Project William

by Steve Renshaw

According to the Good Beer Guide 2015, 170 new breweries have started up in the UK in the last 12 months. With almost 1,300 breweries operating in Britain, we have more breweries per head of population than any other country in the world. And still they come! Lincolnshire’s newest brewery, Horncastle Ales, was officially launched in July, too late to make the Guide.

The continued growth has been driven by small independent breweries which have been popping up all over the country. Many of the brewers are experimenting with the beers they brew, leading to even greater choice for drinkers.

However, with CAMRA research showing 31 pubs closing every week, it’s getting harder for small breweries to get their beers on the bar. Of course, one way of ensuring a market is to have your own pub. For example, Brewsters Brewery of Grantham owns the Marquis of Granby in the village of Granby, and Fulstow Brewery has the Gas Lamp Lounge on the ground floor of its Louth site. But buying a pub is beyond the means of many small businesses.

A groundbreaking £11.5 million scheme is, however, helping some small brewers achieve their dream. Project William, the brainchild of Leicester family brewer Everards, gives smaller brewers the opportunity to run pubs. Of the 28 pubs so far re-opened, 14 had closed and 13 were trading so poorly they were unsustainable. They are now being run very successfully and are making a healthy profit.

Everards dates from 1849 and was founded by William Everard, after whom the project is named. The company owns 170 pubs throughout the Midlands. Project William was an idea that emerged from a discussion between Everards’ managing director Stephen Gould and Keith Bott, who runs the Titanic Brewery in Stoke-on-Trent. As a result, Everards bought the Greyhound, a failing pub in Stoke, for £145,000 and spent a further £150,000 refurbishing it.
Under the terms of the scheme, Titanic became the tenant and runs the pub, paying rent to Everards. The full range of Titanic beers is sold with at least one Everards’ beer, usually its flagship Tiger Best Bitter, on the bar. Everards also supplies cider and lager.

Everards now has ten brewery partners involved in the Project William scheme. In all of the now thriving pubs, real ale has been central to their newfound success. The 29th Project William pub will open early in 2015 with Nottingham’s Lincoln Green Brewery as the partner.
I travelled to Southwell to visit the nearest Project William pub. The former Newcastle Arms underwent a £250,000 refurbishment and re-opened as the Final Whistle in 2011. It is full of railway memorabilia and the beer garden design is based on a 1920s station.

The Final Whistle is one of four Project William pubs run by Brown Ales Brewery of Clay Cross near Chesterfield. This family-run business began brewing in 2013. When I visited, there were two beers from Brown Ales, one from Everards and six guest ales.

And what about the beer?

Brown Ales From Dusk Till Dawn (4.1% ABV) is described as a black bitter. It is very dark brown with a creamy head. The first taste is very bitter with a slightly charred edge. Once the taste buds become acclimatised, some dried fruit sweetness is evident, but a liquorice bitterness lingers. Not a beer for the faint-hearted!