The magic art of micro brewing

North Star Brewery's Richard Bower with some of the hops that give his beer its flavour
North Star Brewery's Richard Bower with some of the hops that give his beer its flavour

It is hard to say whether Paul Daniels knew he wanted to be a magician when he was a little boy - but he went on to become one of the country’s best-loved entertainers.

On the other hand Ilkeston brewer Richard Bower had no such plans to become a conjurer but ‘magic’ is how he describes his new profession.

The 54 year-old Ilkestonian had spent 35 years working in the pharmaceutical industry when he decided to follow his dream of starting a brewery four years ago.

It has been a tough road in many way for Richard so far - the father-of-two has been running North Star Brewery in his spare time while working at 3M Healthcare in Loughborough making asthma inhalers.

North Star now produces six beers which sell on a monthly basis mainly to Nottingham and Derbyshire pubs but it is now expanding to wholesalers in areas like the west midlands and as far north as Newcastle.

“Almost every month we are selling more beer and seeing an increase in sales,” said Richard.

“But with so many producers fighting in the same market it is becoming harder to get business.”

But North Star has built up a loyal customer base which Richard puts down to the quality of his product.

He added: “Once we have had a sale we usually get a second one off the back of it because the beer is popular.

“We always get good feedback.”

It also helped, said Richard, that he had put so much time into the beer’s draught pump images.

He added: “When you go into a pub and you see five or six beers you often let the pump images make your mind up.

“I think some other brewers might have benefited from spending a little more time on this.”

For Richard, North Star is as much a passion as a living and a business.

When he started it four years ago the industry was just starting to take off but there are now almost 1,500 micro breweries in business in the UK.

Richard said: “Four times last year I had calls from people saying, ‘I am thinking about starting up a brewery, do you think it’s a good idea?’”

“And right now I would have to say no, unless you have a very specific idea.

“I will never become a millionaire doing this but I never wanted to be.”

Richard gets real pleasure from the business of micro brewing.

“I like the creative process,” he said. “It is fascinating to me that you can take malted barley and yeast and turn sugar into alcohol.

“It’s fascinating that enzymes and molecules are working their magic right before your eyes.

“When you go into the brewhouse and the fermentation is happening it is absolutely fantastic - the fermentation pot gets really hot and you get all these colours. It’s magic.”

And now after four years grafting night and day to build up enough business Richard has decided to take the leap into full-time brewing.

“Doing this part-time was always going to hinder it but it was the right thing,” said Richard.

“The financial pressure of giving up work would have made it even harder.”

But the hard work has paid off and North Star is now on the lookout for a micropob premises to sell its six beers - which range from 3.8-5.5 per cent ABV.

It is also looking at branching out into supplying bottled beer.

Richard said: “It will give us the opportunity to sell to shops around the country.

“The profit margin is smaller but it is a great way to get products out to the general public.”

For more information on North Star visit www.northstarbrewery.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @NorthStarBeers.