Getting to know BREW: Turning Point Brewing Co.
Updated: Apr 29
After moving to new premises in 2019, the Co-owners of Turning Point Brewing Co - Cameron McQueen and Aron McMahon - had hoped that added brewing capacity and an onsite Taproom would be the start of great things for the Knaresborough based brewery.
Unfortunately, the pandemic hit the brewers hard and they had to focus on keeping the brewery afloat after they had used up all of their resources moving from their initial brewery in Kirkbymoorside. Like many breweries in the UK over the last 18 months, they had to adapt quickly and keep their business thriving on online sales alone.
May 17th couldn’t come soon enough for Turning Point Brewing Co, with pubs, restaurants and taprooms once again able to open up and welcome guests inside their premises.
We caught up with Cameron to find out everything from his biggest challenges over the last 12 months to how he feels about the hospitality sector reopening in the next few months.
Q. How is your beer connected to the local area?
We have only been at our current home in Knaresborough for around a year, but in that short time, we have certainly found a place that feels like home. Our site has previously been host to Rooster’s Brewing Co, who we are immensely fond of. This building already has ‘beer’ history and we love the idea of continuing that story. The Taproom is an important part of what we do, and we hope it will become a great beer destination in its own right. In the limited time, we've been able to open it so far, we've been getting to know the lovely people of Knaresborough and can't wait to get back to doing that every weekend.
Q. What do you think is unique about your beer and your brewery?
I really think that the character of our beer is embedded in our ethos of brewing what we want when we want. It's the reason we started Turning Point. We try not to over-bake ideas and let them develop naturally with a good amount of feel and spontaneity. Even with tripling our brew length (hence triple the risk!) , we're still sure enough of ourselves to gamble on some crazy ideas.
We don't really have a core range (the only beer we keep permanently is Disco King, our American pale ale), which means we don't really have a brew schedule. To a certain extent, we make it up as we go along. This way of brewing does create more than a little bit of extra work, but we wouldn't have it any other way.
Q. How do you decide on what new seasonal beers to brew?
We like to try our hand at as many styles of beer as we can. You can usually expect to see us dabbling in a number of IPAs, imperial stouts, sours, and sessionable pale ales at any one time. Luke (head brewer) and I handle the majority of the recipes, but we do get input from the whole team and love to push ourselves to try new things. We often take inspiration from interesting foods we've eaten, places we’ve been… the ideas can come from anywhere really.
Q. Are there any beer styles you are looking at tackling in the future that you haven’t done already?
I cannot believe we have made it 4 years in without brewing a bitter. It’s the style that first got me into beer and something that’s been on the to-do list since the start. Expect our twist on an ESB when the pubs are back open! At the same time, we will also make our first barleywine. Again, something we love to drink but just never found the room or the time to get it brewed!
Q. How important do you think collaborations with other breweries are?
It really is something we love to do. I always say there is no fixed blueprint for running a microbrewery; every brewery you visit has its own certain workflow, values, and in most cases, some kind of unexplainable tradition or ritual that just sort of happens. It’s important to get outside of your own weird and wonderful ecosystem sometimes and breathe a little extra life into your own process, as well as enjoying getting to know like-minded folk, and catch up with brewing friends.
Q. What efforts have you made to be environmentally friendly?
We do what we can to make sure we minimise waste as much as possible. All our inorganic waste is recycled, and all of our malt and hops go to a local farm and allotments. However, I’d like us to go further and not just do what we have to, but go above and beyond to make sure we’re a positive example of a brewery doing more than the minimum. It is difficult on our scale to invest proportionally to our output and make a significant difference. If anyone reading this has any tips or suggestions, I have an open mind and an open inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Q. What have been your biggest challenges over the last 12 months?
The initial challenge was just to survive. The pandemic landed at a really tricky time for us, having recently used up all of our resources moving from our initial brewery in Kirkbymoorside, to our current home in Knaresborough. We self-funded the move and were relying on a good start to 2020 to recover from it, but what happened, and when it happened was really quite terrifying. We realised pretty much instantly that to pull through, we couldn’t simply apply the brakes and wait for it to blow over, we had to adapt quickly and keep our brewery thriving on online sales alone, and that pretty much brings us up to the present day. Our focus was on keeping brewing, hosting online events, and making sure we could get beer to everyone who wanted to support us. It’s been a wild year but we’ve learned a lot from it.
Q. What are the biggest problems you run into in producing beer?
A lot of the beers we like to make involve pushing our equipment beyond its reasonable capabilities. On the days we make something like a lager or a lower ABV stout, we can’t quite believe how simple our lives would be if every brew day was that straightforward. We often end up double mashing stouts, brewing split batch sours, parti-gyling bigger beers on occasion, and dry hopping in our fermenters until they beg for forgiveness!
Q. Have you produced a beer that didn’t turn out how you wanted it to - either better or worse?
Very early in our brewing days, maybe four months in, we brewed a mango IPA called Sun Empire. The target was something like a Clwb Tropica(na), fruity but not tart, soft, and easy drinking. What we ended up with was far more heavy going, but so damn delicious. We went really heavy on the mango (the beer was luminous), and heavy on the tropical hops (I think it was Rakau). It was a crazy beer; super bitter but endlessly fruity and kind of hilarious to drink. I don’t think we’d be able to make it like for like. We’ve learned a lot since then!
Q. They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but how important do you think branding/package design is for your beers?
For us, the branding has to represent what that beer is about, which is why our branding spans quite a few themes! For the most part, our designs are done by Lottie Walsh, and she does an incredible job of bringing our beers (and strange design requests) to life. I do some of the designs myself, they tend to be a little simpler in scope! I guess the two styles have bright colours in common, but represent different aspects of the kind of beer we make, more broadly. It’s important for a can of beer to give off an impression of what you can expect it to taste like. When we’re asking people to pay more than a few bob for a high-end IPA or stout, it had better look the part too, eh?
Q. Do you feel that non-alcoholic beers have an important part to play in the craft beer industry?
I do, even though we haven’t ventured below 3.0% ABV yet. I think the biggest stumbling block is flavour. Whilst I’ve had some enjoyable low/no beers, the majority fall short of the mark of replicating the enjoyable experience of a great pint of beer. I’m aware of the chasm in affordability of equipment to de-alcoholise beers, between large and small breweries, but it’s encouraging to see more small breweries be able to make strides in the non-alcoholic category. It’s something we would love to offer, but at this time we are not in any rush to produce something, especially if we lack the tools to make it exactly as we’d like to. Drinking in moderation is something that is not made easy by this job, being surrounded by beer all the time, and if there was little perceivable difference between a low/no beer and its higher ABV equivalent, I’d be all over it.
Q. How important do you think reviewing platforms like Untappd are for the beer industry?
I think Untappd provides more value to the user than it does to the brewery (which makes sense, that is their customer after all). I don’t use it myself anymore, but pre Turning Point I loved having a searchable database of what I’ve enjoyed, where, and when, and now that so many bars are signed up, it’s handy to be able to check what is on before you venture out, or in recent times, book a table.
From the brewery perspective, it’s great to be able to have access to people’s views on your beer. I am only concerned with the qualitative feedback though as, the rating system doesn’t make sense as a way of ranking beer across an array of styles, but I genuinely love to read the comments that people put alongside their check-in. I’m still in that “pinch me” phase and still can’t get my head around the fact that people are regularly buying and drinking our beer!
In the early days, I think I would take bad reviews personally. I have since learned to shut it out, and I stand by anything we have released regardless of anyone who doesn’t share my/our enthusiasm! If we love it, then that’s mission accomplished.
Q. What’s next for you over the next 12 months?
We haven’t properly opened our Taproom at this point, despite being ready to open fully since March of 2020. Our focus for the summer will be making sure that our Taproom is an awesome place to socialise, drink our beers, and enjoy some cracking food whilst you’re at it. We still feel like we’re just moving in here, and haven’t had a “normal” year yet, so it would be more than a little bit okay for us to just focus on finding a bit of harmony in the brewhouse, in terms of what to produce, in what volumes, and how much demand we have for cask, keg, and can. Once we’ve found a sweet spot that keeps us all happy and new beers leaving the building regularly, we’ll be well placed to start looking at where to take Turning Point next.
Q. How do you feel about the easing of lockdown and the potential reopening of the hospitality sector by June?
We’re all very excited about drinking beer in some of our favourite pubs, and getting out there and supporting an industry that has had an impossibly difficult year. Plus we’ve got a lot of catching up to do with family and friends. We will of course be having most of those meetings in great pubs, bars, and restaurants.
About Turning Point Brewing Co.
Address: Turning Point Brew Co, Unit 3 , Grimbald Park Ind. Est. , Wetherby Road, Knaresborough, HG5 8LJ