When Stephen Crawley returned to Wirral after more than 20 years in Scotland’s brewing industry he set about channeling his experience and passion for better beer into a business that will breathe new life into the iconic Higson’s name and create an exciting food and drink venue in Liverpool.
Stephen secured backing from like minded investors by promoting a vision of a company based in building called the H1780 Tap & Still. Under one roof in the Baltic Triangle it will house a brewery, gin distillery, bar, kitchen and, next year, a visitor experience.
The H is for Higson’s and 1780 was the year in which Higson’s first flowed in the city. The company’s beers were part of and parcel of Merseyside life until 1990 when the last pint was brewed in Liverpool.
Next month, when the H1780 Tap & Still opens its doors, Higson’s will wet whistles on Merseyside once again, brewed in what was once a warehouse for rubber.
Stephen explains: “We are trying to make this building true to itself, and literally all we’ve got left of the original is the walls. Fortunately they used very nice bricks, so we’ve stripped them back and made a real virtue of them. It’s really urban!
“There are two amazing new roofs, new floors, new drainage, new windows, new electrical and mechanical, lots of new steel. In fact, almost everything is new, walls apart.”
The story began 7 years ago when Stephen was still managing director of the Caledonian Brewery. Back then Higson’s was in the midst of a low key revival and, thanks to a cricketing acquaintance, he was given the opportunity to help move it forward.
“My thoughts were that every city needs a brewery, most great cities have at least one and, what’s more, Higson’s was the first pint of beer I ever had. In fact I think I drank quite a lot of it, probably underage, and probably most of it at cricket clubs. But my advice was: Liverpool and the brand need this to be done properly.
“Liverpool has a rich brewing history but it petered out, so the chance to reinvent something like Higson’s just seemed really exciting.
“I’d been to America to research the attraction of urban craft breweries. They change the way people think. They’re run by real people. They’re great fun to go to. Customers feel they’re part of a community. The products feel a bit different to those made by global multi-nationals, and it goes without saying that interest in craft beers has soared since then.
What I also learned from working in Caledonian in Edinburgh was the power of bringing visitors to our wonderful sample cellar and giving them the chance to see where the stuff they enjoy is actually made. On holiday years ago we would go to vineyards in France, Spain and Italy because it was a novelty to experience and consume at the place where wine was made. Scotland has always had that with whisky. Why shouldn’t Liverpool have it with beer?”
In the end, Stephen bought the Higson’s brand and acquired The Liverpool Craft Beer Company, makers of the popular Love Lane pale ales. H1780 will also be the launchpad for a new gin brand called The Ginsmiths of Liverpool.
As you may have gathered, Stephen is a cricket fan. He was also a fine player who represented England Schools while at Birkenhead School, and went on to join Lancashire where he was on the books until he was 21.
“Cricket was my dream and I had three years at Old Trafford, but looking back I didn’t do well enough to carry on and the club let me go. It was quite hard to take, but at least I learned that if you have a dream you have to direct every bit of energy you can towards it to make it real. The upside of failing at something is it should help you succeed next time.”
The Higson’s beers of 2017 will not mimic previous Higson’s brews. Just like the building in which they’ll be made the new beers will move the past forward.
“Creating new products is exciting, and of course tastes have changed over the past 30 years or so. We’re aiming to make sure every Higson’s beer is a great pint, that our gins are exceptional and stand out, that the H1780 Tap & Still is a must-visit destination, and we already have the success of Love Lane we can develop and build on.
“I suppose you could say that we’re really proud of the past, but very excited by the future.”
Stephen lives in Hoylake with his wife, Fiona, and has two children, Fergus and Jamie.