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The Identity Game: Studying The Ossett Brewery Pub Estate

If you asked a well-travelled beer aficionado to describe a typical Ossett Brewery pub, they could probably have a good stab at it; you might find our distinctive pump clip wallpaper, upturned barrels as rustic table-tops, classic pub paraphernalia on the walls, an Ossett Brewery logoed mirror and there’s a good chance of a bricked archway too.

Finding success in business is not just about hitting on a winning formula though, it’s also about what you do with that winning formula.

In truth, yes, there’s a few pubs amongst the 25-strong Ossett Brewery pub estate that bear those hallmarks above, but we have quickly learnt that pubs exist and become popular for a reason and it would be very foolish of us to try and change that and bring uniformity where singular peculiarities are what make our historic pubs so amazing. So each of our 25 pubs has individual characteristics that make them unique and the only thing that really ties them as being under the Ossett Brewery banner, is that we like to think we have stayed faithful to what made them work, but restored them sympathetically and with nothing offensive, to bring improvements.

Of course that makes it difficult to readily identify a typical Ossett Brewery pub, and what we’re essentially saying is there isn’t one. It’s true that many of our pubs are traditional locals in quiet West Yorkshire towns, which exist as life-giving sources to small communities. This was true of the very first pub we took over in 2003; the Black Bull in Liversedge. We had been brewing successfully for five years when we took on our first hostelry and we have recently celebrated 15 years at the Black Bull, during which time we have changed very little of the true essence of the pub, but made subtle improvements to make it more comfortable and welcoming for the local patrons and to maintain it as a viable business.

Perhaps what we have done best with our pub estate is to stay true to our roots. The very fabric of Yorkshire is built on small communities meeting up, being sociable, living a simple life and enjoying good beer, good food and good company. There are very few frills you have to introduce against that background, particularly when these pillars of the community already exist and in most cases have for nearly 200 years. There is no need to introduce the unnecessary trappings of modern life, there’s plenty of scope for that elsewhere.

So we recognised that at the Black Bull in Liversedge and there are several other pubs under the Ossett Brewery umbrella that have remained largely untouched as important landmarks in the locality, but brimming with warm hospitality, traditional décor and an intrinsically ‘Yorkshire’ ambience. The Black Bull in Rothwell can be described as such, so to the homely Cross Keys in the market town of Knaresborough. The Drop Inn at Elland is a classic local, full of charm and character, so too the Flower Pot at Mirfield, the King’s Arms near Wakefield, the Old Vic and the Tap near our brewery in Ossett, plus the Shepherd’s Boy in Dewsbury, the Three Pigeons in Halifax, the Travellers Inn at Hipperholme and the White Horse at Emley.

The common thread that combines all these pubs is not just the famous Ossett Brewery insignia on the fascia, or the Silver King, Excelsior and Big Red pumps along the bar, but the fact they reside in what many people might describe as the ‘forgotten’ towns of West Yorkshire; the former mill or market towns that have always been built around strong communities, and it would be pretty naive and very short-lived if we came in and started changing everything in one of the major focal points of those communities. But it’s not all brass bar tops and ceramic tea pots hanging from the ceiling; some of these pubs have individual style that we would be foolish to bring ‘on-brand’ with our own stamp. So, for example, the Three Pigeons remains charmingly art deco, while the White Horse retains its cosy snug for the locals and a spacious, more lively family room.

But that’s not to say we haven’t taken advantage of some more ambitious opportunities elsewhere in our pub estate. The Hop concept was born in 2008, as a venture between MD Jamie Lawson, ex-Virgin Japan MD Mike Inman and ex-Embrace drummer Mike Heaton. It offered a real ale hospitality, but combined it with more striking modern décor, an intimate atmosphere and regular live music. Each Hop venue in Leeds, Saltaire, Wakefield and York has something individual about it, with the Wakefield venue perhaps the most idiosyncratic, with its 2017 refurbishment celebrating street art and providing by far the most ‘urban’ venture under the Ossett banner.

The Leeds Hop is built into the famous dark arches underneath Leeds train station, and its shadowy, earthiness is perfect for the rock ‘n roll vibe we wanted to create. This area is now known as Granary Wharf and has been significantly gentrified by big name hotels, waterside restaurants and city centre living, oh and by two other bold, largescale developments bearing the Ossett Brewery branding.

2016 saw the Leeds station southern entrance open, and with it came a significant increase in footfall to an already thriving area. Ossett Brewery had pre-empted this and moved superfast to open up Archies – an all-day bundle of fun next door to the Hop and built on two levels into those same distinctive arches – and Candlebar – an upmarket bar on the ground floor of the iconic Candle House building. Both bars embraced the craft ale revolution engulfing Leeds in a huge deviation from the established Ossett Brewery blueprint. That big city ambition to add trendy new bars to our more rural traditional pub trail also triggered a unique food partnership with Edo Sushi, whose authentic Japanese cuisine brought the pub estate roaring into the 21st century and proved we had more strings to our bow.

Recent years have also seen us acquire pubs with their own microbreweries, which we have left intact to carry on doing what they do best. The Rat & Ratchet in Huddersfield, the Riverhead in Marsden and Fernandes in Wakefield all continue to brew great beers on site and add new flavours and aromas to our beer offerings all the time.

We have also taken on some pretty famous pubs, helping to ensure their survival and giving them a timely boost. The Old Peacock has existed on Elland Road longer than Leeds United itself, and it is now one of our most successful pubs after we took it on in the face of closure in 2013. The Fox in York is a blue plaque heritage inn and a gem of a pub that we bought in 2014 and restored triumphantly from a neglected shadow of its former self.
Our most recent and perhaps most significant acquisition was the Brewer’s Pride; a symbolic purchase in December 2017 as it resides just around the corner from the King’s Yard brewery in Ossett, and indeed was the place where Ossett Brewery was founded and first brewed from in 1998. It is a celebrated local pub, oozing with character and with a great reputation for its hospitality and selection of beers.

But then you could say that about every one of the 25 pubs in the Ossett Brewery estate. If an overseas visitor wanted a snapshot of quintessential Yorkshire, then they could see it in the pubs we have successfully managed through a challenging period for the pub trade. We have staunchly and devotedly retained this unfussy authenticity throughout the region; maintaining standards and traditions that the brewing industry was built on. But we also have one eye on the future too, and maybe the one common thread is that every pub in the Ossett Brewery canon is a mecca for lovers of the simple things in life; beer, food and socialising.

Ossett Brewery is always expanding and always changing, but we know when change is too much. We know our place and our market, and we have found that success is recognising what works and sticking faithfully to it, but making it better.

© 2020 Ossett Brewery Ltd | All Rights Reserved

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