Black Sheep

A small fish and a black sheep: Paul Theakston

As a Yorkshireman there are two things I hold dear. Good beer and a stubborn resilience. Nobody exemplifies these two characteristics more than Paul Theakston.

By the time Paul came along, the Theakston family had brewed beer for 5 generations.

He took over the brewery, based in the lovely North Yorkshire town of Masham, when he was just 22 years old and saw, through trial and error, the business grow.

However, times were hard for small breweries and he struggled to keep the business independent.

Theakston was a small fish and big sharks were circling. Finally, constant in-fighting between shareholders and family members preceded the sale to Scottish and Newcastle Breweries.

Paul, who had a cushy job in the Brewery’s new set up decided he’d had enough, he wanted to get back to what he loved, and launched a new brewery a few hundred yards up the road.

Things weren’t easy. He launched his little brewery in 1992, when the industry was controlled by huge multi-nationals.

He found a location he thought was perfect. The only problem was the sole entrance was through a pub owned by Scottish and Newcastle; now a much much larger competitor.

Once Paul had managed to build a new entrance, he decided he’d probably need a name. He wanted his new business to celebrate the area’s countryside and the family’s struggle with adversity. One day over breakfast his wife suggested Black Sheep. It stuck.

Paul realised that his weakness was also his strength. That small fish can do things big sharks can’t.

He went about salvaging brewing equipment from other traditional breweries. This way he could celebrate the history of brewing whilst being innovative and pioneering.

Paul also experimented until he finally found a beer he was happy to sell and, more importantly, drink. Black Sheep Best Bitter was born and it was incredibly successful.

In fact, Black Sheep is now one of the largest independent Breweries in the UK, its beer sells in pubs and supermarkets all over the country.

The shark down the road was eventually swallowed by an even bigger shark. Heineken and Carlsberg took control of Scottish & Newcastle in 2008. Black Sheep is still family run. Paul’s sons, the 6th generation, took control of day-to-day running in 2011.

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