Beer Background
Innis & Gunn (Generic Beer Leaderboard)
Vuelio Top 10 Blog 2020 Award

Black Sheep to axe three pubs

Added: Monday, July 17th 2023

Charlene Lyons

The Black Sheep Brewery in North Yorkshire has been saved from closure but the Masham-based company has been forced to axe three pubs as it rebuilds the business.

The brewery survived the Covid pandemic and lockdowns but was hit by what chief executive Charlene Lyons (above) calls “a perfect storm” of rising costs. The costs include energy and fuel bills and raw materials including grain, vital to the brewing process. The price of barley and wheat has increased sharply as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Charlene Lyons says the brewery’s performance during Christmas 2022 and in January and February this year was below expectation.

“We had too much debt as a result of loans,” she adds. “Cash was draining away.”

The company went into administration in May. Charlene Lyons says: “We underwent a review process with a specialist advisory company, Teneo, and through them we were contacted by the Breal Group.”

Breal is a London-based investment company and is rumoured to have bought Black Sheep for £5 million with a further £10,000 for the brewery’s retail arm. Black Sheep will not confirm these figures.

The brewery was founded in 1992 by Paul Theakston when he left the Masham family firm to launch his own business. Black Sheep became popular for such beers as Best Bitter, Special Ale and Riggwelter. In 2000 it bought the York Brewery and its pubs. York’s main beer, Guzzler, is now brewed at Masham.

On 4 July the brewery announced it was closing three pubs: the Last Drop Inn in York and the Tap & Kitchen and Mr Foley’s in Leeds. The company said that “after an extensive review, we explored every angle to keep these locations trading profitably but without success.” Two pubs remain, including the visitor centre alongside the brewery.

Charlene Lyons says more than 100 jobs have been saved following the sale to Breal but there have been some redundancies in the retail company as well as staff at the three pubs.

She remains as chief executive along with Paul Theakston’s sons Rob and Jo, who are in charge of sales and marketing. Paul has retired but has an ambassadorial role.

Charlene Lyons says the brewery had been under-capitalised and Breal will now invest in order for production to grow. She adds that the brewery plans to expand its sales area into London and the south. New beers will be added and two existing brands, Respire IPA and Milk Stout, have been launched in keg form. Respire is also a cask ale and a new blond beer is planned.

The Last Drop Inn in Colliegate, York, opened in 2000 and was run by York Brewery. In May this year it was named Beer of the Season by the local branch of CAMRA.

Alex Higginson, who ran the pub, said he was “beyond upset by the closure. With our customers, we turned it into a real community local.”

Kevin Keaveny, CAMRA’s Yorkshire Regional Director, says: “All three pubs are in good trading areas and it’s hoped that new operators can be found to run them.

“Covid and lockdowns hit Black Sheep hard and the brewery received little support from the government. Many hospitality businesses are on the knife edge and one week’s bad trading can push them over the edge.”