Winners follow-up: Steven Holmes, Farmyard Ales, 2018 Diversification (small-medium) Innovator of the Year

When Steven Holmes realised his small family farm was not financially viable to support him, he came up with an alternative plan. With an admirable work ethic and an impressive business head on his young shoulders, Farm Yard Ales is flying.

Having lived on his family farm all his life, Steven Holmes was keen to follow in his father’s footsteps and work on the family farm.

He says: “Dad is the fifth generation of the family to farm here and I wanted to be the sixth, but quickly realised that it was not financially viable for me.”

Determined to keep the 34-hectare (85-acre) holding in the Lancashire based family, Steven knew it needed another income source and decided to turn his hobby of home brewing into a business opportunity.

Up until 1990, the family had a dairy herd at Moss Edge Farm, but the dairy needed expensive updates that were not feasible.

Instead, they started a suckler herd, alongside several other income streams.

Steven says: “As well as the suckler herd, we produce haylage and my dad took on groundwork to help the farm.”

As a young adult, Steven developed a taste for progressive beers and started dabbling with home brewing using pots and pans in his parent’s kitchen, later  expanding into a redundant farm building.

He says: “I got really excited about the process of yeast turning sugar into alcohol; it felt like witchcraft.”


But, as with many wishing to develop their hobby into a business, it came with its hurdles. He says: “I could not borrow money from the bank, as I had no commercial brewing experience. My parents have been so supportive; they own the land and could borrow against it. We also got funding through Leader.”

Steven’s first grant covered 40 per cent of the initial build costs and he later secured a second grant for an extension, including addition of a canning line (again 40 per cent of the total project cost).

The brewery is now a purpose-built building, which was built from scratch on-farm.

Steven says: “It meant we could  really nail it from the off. It has the required sloping floors, insulation and roller shutter doors, so it is very secure. It was ideal rather than adapting an existing building.”

The first commercial batch of beer was ready just before Steven’s wedding to Janet Towers in September 2017. Janet, a paramedic for the Air Ambulance, also comes from an award-winning farming family.

Her brothers, Joe and Edward Towers, of Lune Valley Dairy, were winners of the Dairy Innovator of the Year Award at the 2017 British Farming Awards.

In the early days of the business, Steven and Janet had a visit from ‘young, innovative and experienced’ brewer Darius Darwell, who was looking at setting up a business near Skipton.

Steven says: “He came to look around and hear about what we were doing and fell in love with the place and never left.

“He was initially going to come on board with his own brand, but instead decided to work for us as head brewer.”

The first beer produced was ‘Hay Bob’, a cheeky nod to Steven’s father Bob making a mistake with the first batch.

Steven says: “He milled more malt than we needed, but it turned out fine. We were winging it then and still are really, but it has been an exciting journey that has exceeded all my expectations. We have seen a 350 per cent increase in the last two years.”

As well as ‘getting the beers right’, Steven credits the general surge in interest in beer as helping the business to grow.

He says: “A lot more people are wanting to go out and find something different and explore the world of beer.”

As well as producing several different beers, they also have a tap house open Thursday to Sunday, hosting live music and special events.

“The tap room and events do really well because of our location. We are 12 minutes from the M6 in the village of Cockerham.”


Steven’s own favourite beers include his German-style pilsner Lof for a summer’s day: “In winter, I enjoy our coffee milk stout called Hoof, which is a real winter warmer.

“Our progressive beers are all named with single syllable words ending in F, for example Gulf, Chaff, Hoof, Lof and Sheaf.

“The names of our traditional beers all relate to the farm, for example Holmestead’, which also incorporates our surname.”

The branding of these two ranges is quite different too, with progressive beers being sold in cans and sporting modern imagery and bright colours, while the bottled traditional range includes historic pictures of the farm on its labels, including an old photograph of Steven’s grandfather combining.

Steven says: “Progressive or craft beer is more hipster, out there beer, using innovative ingredients and methods. It is pushing the boundaries using new techniques and experimental use of extra ingredients, such as passionfruit or blood orange.”

All beers are made with British malt supplied by Muntons in Suffolk.

Steven says: “We cannot grow our own barley here. There is better weather in the eastern counties, so we leave them to it.”

The spent grains from the brewery are fed to the cattle on-farm and wastewater can be spread on the fields.

The brewery now produces about 14,000 litres of beer per week, supplying stockists covering a wide area including Scotland, Liverpool, Manchester and 28 Booths supermarket stores across the North of England.

He says: “I have had to learn a lot, particularly about the financial side, but have now been able to employ someone to look after the invoicing and another to
organise events and look after customer relations. We have a great team.”


Until recently, Steven was also working nights driving a milk tanker to support the brewery business.

He says: “I was doing six nights a week, then went down to four on and four off. Now I just help out when needed. It paid off and contributed to the business and its success.”

One major challenge Steven and his team have faced along the way was an issue with labelling on the cans.

He says: “They had to be recalled as allergens were not correctly highlighted in bold type. Stock came back from stores all mixed up and a lot had short dates so had to be thrown away.

“It was a logistical nightmare and financially crippling.

“It was the only time I felt like giving the whole thing up. It cost us £10,000 and was really demoralising, just as we were trying to get traction in the market. It took 48 hours to pick myself up and move on. You can’t let it get you down.”

In contrast, winning the Diversification Innovator of the Year Award was a highlight, he says.

He says: “We were nominated for three awards last year, but this was the biggest one, the national one. It was pretty great being named as a finalist, then a bit surreal to actually win.

“It has been great for staff morale, proving we are going in the right direction. There have been a lot of positives from it.”

Steven hopes there will be more expansion on the cards, but not too much: “We are still winging it, but we will keep expanding. If the market is there, we will grow with it. We do not want to get to a size where we lose the personal touch. It is a family business and we do not ever want to forget our roots.”