-for-profit sector for 20 years, joining Little Valley in 2008.

In its last financial year, Little Valley saw turnover rise by 52 per cent year-on-year to £445,000, with a rise of around 15 per cent forecast for this year.

Ms Cooper said: “Our current bottleneck is our bottling now and so we are investing in a semi-automated bottling plant for next year so that we can grow much more from 2014 onwards.

“We produce more in bottle than we do in cask.

“We are almost at capacity in terms of what we can currently do with bottling.

“We’ve always done the bottling in-house, we’ve never contracted out.

“We bottle by hand so it’s very labour intensive, you’ve got to be very disciplined to do it.”

Little Valley is keen to keep the bottling in-house and hopes its new bottling machine will be up and running by May.

“The demand for our beer is definitely growing,” said Ms Cooper.

The brewery’s customers include Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Booths, as well as independent stores, pubs and food manufacturers such as Bettys Bakery of Harrogate.

“We are also the producers of the Ampleforth Abbey beer. We developed the beer with the Benedictines and brew and bottle it here on the windy hill tops of Cragg Vale,” said Ms Cooper.

The business also exports to seven countries including Sweden, Denmark, Hong Kong, Norway, Ireland, Holland and Finland.

Ms Cooper said: “We are having growth all the way across all the different markets we’ve got.

“We now have a five staff, including ourselves, and three self-employed people and then in the New Year we have a full-time assistant brewer start- ing.

“I’m hoping by March of next year we will have a full-time person in the office,” she added.

Little Valley is benefiting from consumers’ desire for a wider choice of beers.

“I always say we go beyond the standard bitter. We have in our range, for example, a wheat beer, it’s called Hebden’s Wheat.

Wheat beers are generally Belgium-style or German-style and so I think Wim’s background and what he brings to the brewery, he brings a bit of the continent to what we do in Yorkshire.

“The breadth of the range is something that’s appealing to a lot of people.”

Little Valley is planning to play a part in celebrating the Grand Depart next year.

The Tour de France 2014 will start in Yorkshire in July and the route will run in close proximity to Little Valley. Ms Cooper said: “We will be developing a beer especially for that and it will be in draught and it will be in bottle.

“We won’t release it until the spring.”

She added: “We are situated at about 1,000 ft high so we overlook the Pennines, the moorland, it’s beautiful.

“We are on England’s longest continuous hill climb so of course the Tour de France is coming up the hill.”

Mr van der Spek’s love of brewing started at a young age. Whilst at high school, he established his first beer club ‘De Gustibus Est Disputandum’.

The Beer Club, as it is known to its members, still meets today.

From cycling in Kathmandu...

SUE Cooper and Wim van der Spek met in 1999 on their bicycles in Kathmandu.

Ms Cooper explained: “I was just about to cycle home to England from Nepal and he had just cycled from Holland to Nepal via Tibet.”

When Mr van der Spek came to England in 2000, he looked for work, ideally in one of the bigger breweries.

“But at that time a lot of the big guys were merging and closing down”, she said.

So he ended up taking a job in Scotland for two years, before returning to the couple’s home at Hebden Bridge.

He then took a job at a food factory in Halifax, before setting up Little Valley Brewery.