In the latest of our features on Harrogate independent retailers, we tap into the vibrant bar scene and talk lager, labels and location with Mick Wren, one of the trio owners of the new name in town, Cold Bath Brewing Co.
Big ventures can come from small moments and what started as a chat between friends about lager became the launch of the Cold Bath Brewing Co. microbrewery and tap room, which has made a huge impact on the Harrogate bar scene.
What troubled Mick and co-owner Jim Mossman was that a contemporary Northern lager was pretty much missing from the bars and taprooms that were opening as the trend for craft beers soared.
He explains: “It was a conversation with Jim one night about why couldn’t there be a northern version of the Camden Hells lager [brewed in London] given the history of brewing up here, the tradition of brewing up here and the scene particularly in Leeds at the time where they really got the craft beer movement.”
Then the idea grew rapidly from having the lager they wanted to setting up a microbrewery of their own. A visit to Magic Rock Brewing in Huddersfield convinced them it could be done in Harrogate.
“A brilliant brewery where you could be in Melbourne, LA or New York”, Mick enthuses. “They are making it on one side of the room and selling it on the other, it was absolutely packed and the buzz was amazing.”
Within days, Jim with his background in finance and, what Mick calls his “can-do” attitude had found the ideal site on King’s Road opposite the Convention Centre and the lease was signed. Because it had been a tyre depot, the property came with its own industrial feel, emphasised by large sliding metal shutters at the front.
The stainless steel brewing equipment sits up in the minstrel gallery and is very visible to drinkers below, giving a sense of work and craft. “People would have paid a million pounds for that feel,” says Mick.
Cold Bath Brewing Co. produces its own session pale ale, which is always available on tap plus there’s two more taps for further brews of their own, available in rotation.
In total, the micro-brewery produces 300 litres of beer each week. The hugely-popular Cold Bath Lager is brewed for them by Wold Top Brewery near Driffield and there are other beers from other breweries on tap.
The location close to the Convention Centre and the footfall from events and exhibitions also helped them to decide to not just have the microbrewery and sell the beer but also offer wine and spirits and food in the form of homemade dim sum.
Giving their beers a label is a welcome distraction from the extremely hard work of running the place.
Cold Bath Lager works well according to Mick: “It’s a good name,” he says, explaining it comes from the fact that both he and Jim live in that part of Harrogate. But they’ll also have to come up with the names for what he calls the “little rotational brews”.
He says: “It’s amazing really, when you’re in a conversation, the amount of times me, Jim and Roger will say to each other, well, that’s a good name for a beer … it will be nice eventually if things go well to have a Cold Bath Stout, a Cold Bath Pale, Cold Bath IPA.”
“Roger” is the third co-owner who, along with Jim, was also a customer of Mick’s when he co-owned Hoxton’s coffee house.
He introduced Roger to Jim and the perfect partnership was formed as Roger brings what Mick calls a “phenomenal” wealth of knowledge to Cold Bath Brewing Co. having run businesses which were bought out by Mitchell & Butler’s who own All Bar One and Slug and Lettuce.
Mick says the three of them have been “absolutely blown away” by the feedback they’ve been getting with the overriding feeling among customers being that this is “something a little bit different, it’s what we wanted”.
He elaborates: “People who were being pushed out of cities through the expense of living were coming back to their roots and where nicer a place to come to. But they still want that bit of city life and there’s a now little community [of bars] that does that.
“You don’t need a hundred different pubs, just need a handful of decent ones and I think Harrogate has definitely got that now.”
As to the future, there is much to do to develop the offering to customers who regular pack out the place and he would rather let the microbrewery grow organically and “see where we end up”.
Londoner Mick grew up in the pub business, his parents ran a pub in the East End and he understands the need for maintaining good relationships whether it is with drinkers in the tap room or their customers to whom they wholesale Cold Bath Lager.
He says: “If this does go big, these guys, who have been in from day one, if they ring up and need beer on a Saturday night, one of us has still got to drop it off and that won’t change. It can’t do because that’s what the foundations have been set on.”
He then quickly adds with a grin: “Hopefully, we’ll just be dropping it off from the back of a Bentley.”