BREWS AND BLUES, A SHEDTIME STORY
Brewing beer, playing records and making people laugh; they all happen in sheds, writes Alastair Gilmour
Tim Barnes had twin ambitions – to make his own beer and sit in his shed listening to music. Both boxes have been well and truly ticked but it has been a long journey – quite literally – for the primary school teacher from South London.
Tim, his wife Martine and two sons now live in Richmond, North Yorkshire, in a two-storey house which was previously – on ground level at least – a butcher’s shop. An archway with huge double doors leads to an attractive courtyard and outbuildings previously used as a slaughterhouse. This is Tim’s “shed”, his home-brew and music bolthole and named Blues Night, it’s the end result of a search for suitable premises to open a record shop.
He admits teaching wasn’t his passion but it paid the bills. But what made him think more deeply about the future was the death of a friend (“who was always broke as well”) who travelled the world playing records in clubs.
“He wasn’t very good at it but managed to make it work,” says Tim. “I thought I could do something similar – it’s now or never – and my wife said ‘you could brew beer as well’. I had never done it before. I thought I’d brew in the summer doing some sort of hospitality work.
“We sold the house in Peckham, bought a motorhome, took the boys out of school, and travelled all round looking for a place that would suit a record shop. At first I wanted it to be in a city centre but this is ideal. My wife is too kind…”
Eventually heading for Scotland, they hit horrendous weather and were almost washed into the river at Rothbury in Northumberland – an area Tim knew well from his youth as a mountain biker. Retreating south, they fetched up in Richmond where he persuaded Martine into buying the house (which he had already had his eye on).
Their sons’ education came partly from Tim and Martine on their travels but mostly by learning about places they had visited and interesting things they had seen.
“They’re really settled now in school,” he says. “I then did what I had to do – I read a book on brewing by James Morton – and realised beer is all about flavour and colour. I haven’t made one yet that I don’t like.
“Both of my ambitions required the involvement of other people to make them work. So the records are for sale and the beer is produced in sufficient quantities that there’s always three or four different styles to try, from light to dark, bottle conditioned, American hops, you know the kind of thing.
“It’s just my hobby, really. People seem to like it though, and they come in between 2pm and 7pm on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, mostly in ones and twos. Sometimes I have six or seven people in there at a time, but I’m never rushed off my feet and I’m rarely on my own for very long, although I don’t particularly mind it when I am.
“I really hope to keep at it for a good long time, but I don’t want to scale the operation up much. I like it how it is.”
Tim is far too modest about his beers – brewed in the kitchen – but they are certainly of commercial quality with myriad flavours all taking their rightful place. He can’t charge for them but customers donate money which goes towards ingredients – but Tim insists they don’t have to.
And of course, the beers have music-themed names that reflect the wide nature of his taste, experience and stock of vinyl – Lightnin’ Hoppings, Wort Jansch, Isaac Hazy, King Trubby and Lord Pitchinger, named after the calypso singer Lord Kitchener who was one of the first West Indians to disembark from the Empire Windrush in 1948.
Lightnin’ Hoppings (6.5% abv) is a fruity and spicy American-style IPA with hits of ginger (“I don’t know where that comes from but I dry hop for longer than I’m supposed to.”)
Blues Night Records is small and square in shape with stools and settees providing somewhere to leaf through a magazine from the pile of old NMEs, admire the montage of record sleeves on one wall, or ready themselves to flip through boxes, boxes and boxes of vinyl.
Ultimately, pubs are Tim’s passion, alongside everything that goes with them. He says: “Brewing my own beer keep me out of the pub –I’m very, very fond of pubs but I suppose I was spending way too much.
“I was involved in a community pub in Peckham called The Ivy House which was the first community buy-out in London. I used to call it my beer space. When I looked at my monthly bank statements I would call it my Ivy House Tax.
“James Morton says ‘brewing changed my life’ and Martine kept saying ‘it’s going to be cheap and every year you’re going to make brilliant beer’.
“I’d like to think I’ve taken an element of that into my small space here. People come in when they’ve finished work on a Friday or are just walking by, partly out of nosiness – and a lot of young people come to Richmond on holiday. They’ll have one or two beers then move on, but they use it in a very respectful way. People are very approachable in the north, it’s a culture, it’s warm and genuine.
“It’s Lightnin’ Hopkins’ birthday today so I’ve got a projector and I’ll show a film of him from seven o’clock tonight. I’ll probably be the only one here when it’s finished…”