Isle of Man's Heron and Brearley sets sights on mainland

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After dominating the pub market on the Isle of Man for 100 years, Heron and Brearley is setting its sights on the mainland.For the past 100 years,...

After dominating the pub market on the Isle of Man for 100 years, Heron and Brearley is setting its sights on the mainland.

For the past 100 years, the names of Heron and Brearley and Okells Bitter have meant little to anyone outside the Isle of Man.

The Manx brewer has been busy dominating the pub and beer market of the Crown dependency that lies more than 30 miles off the coast of Cumbria in the middle of the Irish Sea.

But with an island population of only 70,000 living in an area of 221 square miles, it was only a matter of time before the company started to dream of more distant lands.

This year marks a new era for the company which is bringing the first Isle of Man theme pub to mainland Britain.

If this project is successful, there are plans to launch up to 12 pubs in the North West and the Midlands over the next two years.

Brewery retail director Grant Paterson said: "Being on the Isle of Man, we have realised for some time that prospects are finite and there's only so much we can do.

"It gets to the point where we are refurbishing units and taking business away from others that are also ours.

"The estate on the Isle of Man is in pretty good condition so we decided to look further afield."

It has bought a pub in Newark in Nottinghamshire on the banks of the River Trent next to Newark Castle and is converting it into a concept called Kelly's.

Originally called the Swan and Salmon Tap, the outlet is due to open by Easter with an Irish theme but with decorative elements relating to the Isle of Man.

It will introduce traditional Manx food to the mainland, such as kipper dishes and "queenies" — scallops served with cheese, bacon or garlic.

Heron and Brearley is now the main brewer on the Isle of Man after being founded in 1898 as Isle of Man Breweries.

In 1986 it started to gain a virtual monopoly by taking over rival Castletown and shutting the brewery. Production of Castletown's ale was moved to the company's Victorian brewery but the brand was killed off six years ago.

The company is now based in a modern, purpose-built brewery in the island's capital of Douglas.

It supplies more than 50 freetrade outlets, with a portfolio including Okells Bitter, the newly launched Cooil lager, Okells Mild and seasonal ales.

Okells will be sold in the new Newark outlet but Paterson said this did not herald a freetrade sales drive on the mainland.

It currently operates 50 managed houses and four tenancies on the Isle of Man, but it has expanded into fish and chip restaurants with the four-strong Arkwrights chain.

Its only real brewery rival on the island is the Mount Murray Brewing Company which runs Bushy's in Braddan.

Over the past two years its own tied estate has dropped from four to only one, which is in Douglas, but it still supplies many freehouses.

However, there is now also the small Old Laxey brewery, set up two years ago to the north-east of the capital, which supplies Bosun Bitter to up to 12 houses.

Heron and Brearley has been investing heavily in its estate over the past few years. As well as refurbishments, it has developed two purpose-built pubs on greenfield sites — the Horse and Plough in a business park outside Douglas and the Cat With No Tail as part of a new housing development.

It is also involved in a new wave of investment that has seen the arrival of the first modern bars targeted at younger people in Douglas.

The company's 10-year-old café-bar Casey's in the capital's town centre is due to re-open this week as Strand 58, an upmarket and stylish young person's venue.

The trend for venues targeted at a younger crowd began last summer when an independent consortium of businessmen grouped together to open Bar George, a modern venue in the style of All Bar One and Pitcher & Piano.

Operating in a converted church hall in Douglas' financial district, it is tied to the island's biggest wine merchant, the Wine Cellar, and specialises in quality wines and food.

Manager Gareth Nicholson said: "The market wasn't really being tapped so this was quite a new concept for the island, but it's turned out to be a great success."

For Heron and Brearley, the development of a modern bar concept confirms its attempts to follow the path of many of the regional brewers on the mainland.

Paterson said: "We are carrying out some big projects so we are going in some exciting new directions. But we've been thinking about this for a while and felt that now it was time to take the plunge."

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