14 miles from the city of York in North Yorkshire is a town called Selby. Situated on the banks of the River Ouse it once had a thriving shipbuilding industry and still draws attention for being home to Selby Abbey, one of the biggest parish churches in the UK. Sue and Keith Simpson moved to the nearby village of Barlow in 1984, taking up residence in the former Brown Cow Inn (a public house since 1957 and itself near the River Ouse). For thirteen years they simply worked and gave no thought to starting their own business – until one day Sue was made redundant.
With a lot of time on her hands suddenly she turned her attention to brewing beer. What she created was quite something. Further encouragement came from Chris Wraith, landlord of the Chequers pub in Ledsham, who told her he’d sell whatever she made. He wasn’t lying. Sue completed her first “official” brew on July 17th 1997 and it was soon available to drink at Chequers.
The Brown Cow Brewery is actually “a small renovated building behind the Simpson’s home”. When they last spoke about it on their website it had “grown to be a six-barrel plant, currently producing its maximum capacity of 17 barrels a week”. Keith left his own job in 2004 after deciding to run the business with Sue. Though not a brewer himself he has occasionally been required to step in when his wife is under the weather, such as when the Rook & Gaskill pub were expecting “a special beer” at the same time Sue was recovering from a bad fall.
Their malt is supplied by Thomas Fawcett & Sons, a prestigious company with over 200 years of experience, and hops are “carefully selected” from overseas. They have produced many different beers over the years with five “core beers” in continuous circulation. Of these two have been winning awards at festivals across England: Captain Oates Mild and Mrs Simpson’s Vanilla Porter. Captain Oates is a dark and creamy beer with a chocolaty nose and a smooth nutty body. As for Mrs Simpson’s Vanilla Porter – also called the Thriller In Vanilla – it shares that hint of chocolate but has a particularly fruity flavour which distinguishes it from Captain Oates.
Information on the Brown Cow Brewery is quite hard to come by and seems to dry up around 2013. We even wondered if they were still operating. The 6th Stillingfleet Beer & Music Festival recently took place in York though. A few days before it they shared a picture of the brewery on Facebook depicting a man (possibly Keith) next to a pile of silver barrels.
The Brown Cow lives!