Q&A with All Gates Brewery

David Mayhall
All Gates Brewing

Please introduce yourself...
Managing Partner, All Gates Brewery Limited: married, with two lads and a daft Labrador. Banking and property background and keen home brewer; conned into establishing All Gates but now wouldn’t change a thing.

Where do you brew from and what's your set up?
Since 2006 All Gates has been brewing in the heart of Wigan, in a 19th Century Grade II-listed, tower brewery, (restored by ourselves) re-establishing brewing in the town centre after a near 40 year absence, following the closure of Moorfield’s Brewery in the 1970’s.

We brew on a 5BBL Johnson Brewing kit, six/seven days a week. We have been at full production now for past four years and over this period have established an associated business which owns eight local pubs.

What was your path into the world of brewing?
Always a keen home brewer, in 2004 I found myself with my business partner, Ian Thorpe, on a 12 week Micro-Brewing course at St Helens College and somehow both of us managed to pass! The next logical step was to establish a brewery. Not logical at all! Having spent an abortive 12 months trying to get planning on a unit near Wigan Pier Ian ‘phoned me one day and said ‘ You know that old building behind the main Post Office, was a brewery many years ago.’ The rest as they say is history.

Whats the single biggest challenge facing the UK independent beer market?
Cask ale is becoming a commodity product. The problem is more and more breweries appear to be existing, simply on the basis of getting their beer into the market, purely on price. You know who you are! 

There are a good many breweries making excellent beer, in small quantities that do not have to discount, but even so, there are similarly a good many breweries with excellent reputations, which have ramped up production in recent years who now find themselves beholden, to wholesalers and the likes of Wetherspoons and the substantial discounts demanded, for a sizeable chunk of their sales. And there are similarly a good number of small brewers happy to eke out a half decent living doing something they really enjoy, brewing, but who struggle to make sufficient profit to re-invest and grow the business; nothing wrong with this approach at all.

The principal problem faced by small brewers is the complex monopsony in the beer industry, where the power of the distribution element is paramount; simply, control over distribution is key to profitability and survival. And whilst there has been some part loosening of the tie system, nothing has really changed.

So move into keg, bottle and canned beer, I hear some say. We see however our pubs as key to our own long term viability and to asset growth; property is after all my background.

Although it's getting easier for pubs to become free of tie, it can still be discouraging for pub owners and managers who have to deal with the system of wet rent and are obliged to buy boring beer at inflated prices.

Where do you see your brewery in the next three years?
We keep thinking about expanding, building a bigger brewery on the edge of town, whilst retaining the existing plant, but keep worrying whether the ‘craft’ market is riding for a fall. But we have been saying that now for the past four years! 

So where do I see the brewery; pretty much sticking to cask beer and to existing capacity, but with hopefully a few more pubs in the Group.

Which brewery other than your own do you most respect?
The Dark Star Brewing Co. Everything they do, beer, branding, marketing etc is bang on.

Describe your brewery in six words...
Brewing hop-forward beers with balancey; beers with Northern soul. (Sorry that's 9)

Mike Hampshire