Dronfield’s co-op brewery ‘a real community effort’

Brewers David Mclaren, Nick Williams, Jez Horton and Ken Carter.
Brewers David Mclaren, Nick Williams, Jez Horton and Ken Carter.

A group of beer lovers in Dronfield have opened a brewery which not only makes amazing ale but helps local people in the process.

Drone Valley Brewery, on Main Road in the town, has been set up as a co-operative, meaning all the profits it makes will be ploughed back into the community.

Jez Horton with some of the brewerys pump clips.

Jez Horton with some of the brewerys pump clips.

It was officially opened last month by North-East Derbyshire, MP Natascha Engel, who has supported the project from the start, at a ceremony attended by hundreds of members and VIPs.

Jez Horton, management committee chairman, said: “If I would have sat down a year ago and been told the amount of people who would help to make this happen I wouldn’t have believed you.

“It has been a wonderful experience it really has - a real community effort.”

The brewery is 100 per cent volunteer run and has drawn on the good will of local contractors, builders, brewers, craftsmen, designers, engineers and even a microbiologist to get where it is now.

David Mclaren with some of the hops they use.

David Mclaren with some of the hops they use.

Jez says if they had needed to pay for all the help they have received, it would have cost in excess of £50,000.

The brewery currently has eight ales, all with locally inspired names - Dronny Bottom Bitter, Stubley Stout, Gosforth Gold, Fanshawe Blonde, Coal Aston Porter, Drone Valley IPA, Four Acres and Special Peel Ale.

“We’re really getting some good feedback, sales are increasing and we are starting to get repeat orders,” he explains.

“We always knew people would drink our beer because of the local names but when they try it they are finding they like it and are coming back for more.”

Nick Williams wahing the empty kegs out.

Nick Williams wahing the empty kegs out.

“We were going to shut down for a bit to replace some of the equipment but sales are going so well we can’t afford to.”

Jez says he has always been interested in brewing, possibly as a result of being born next to legendary Marston’s in Burton-upon-Trent.

But he admits to having relied heavily on the expertise of one of their members - Three Tuns landlord Dave Mclaren - who used to run Spire Brewery in Chesterfield.

He has, however, recently achieved an advanced certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distillery and is interested in getting a training programme going to teach others about the science of brewing as well.

Jez checks one of the brewing tanks.

Jez checks one of the brewing tanks.

As well as all this, Jez also has ambitious plans to broaden the social reach of the new venture.

“We want to get kids from the locals schools here doing work experience to learn about the science of what we are doing but also the marketing and business development side of things as well,” he says.

“We’re also interested in getting involved in ‘social prescribing’ to help people with mental health problems like depression avoid the need for medication.

“A key age for men getting depressed is between the ages of 40 and 55 so that’s a group we feel we can reach.”

Jez thinks the way they are run contributes to their success so far and says their ethos will remain steadfastly egalitarian.

“You get one vote no matter how much you put in,” he explains.

Nick Williams with the fermentation tanks.

Nick Williams with the fermentation tanks.

“We are never going to be one of the big six brewers in the country - we don’t anticipate growing much bigger than we are at the moment.

“There are a lot of microbreweries around which start up and fail very quickly so the whole idea of having a membership model was to get a large group of people who would buy our beer and then maybe tell their family and friends as well.”

Future plans involve a significant presence at the Dronfield’s Three Valleys Beer Festival on Saturday June 4 and even a guest appearance on the bar at the Houses of Parliament.

“Our MP, Natascha Engel, has been really good and promised to get one of our beers sold in the House of Commons bar,” explains Jez.

Finally, a shortage of hops at the moment has even given the brewery an excuse to get into growing the raw materials for its beer as well.

“I’ve got 30 people across Dronfield growing hops - I’ve even got three in the garden myself,” he said.

“We’ve said the person with the best crop will have a beer named after them and people are already getting competitive - putting them in greenhouses and getting vines up to 12 feet.

“Some of our members are elderly and can’t do the heavy lifting anymore so its great they can contribute too by growing the hops.”

To find out more visit their website.