Farm Of The Week: Cheers – farm brews from own barley

WHEN looking to diversify their businesses, farmers will invariably look to play to the strengths of their farm.

Some make use of the fact that they are situated in idyllic locations and create holiday cottages, others make use of the fact that they rear superb produce and open a retail outlet.

However for Tom Mellor and his family, the answer lay in what they grew – and what ran underneath it.

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As well as being a successful arable farm, Wold Top Farm in the Yorkshire Wolds has its own water supply – in short many of the ingredients for brewing beer were there on a plate.

Today the onsite purposely-created brewery is doing a roaring trade and producing thousands of pints of beer a week.

For Mr Mellor, who farms and runs the business alongside his wife Gill and with help from his daughter Kate, it is certainly a very different enterprise at Wold Top Farm from the one he grew up with. A third-generation farmer, Mr Mellor has lived at the farm all his life, save for a spell at university in London. It was during the former Pocklington School student’s tenure at university that he met his wife Gill.

Today Wold Top Farm is predominantly an arable farm.

The 600 acre site is home to barley, wheat and oil-seed rape, as well as peas, potatoes and turnips.

However like most farms it has it changes over the years.

“We did used to have some free-range hens,” said Mr Mellor.

“But by late 1999 early 2000 we realised we needed something very commercial to come from our crops, we needed to move in a different direction.”

The answer lay not just in the ground on the farm but underneath it too.

“We are really lucky in that we have great resources here.

“We are growing very good milling barley, we live in one of the best areas of the country if not Europe for growing milling barley.

“We also have our own water supply straight up from the ground, we use no mains water anywhere on the farm. With all of this in mind we put two and two together and came up with the idea for brewery.”

Despite the abundance of natural elements going in their favour Mr and Mrs Mellor did not jump in to the idea with both feet before seeking counsel.

After speaking to experts on how best to approach the situation they then spent some 12 months doing research into what brewing their own beer would entail.

Using a converted barn to host the brewing equipment Mr and Mrs Mellor brewed their first pint of beer at the farm in 2003; Wold Top Brewery was born.

Initially the farm began producing some 360 gallons per week, equating to approximately 3,000 pints.

The business has built up gradually over the past eight years and has had to take on extra staff over the years to cope with the demand.

Today 12 people are employed there and its current output is 30,000 pints a week – 10 times that when it first began brewing.

However producing a good quality beer and ensuring a reliable supply was one thing. The main challenge for the Mellors was to create a viable and sustainable market for the beer. Real ale has enjoyed a renaissance in recent years and as such competition remains fierce in the sector. Plus, despite the beautiful views and good quality farming ground, Wold Top Farm does present the Mellors with one notable business challenge.

“Because of our location close to the sea, 50 per cent of population we could potentially serve is under water. We mostly sell into York, Leeds and Hull, obviously quite a big area to serve.

“However a lot fewer people are going into bars and more people are drinking at home.”

As well as pubs and off-licences, Wold Top Brewery has a host of garden centres, farm shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Mr Mellor admits that having so much of the raw product available on the farm has given the brewery something of an advantage. However recent massive rises in fuel costs mean that distribution is far from cheap for the family farm.

“Nobody else is doing it round here,” said Mr Mellor.

“We have a very good reception from the pubs who have been very welcoming.

Mr Mellor concedes that the launch of the brewery has completely changed his working day, with far more of his attention now focused on the beer side of things and less time available to spend on the farm.

“A lot of the time is taken up with promoting the product, whether it be at farmers’ markets or whatever.

“We would like to think we can grow the business. I real enjoying mixing with people from other industries and other brewers.

“There is a lot to learn.”

And the success of Wold Top Brewery is not just confined to the shores of Britannia. The beer brewed at the farm has been exported to restaurants and retailers as far away as Ireland, Norway and even Italy.

Wold Top Brewery, like Wold Top Farm, also remains a family enterprise, with daughter Kate also helping out with the business.

The farm itself is in a conservation area under Higher Level Stewardship.

“We follow all best practices with minimal use of fertiliser.”

And the farm is becoming quite the attraction, with each year a small jazz and folk festival being hosted in its grounds.

Acts to have performed so far include Adrian Edmondson and the Bad Shepherds and Duncan Mcfarlane.

Mr Mellor said: “Everyday is completely different. As with any small company of our type you eventually get to a stage when you have to invest quite heavily in your infrastructure.”