Doncaster may have been hit by pub closures in recent years – but that did not stop Ian Blaylock opening his own bar.
The town has seen dozens of well known locals shut over the last 10 years, with reasons given ranging from cheap supermarket drinks to the ban on smoking in them.
The Drum in Bentley has been long demolished, as has the Sidings at Hyde Park, and the Benbow on Amthorpe Road. The Park at Belle Vue is now an Italian restaurant.
The list goes on.
But Mr Blaylock had his own special reason to go into the trade – he had beer to sell.
Ian ran his own garage business in Doncaster for 15 years, out of an industrial unit at Clay Lane.
But he decided on a complete change of direction in January 2012.
He closed the garage – and instead started building his brewery in the same industrial premises that he had used previously. He and wife Alison funded the project themselves.
He said: “After fixing cars all my life, I decided I didn’t really like it. Brewing was something I always did a bit at home.
“Fixing people’s cars, they always come to you in distress, not really wanting to have to pay out. People are much happier to pay for a pint of beer than a car repair.
“But as a change of business, there were not really any similarities, although my engineering skills helped in building the brewery myself. I bought in some old food processor vessels and converted them into brewing vessels, known as tuns.
“It was a daunting prospect, starting a business and going straight from something that I had done all my life, to something completely different. It was not so much difficult as daunting.
“There were a lot of permits to get, with organisations such as Yorkshire Water, the council, and environmental health to work with.”
With his brewery finally built, it was initially easy to sell the beer – but things soon got tougher. And that was the point at which Ian realised he needed to open his own bar to deal with a distribution problem.
“It was initially easy to find a market for the product,” he said. “As a brand new brewery, all the beer festivals were keen to get hold of us. They wanted to be the first to have the new beer and the new brewery. I lost count of the number of beer festivals that we were supplying, all across the country
“But after that it becomes more difficult, when the novelty value of a new brewery runs out. Things started to slow down. People look for the new breweries and the new releases. I’m as bad when I hold a beer festival.
“That is why we opened a bar. We had thought we may do it at some time, but in the end it was something that we did as a means to an ends. Neither myself nor Alison, who does the administration, were sales people, so opening a bar was a good option for us.”
Ian moved the brewery from Clay Lane to the same town centre site on Young Street as his bar, the Doncaster Tap, removing the costs associated with transporting it between the premises.
He still sells to other pubs, and Doncaster Brewery's beers are sold as far away as Preston.
He believes there is a still a strong market for niche pubs, and that is how he describes his venue.
“I think there are people looking for something a bit different,” he said. “I think that is why we have seen the rise of the micropub. It is another alternative to the pubco type pub. We have no gaming machines, no music and no televisions.”
Since he started up, he estimates he has created more then 25 different beers, and he rates his Sandhouse blond, a 3.8 per cent strength product, as the most successful. It sells around 300 pints a week.
“Pale and blond beers seem to be the fashion at present,” said Ian. “I have struggled to get dark beers for a beer festival which I ran this month. But I still do them, and there is a market. But there are a lot of pubs that don’t take very dark beer or very strong beer.”
The business model also allows Ian to create special beers for customers. He is creating a beer in support of Doncaster’s bid to host rugby league world cup matches, called Back The Bid.
He created a beer specially for Dave Wicks landlord of the Corner Pin, on St Sepulchre Gate West, when his real ale pub hosted a beer festival.
Wicked Wicks’ Jamaica Ginger Cake ale was made using ingredients including ginger and black treacle, as a nod towards Mr Wicks’ love of ginger cake. He also created Cast Ale, to mark the opening of Cast theatre, and Pride to mark Doncaster Pride.
“Every beer we make has something to do with Doncaster in some way,” he said. I make the bear and then name it, with the names related to Doncaster.”
The bar has more recently been recognised for its cider sales. It won Campaign for Real Ale’s Yorkshire Cider Pub of the Year, and now goes forward for the national competition.
Ian’s is one of a small number of microbreweries operating in Doncaster, alongside such brewers as Imperial, Concertina and Don Valley in Mexborough.
Another Doncaster brewery, the longstanding Glentworth in Skellow, closed in 2017.