An interview with Ben Taylor, co-owner and head of operations at Taylor-Illingworth Brewing Company, about the successful launch of his micro-brewery, his hopes for the future and links to the local music scene.
A brand-new independent micro-brewery based in the heart of Middlesbrough is making quite the name for itself. Launched in 2017, Taylor-Illingworth Brewing Company beers are already on sale at various pubs across Teesside, including Dr Phil’s Real Ale House, The Isaac Wilson, The Twisted Lip (Middlesbrough), Hope and Union, The Golden Smog and The Georgian Theatre (Stockton).
It’s the brainchild of Ben Taylor, a 24-year old first-time entrepreneur, who had only drank a “few pints” of real ale in his life before coming up with the idea of starting a microbrewery business after a spell working for various pubs and breweries.
“I was never a big beer drinker in the past”, Ben explains, “it was only when working in Dr Phils that I slowly got used to the taste from forcing myself to try them.” Ben says that chatting to the regulars and witnessing their reaction and passion for independent ales gave him a greater appreciation of the process and appeal. He’d “pick the brains” of a particular regular who had a past in the brewery business, and was eager to question the preferences of his customers.
Ben modestly describes the process of developing his own brewery as a fortuitous one, simply stating that “it sort of fell to me.” He had worked at the Truefit brewery before it’s closure. When the brewing kit became available for sale, Ben attached himself to any project involving it, and local brothers Marty & Les Illingworth saw an opportunity. “One day Marty phoned me, said he was buying the kit, and could I still run it? So it’s a partnership – they own the kit and I operate it.” Just like that, the Taylor-Illingworth Brewing Company was born.
The initial core-range of beers was inspired by recent problems in the Teesside Steel Industry. The 2015 closure of Redcar Steelworks made national news – many local families were affected, and Ben, whose father had worked at the steelworks for 30 years, felt the effects first-hand.
As a result, beers are named in tribute to the different sections of the old steelworks. “It’s just a little nod to everyone that was affected by it,” Ben explains, “the first beer was Stock Yard, the pale ale. I’ve done it again since the first batch and it’s sold out both times. Then Blast Furnace (red ale). Beam Mill (stout) was the third.”
“The first few names are quite obviously references to the steel works that anyone could get.”
He’s excited about the release of his latest beer, an IPA called Bunker 241, named after the bunker his father used to transport items to when working at Redcar Steelworks. “When I first proposed the name to my partners, they were a bit reluctant on the basis that no one outside the steelworks would get it. I countered that it’s a cool name either way.”
“Bunker 241 is for the people that worked there. They’ll see it and know it.”
He plans to follow this up with another two brews, completing “the core-range of six beers. The first four will be followed by The Wharf (a bitter) and one called either Plate Mill OR The Priory (a mild).”
With his core-range established, and the beers stocked regionally, Ben hopes to expand to include a speciality-range. For this he plans to draw inspiration from his other passion, music.
Ben himself is a big fan of live music and wants to get involved on the local scene. One of the first places he sought out to stock his beer was The Georgian Theatre, Stockton, and he can often be seen at various local gigs. His love of music even extends to his brewing process.
“I definitely want to tie together the two worlds I’m interested in – the music and the beer.”
One intriguing idea is to collaborate with bands on future brews: “I want to make a new beer every two months, and name it after a band. They can come down, have an input into the kind of beer we’re doing. The artwork could be their single artwork or a logo. It’d be a nice little trade-off.”
He has hopes to work with bands to put on shows: “I’ve got something in the pipeline at the moment for a band who want to team up and do a single launch gig alongside a beer launch.” He’d also like to help set up a music festival, and believes the raw materials can be found close to hand. “For a party you need two things – music and beer! If we can supply that from our own circle, and it works, it could be a fantastic thing not just for us but for the community as well.”
“If it does take off and become something we can do once or twice a year, it’s another positive thing for people to get involved in locally.”
Ben draws on this link to the music scene when managing his various social media pages, an aspect that has contributed to the buzz around the brand. “I’ve got a lot of friends who are artists in bands so I definitely took a lot of inspiration from what I saw them doing. How they were interacting with their audience in terms of social media.”
“The main aim is to give people an insight into the process and day-to-day running of the brewery.”
The novelty of an interesting new company with a strong local identity has driven the interest in the brewery’s formation, as well as in the young entrepreneur behind it. Ben has conducted interviews for the likes of The Evening Gazette and Look North, amongst others. “I think a lot of people have invested in me, as well as the actual brewery. Especially as it’s my face out there. I get messages starting with “Hey Ben” sent to the brewery. It’s nice.”
“It adds a personal touch to it, and I think people respond to that.”
As such, each beer has generally sold out within days of it’s arrival to the pumps: “It’s gone a bit mad to be honest, considering I probably brewed my first beer about 8 months ago! I didn’t even really know what it was, 18 months ago, in terms of real ale. I just stuck my teeth into it really. And now it’s gone a bit mad.”
The demand is such that Ben is struggling to keep up. “I’m currently doing one or two brews a week. That’s enough for me to handle alone. I’m hoping to increase that to three brews a week. It’s hard work, but when you’re passionate about something, you don’t mind making the sacrifices. I’ve been working 16 hour days including my day job, but I’m still enjoying it.”
“I tell myself that if I put the work in now, it will grow into something great that I can be really proud of.”
Although hard work, the brewing and creative aspect of beer-making has become a labour of love for Ben, and one he is keen to progress in. “I’m definitely developing my own style but most importantly, I’m making beers that I’d personally like to drink.”
“Now, when I test my own beers, I genuinely love the taste.”
“That’s part of the reason why I haven’t gotten to the Bitter and the Mild yet. I’m not as excited to do them because they’re pretty simple and straight up, there’s not as much room for experimentation. So I’ve been a bit selfish in that regard. .”
“We’ll see how the IPA sells, but they’ve all sold pretty well so far.”
“I’ve had good feedback from a pretty wide range of people. Some who say they only like this type of beer or that type of beer. Even in those cases where it’s not their preferred type, I’ve still had good feedback where they’ve said they can see the good in it and still enjoy it. It’s a cool feeling.”
Ben is quietly determined to make the brewery a success and has designs on growing it further. “We eventually want to expand it to be a proper limited partnership, where all three of us can run it.” He also wants to eventually bring on employees to work with him. “That’s my aim. When it reaches a point where I physically can’t do it in a 40 hour week, then I’ll get someone else in and train them up.”
“At the moment, it’s probably not safe enough to have anyone else in, so I can only risk myself!”
There are also plans to extend the brand’s reach beyond the local region. Already they’ve reached a far as York (Minster Inn) and Scunthorpe (Heslam Park Rugby Club). “It’s gone a bit farther afield. Next I’m looking to branch out to places in Hartlepool, Billingham, Redcar, other local towns. They’re all going to get it next.”
“I want to create a recognisable brand. I’d love to make my living doing this”
Taylor-Illingworth is currently stocked at Dr Phil’s Real Ale House, Hope and Union, The Golden Smog, The Isaac Wilson, The Twisted Lip, The Infant Hercules, Sherlocks, The Georgian Theatre, Heslam Park Rugby Club & Minster Inn, York. Visit the facebook page for more information.