Feb 12 2013

Moorhouse’s Brewery, Burnley, Lancs

When William Moorhouse founded Moorhouse’s in 1865, in premises not far from the present production site, on the opposite side of Accrington Road, he produced mineral waters, which were sold in bottles and half-gallon jars.

By 1870 the business was doing so well that William decided to build his own premises and relocated to the building that we occupy today. This brewery was purpose-built as a drinks-manufacturing site, with the terraced houses on either side being added later to house workers and members of the Moorhouse family. In its original layout, incorporated into the brewery buildings were the stables in which the delivery dray horses were kept.

William died leaving two sons, one of which, Thomas, took over the running of the company. In 1904 an exploding bottle seriously injured him. He never recovered from this accident and later died of his injuries. His elder brother took over Moorhouse’s and developed the Hop Bitters – Old Kent Mild, Old Peter Stout, and Old Boss Bitter – which won two exhibition awards. These Hop Bitters were low in alcohol, less than 2% abv, and deemed to be “non-intoxicating liquours”. They were sold on draught in Temperance bars throughout the North-West and exported in bottles throughout the world, selling particularly well in Muslim countries, where alcohol is banned.

In the 1930’s a decision was made to concentrate on the Hop Bitters sales and production, and so the Minerals side of the business was sold to Thwaites of Blackburn.

The company remained in the hands of the Moorhouse Family until 1978 when it was sold by its last surviving member, Thomas Fawcett.

When Tom Fawcett sold the company, he sold the brewery premises, the brewery plant and the recipe for Hop Bitters. He refused to pass on the recipes for the other products and soft drinks, stating that they were family recipes and as he had no family to pass these on to, they would go with him to the grave. The one recipe that he did pass on was for a Shandy concentrate that is still produced to this day.




He also insisted that, as part of the sale agreement, he would remain on the brewery payroll for the rest of his life. As the new owners were keen to acquire the business and premises and were aware that Tom was 73 at the time and not in the best of health, they agreed. He died in 1995 aged 90!

The purchaser in 1978 was a local builder named Michael Ryan, who had an interest in producing “real ale”. This was no doubt driven by the standard of some of the mass-produced beers available at that time, and it was at this point that Moorhouse’s produced an “alcoholic” beer for the first time, Premier Bitter.

Within twelve months of buying the company, Mr Ryan discovered he couldn’t make it viable and so sold the business on. During the course of the next two years the brewery changed hands four times, with each successive owner failing to make the venture profitable. At this time the brewery was struggling to sell ten barrels of beer a week.

In 1982 a local businessman, Alan Hutchinson, bought the business. Mr Hutchinson owned a chain of Hotels, Bingo Halls and Night Clubs and used the brewery as an independent supplier to his retail estate. With a new brewer in situ and a new brand introduced, Pendle Witches Brew, brewery production grew steadily to a level of 25 barrels of beer a week.

Unfortunately Mr Hutchinson died quite suddenly in 1985 and his business empire was bought en bloc by Apollo Leisure. While the Hotels and Bingo Halls fitted in quite well with the new owner’s existing business, there was little desire to run a small brewery in Burnley, and Moorhouse’s was once again faced with extinction.

Workers at the brewery had already been issued with their redundancy notices when a Manchester businessman, William Parkinson, tried a pint of Pendle Witches Brew during the course of a business lunch. Being originally from Burnley he made enquiries at the bar as he had never heard of the brand before. On being told by the barman of the company’s imminent closure, Mr. Parkinson then made a number of enquiries and within seven days had purchased the brewery.

Since then he has invested significantly in the business, with a new brew plant being installed in 1988 and a new warehouse / distribution depot added in 1995. These additions and improvements have given the brewery the capacity to produce 220 barrels of beer a week, and the installation of more fermenting vessels has increased capacity to 400 barrels a week. There are currently plans underway to treble this capacity by 2010.

The company has six pubs of its own; two in Burnley – The General Scarlett and The Stanley; The Dusty Miller in Bury; The Pendle Witch in Atherton; The Craven Heifer in Rawtenstall; and the Rising Sun in Blacko. In addition to supplying its own outlets, Moorhouse’s supplies beers to approx. 300 Free Trade outlets within a 50-mile radius of the brewery and enjoys national distribution through a comprehensive wholesale network.

Three of Moorhouse’s products are available in bottle, Blond Witch, Pendle Witches Brew and Black Cat. Both are available through Morrisons and Booths. In addition to these domestic sales, the bottles are exported to Canada, Holland, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden and Cyprus. Exports to the USA also include Blond Bitch and Owd Ale. Pendle Witches Brew is also brewed under license in Cyprus.

Moorhouse’s now employs in excess of 50 full and part-time employees, almost half of whom are employed directly at the brewery.

Over the years Moorhouse’s beers have won numerous awards at beer festivals up and down the Country. In addition to these Moorhouse’s beers have gained recognition at the Brewing Industry International Awards, the “Oscars” of the brewing industry. This award ceremony takes place every two years and the prizes are keenly fought over by breweries from around the world. In April 2004, Moorhouse’s walked away with a clutch of awards.

Comments are closed.