With 1,000 pints of its award-winning Stone the Crows beer about to go down the drain due to Covid-19, Lymestone Brewery decided it was time to diversify.

The Stone-based brewery has produced its first ever beer spirit, working with Staffordshire’s Beer Barrel Distillery Co, as well as setting up an online store and bottled beer delivery service.

Stone the Crows Beer Spirit is a 41% ABV drink that’s smooth and peppery, with hints of caramel and vanilla, and with a long, malty finish.

Lymestone’s head brewer, Ian Bradford, said: “As you can imagine, the prospect of pouring beer down the drain is a brewer’s worst nightmare, so we were really keen to work with The Beer Barrel Distillery to see what they could do with it. We’re all absolutely delighted with the beer spirit they’ve produced.”

Tim Massey (a former director of Marston’s and managing director of Staffordshire’s Freedom Brewery) and David Goldingay (former boss of Shropshire’s Ironbridge Brewery) were granted a full distiller licence for The Beer Barrell Distillery Co — which is based near Uttoxeter — in March this year, after designing and building a unique still that could capture the distinctive qualities of a craft beer. Stone the Crows is their first beer spirit.

David Goldingay, master distiller at The Beer Barrel Distillery Co, said: “Nothing has ever given us so many sleepless nights. We had to get it right, to make sure the beer’s characteristics were all there in the spirit. And we nailed it. Taste the beer and then the spirit: there’s no doubting its parentage.”

‘The industry changed overnight. We had to adapt — quickly — or go under’

The spirit is best enjoyed neat to fully savour its range of complex flavours, with just a little water or an ice cube. Just sixty numbered 70cl bottles are currently available to buy at www.lymestonebrewery.net, although more will be produced soon and the brewery is aiming to have the beer spirit available at its two pubs — The Borehole and The Lymestone Vaults, both in Stone — when they are able to re-open.

Stone the Crows Beer Spirit is just one of the ways that the brewery has adapted and innovated in response to the Covid-19 crisis. Before the pandemic, 95% of Lymestone’s beer was sold in cask to pubs around the country; as pubs were ordered to close, this market collapsed.

An online store was quickly set up and a now-thriving bottle delivery service was introduced, including a popular Pandemic Survival Box, featuring Lymestone beers, glasses, beer mats, and snacks. In May, customers were able to buy cask beer again from the brewery, with strict social distancing and infection control procedures in place.

Ian added: “The industry changed overnight. We had to adapt — quickly — or go under. It was as simple as that. Half of our brewery staff, and all staff at our two pubs, are currently furloughed, so I won’t consider that we’ve come fully through this crisis until they’re all back at work.

“Along with everyone else, we’re waiting to see the government’s plans for re-opening pubs and how we can start to return to some kind of normality. If we can return to cask sales as pubs re-open, but with our strong online addition and new products like Stone the Crows Beer Spirit, then we we’ll have managed to grow our business in the most challenging of circumstances.”

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