MANCHESTER is at the heart of the north west’s craft beer scene.

But if you want more perspective on changing beer and pub trends and ways of brewing in Cheshire then just talk to Lee Wainwright.

The 44-year-old is celebrating the 10th anniversary year of The Bollington Brewing Co.

In that time owner Lee has seen it all: the decline in traditional pubs, the resurgence in interest in real ale, the rise of microbreweries, the craft beer explosion and micropubs.

Our relationship with beer and pubs keeps changing but Bollington’s microbrewery has survived – and thrived – throughout it all.

In fact, throughout the past decade Lee’s small business has become something of a representation of that revolution. When Lee opened Bollington Brewery in 2008 there were just 10 microbreweries in Cheshire. Now there are about 55.

Discerning drinkers often prefer quality beer made by independent producers rather than mass produced ales made by the big breweries.

And that is reflected in the fact that Lee now has three pubs at a time when, according to the Campaign for Real Ale, UK pubs are closing at a rate of 27 a week.

But let’s rewind a little. Lee began his career in the industry working in IT for Bass Brewery in 1994.

But Lee soon found his passion lied more with pubs than computers.

He said: “Part of the retail team worked in our department so we got to go to pub openings. We became quite close with some of the people behind the bar so that’s what got my deeper interest in pubs going.”

Then Lee moved over to pub and bar operator Punch Taverns which formed when Bass sold 500 of its pubs.

He left in 2000 to work in pub till systems before taking on his first leased pub, The Bridge Inn in Chester.

It was the success of that venture, a desire to spend more time in Bollington, where he grew up, and thirsty cricketers which then led Lee to The Vale Inn, which would later become Bollington Brewing Co’s first brewery tap.

Lee added: “I’d always been entrepreneurial and wanted my own business. I wanted to go off and do something on my own.

“I identified a pub in Chester that I thought could do a lot better. I took that on and it did quite well so I decided I wanted to buy a freehold pub which was when I bought the Vale.

“It’d been shut for 10 years so there was a lot more work and it was a different sort of pub to the one in Chester so there was quite a steep learning curve.

“Although pub companies were desperately trying to buy freehold pubs at that time, the Vale was quite small so they weren’t really too bothered about it. We knew the cricket club wanted somewhere to go, we knew it had potential being next to the park and it’s a great pub in a nice little spot.”

It was not long before Lee wanted to make his own beer and everything fell into place just by luck when he went on a brewing course at York Brewery in 2008.

At the same time a granite cutting workshop across the road from the Vale closed which Lee quickly acquired.

Two months later Lee had a working brewery just a few steps away from his pub.

He said: “We had friends who were welders and who knew a bit about the food and drink industry so they pointed us in the right direction.

“At that point microbreweries were relatively rare.”

To get a sense of how the independent business has grown, when Bollington Brewing Co started Lee could brew twice a week and produce 16 casks of beer at a time.

Now he can comfortably do 150 casks a week and has two other pubs – the Park Tavern in Macclesfield and The Cask Tavern in Poynton.

Lee added: “You start knowing nothing. If you come in from running a pub you learn about distribution and brewing and then we’ve run events like Bollington Festival, an arts festival that is held every five years.”

The accolades speak for themselves too. Within the first year the microbrewery won a gold for Bollington Best and a silver for Oatmeal Stout in the Champion Beer of Cheshire competition.

Bollington Best also went on to win bronze in the best bitter category of Champion Beer of Britain 2011.

And Winter Reserve got to the final of Winter Beer of Britain alongside Dunham Massey Brewery.

Winter Reserve is a beer Lee no longer makes due to capacity issues but it may be coming back for the anniversary year – among many others.

Lee said: “We’re definitely going to be doing some special beers and we’re going to be re-releasing Endurance, which we did for a friend’s charity cycle ride, in cans in the next few weeks.”

The milestone year will also see a nod to the craft beer movement with more of an emphasis on a range of can and keg beers.

Lee added: “The thing about kegging and canning is you can create different sorts of beers – like hoppy beers or different flavoured beers.

“Cans and kegs allow you to keep that extra flavour because you don’t have to filter it whereas with the bottling process you lose a bit of that.

“So you can put more hops in or do something a bit different with the recipes. There’s some extra opportunities.

“It was a very simple industry before but lots of new people that want to make their mark have come into it.

“It’s allowed all this creativity to come in and it’s happening in America and New Zealand. It’s a worldwide thing that’s worked very well in this country.”

Lee’s other aim is to pull his two millionth pint. He has worked out that so far the brewery has produced about 1.9 million pints. Not bad considering the company only operates around a 15-mile radius.

Lee said: “It’s quite a lot of beer when you think we only deliver to pubs around here. Our 10th anniversary is in July so it would be nice to hit two million pints by then.”

n For more information about The Bollington Brewing Co or to book a tour, which includes a two course dinner at the Vale Inn and a gift pack, visit