A chemistry teacher with a passion for beer is leaving the classroom to launch his own craft beer company.
Nick Smith, a North Easterner who studied at Newcastle University, has moved into premises in Newton Aycliffe and started trading at The Steam Machine Brewing Company.
Together with his wife, the pair have invested their own money in the venture which also borrows the enthusiasm and knowledge of some of Mr Smith’s brewing friends.
Mr Smith explained: “My interest in brewing really started at university with friends. As cash-strapped students it was a way to make alcohol, and when we got a handle on the process we began to start experimenting in producing more expensive beers — the kind we couldn’t ordinarily afford.
“I love real ale but it’s very strict in what it can be. The emergence of craft beer is a good vehicle to experiment. We realised that all these great bars springing up in the North East were full of amazing US brewers, but few UK ones.”
Steam Machine was born following Mr Smith’s return to the North East from a teaching job in the Channel Islands.
He has spent the last two years perfecting his recipes, using a stove pot to produce small quantities and monitoring the craft beer market.
After experimenting with different hops, some from abroad, the brand is expected to launch in a number of Newcastle pubs and bars in the next five weeks.
Mr Smith added: “We saw all these great craft brewers like Meantime coming out of London, so we’re excited to be able to build something in the North East. The venues that we’ve spoken to have really been taken by that idea.
“A lot of venues so far have sold craft beer through bottles and cans so the aim of Steam Machine is to tackle that niche for good quality keg beer.”
Only this month the Office for National Statistics added craft beer to the basket of goods used to calculate the rate of inflation.
The move is just one indicator of craft beer’s growing popularity among UK consumers, despite a shrinking beer market, in volume terms.
Mr Smith recently caught the attention of fellow entrepreneur Richard Branson, with whom he shared a train journey on the Virgin boss’ new East Coast service. Steam Machine was chosen was selected as one of three fledgling startups to be mentored by Mr Branson on a recent visit to the UK.
On the encounter Mr Smith said: “I took some samples with me so Richard could see and taste the product first hand. He was really interested in what we are doing, and I ended up spending quite a lot of talking to him about the origins of different beer — largely showing my geekiness on the subject.”