Simon Bolderson

SIMON Bolderson, the founder of Leeds-based Ridgeside Brewary, has died after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was aged just 47.

Simon Bolderson
Simon Bolderson

The chances are, if you’re a regular visitor to some of the county’s better real ale haunts, you’ll already be familiar with his beers. The brewery name and the rock music-themed beers on the circular Ridgeside pumpclips have been a guarantor of quality for some time now.

If you’ve spent much time in East of Arcadia at Meanwood or Seven Arts in Chapel Allerton, and seen this big smiley guy with a Robert Plant hairstyle, expertly appraising the beer as he drinks it, you’ll know the genetleman in question.

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“Brewing was his passion,” his widow Sally said this week. “He started off experimenting in the kitchen – usually when I was trying to make a Sunday dinner. Then wherever we went on holiday he’d make sure we took in a tour of the local breweries.”

From the kitchen, his home-brew operation expanded to the garage, and when his successful career in engineering ended in redundancy in 2009, he took the opportunity to turn his passion into a business.

Along with best friend Dean Hill, he rented a unit on the Penraevon industrial estate in Meanwood, and used his engineering skills to convert old equipment from a Hartley’s jam factory into a working brewhouse.

“It was all quite nerve-wracking,” Sally admits. “To go from a good career with a company car and all the perks to starting your own brewery, but I’m so glad he did it; we’re really proud of what he achieved.”

Ridgeside entered a market place in the midst of change. The once-dominant Tetley’s was preparing to leave town and Leeds Brewery had already demonstrated that a new name could have a big impact on the local scene. And though Ridgeside lacked the financial and marketing clout – or industry experience – of the likes of fellow-newcomers Wharfebank and Kirkstall, the little Meanwood brewery soon began to make some headway.

It was helped by the opening of Market Town Taverns’ East of Arcadia bar a mile or so up the road, as two great bars and a Waitrose really opened up this slightly neglected part of Leeds for business.

East put on a permanent Ridgeside pump from day one and it proved such a success that it was soon rolled out to other taverns in the group, giving Simon a serious leg up with his sales. The Grove in Holbeck and the Duck and Drake in Leeds city centre were other early adopters but Simon always acknowledged the role that this first break had on his success. “If it hadn’t been for East we’d have struggled to get our foot in the door,” he once said.

Since then the brewery has gone from strength to strength, satisfying local drinkers as well as winning many plaudits including a CAMRA Gold award.

His sheer passion for the job, and for going the extra mile, also won him friends across the city. Like at the Old Leo’s club in Alwoodley, when a sudden snowfall left them with no real ale, and no brewers willing to risk their delivery vans down to the remote end of winding, unmade Crag Lane. Simon was having none of that – and made a personal delivery of two casks direct from the brewery, meaning that those customers who braved the conditions to get to the club, were rewarded with a few pints of the lovely pale golden and bitter Rushmore.

He also ensured that the brewery became involved in the community, supplying a house ale to the local Myrtle Tavern and supporting the campaign to save the Templar Hotel with a beer of the same name. In partnership with the Junction Inn, Castleford, Simon has done a lot to promote beer served from the wood.

Sam Parker, beer writer and Leeds Camra vice chairman remembers Simon as the “nicest man in brewing”, adding: “There was never a dull moment when you were around Simon and he always had time for you no matter how busy he was. The city has not just lost a skilled engineer and brewer but a genuinely selfless and humble man that I was rightly proud to call my friend.”

The long-term future for Ridgeside is unclear. the brewery may be put up for sale in the coming months, but in the meantime it’s business as usual - in fact Simon was on site daily until just two weeks before his death at St Gemma’s Hospice.

As brewer Ross Nicholson said: “We’re just carrying on making beer as Simon would have wanted. It’s our way of making sure that his legacy lives on.”

Simon Bolderson is survived by wife Sally and three children. The funeral is to be held at Lawnswood Crematorium Friday, May 30, at 1pm followed by a celebration of his life at Myrtle Tavern, Meanwood.