The Dancing Man
formerly known as The Wool House
We can’t quite believe we made it – our brewery has a new home, and we have the honour of welcoming everyone to this amazing historic building. Here is a little bit about how we got here – who we are, what we do and most importantly: why we do it. Let me tell you our story.
Who am I? ~ Mandy, co-owner and partner, very pleased to meet you!
Do you reckon we could squeeze a micro brewery into this place?
The place was The Platform Tavern, one of the very rare Free Houses in Southampton.
The time: one Thursday evening, sat after hours putting the world to rights.
The who: Stewart, the landlord, along with Aidan, the bar manager at the time.
So the seed was planted, Stewart then got to thinking. Aidan provided figures, contacts and his wish list. Calculators were busy and bank accounts raided.
Within months Aidan had expanded his knowledge of ‘brewing techniques’ and honed his skills. Finally, through hard work and determination, the self taught brewer was confident he could create some magic in the tiny back kitchen of the Platform. An order for a one barrel brewing plant was placed and kitchen equipment was removed. Along with the kitchen door frame.
(Somebody forgot to measure the door way before ordering the tanks :) but we don’t talk about that)
So the kit arrived and the magic started.
But what about a name for the Brewery?
If you have been to the Platform you probably would have noticed the image of a little dancing man. This mark, now the logo, was coveted by Stewart when spotted at the Lamar Tree festival. David Bennett, the artist, was approached, coins were exchanged and the Dancing Man was brought to the Platform!
So how about the what ?
Troubadour was Aidan’s first creation – it went down a storm! Within a few months we had a medal under our belt from The Gosport Beer Festival.
Unfortunately, our enthusiasm had got the better of us. The name! We forgot to check it out! It wasn’t long before we were contacted by Troubadour Brewery asking us to change it. So sadly the name Troubadour is no more. But if any of you miss this ale please feel free to suggest a new one. The recipe is in a very safe place just waiting to get out!
Before long we were inundated with Beer Fest requests, landlord enquiries and private orders.
A cunning plan was hatched
We could barely brew enough for our own taps at the pub.
Where to brew?
50 feet from the Platform Tavern is a magnificent building called Gods House Tower, previously used by Southampton’s archaeologists. When they moved out we had the idea of approaching Southampton City Council to see if there was an opportunity to rent the building. This would enable us to expand our little brewery. Sadly, it had already been set aside for The Arts and will open in 2015.
Disappointed but not beaten, we were made aware that the incredible Wool House could be an option. So off we went to look at the former Maritime Museum. (This used to house the Titanic display but was moved to Sea City, a purpose built museum at the Civic Centre in 2011)
A beautiful, medieval Grade 1 Listed National Monument. And empty, too. With its leaky roof and disused display cases, it was a huge space crying out for a bit of love.
Our initial reaction as we walked around the building was overwhelming. It is such a stunning and unique building it blew us all away. There was no way we could pull this off. It was far too big for what we needed.
Or was it?
We were a bit chicken back then and talked ourselves out of it. We couldn’t do it. It was just too big for our needs. And how would we ever set about raising funds? And would our bid even be accepted?
When friends, family and regulars heard of what we were thinking they sprang into action. Before long we had a business plan, a vision, a mission statement and investors.
Our bid was successful and that’s when the hard work really started. It was around this time that the Council allowed a Pop up Arts group to use the building to display their fine art work. As you will see by some of the press cuttings they, too, wanted the Wool House. And unfortunately we were smack bang in the middle of a recession, not a good time. The only way the building would survive was with investment and a long term, sustainable plan.
Our journey had begun.
So we had the money. The building and a brewer. A pub Land Lord with 15 years experience. A dog, a name and a logo. And a whole lot of ideas and cunning and approved plans.
That’s when we started to think I needed a career swerve – I won’t say change as I have been in the trade for nearly 20 years. The team decided that when the time was right I would get onboard. So I joined as a sales and event type person, part time, to grow the business out into Free Trade.
For the rest of 2013 we met with Councillors, English Heritage, Bank types, and potential investors and got in some building quotes.
Fortune smiled upon us. We come upon a company called Technics Interiors. Now it turns out we were not just getting in to bed with your average builders. No. These boys are true craftsmen. Without their suggestions, support and patience this project would probably have driven us all insane.
We salute you boys – whoever takes on the lease in 25 years will find many names and dates written under floor boards, behind walls and on doors – little clues as to who was involved and what part they played.
During this time Ned expressed an interest to jump from barman to 2nd brewer. Training ensued and before long young Ned was also creating a little magic with our tiny kit.
Two Brewers, a Land Lord, a dog and half a Sales Rep.
It was crunch time.
It was in April 2014 when things became a little fraught and we ended up in front of a panel of 12 councillors defending our plans to breathe life back into the Wool House. Both sides of the argument were heard and deliberated. Our proposition was unanimously approved.
There are no words to explain how we felt leaving the Civic Centre. Except maybe… very excited!
So it was crunch time.
Do I stay with my beloved Fullers Brewery as a Regional Sales Manager? Or do I jump ship and grow the business alongside my Husband Stew and our Head Brewer Aidan.
The decision was made – and in May 2014 I joined the Dancing Man Team.
In June, we entered Sea City Gold 5.0% and Smoke Rye ‘Sin 5.0% into the Southampton Beer Festival at the Guildhall. Both beers were new creations.
Sea City Gold was brewed with the help of the then Mayor Ivan White as part of the 50 Years of City Status celebrations. This beer was then named by Trevor and Jenny Moore when they entered a competition to name this special beer. Read more about this in the Lancashire Telegraph.
So we now have a number of awards, four and counting – and look forward to achieving many more.
And who knows – maybe we may one day win First Place at The Great British Beer Festival held in London every August!!!
I digress. Back to our story…
In July, Sarah joined as our rock. Sarah is a data freak and loves all the stuff we brewery types hate. Data base thingeys, funding, book keeping and setting up procedures. So on board she came and has done a sterling job. More importantly, she introduced us to some fine people such as our super duper web designer – Prisca from Eyedea Studio.
We encountered many problems – just like they do on the telly with Grand Designs.
We didn’t sleep much. The project was all consuming. Grey hairs started to sprout.
But we never gave up.
Our network of support remained strong. We carefully put each problem to bed and waited for the next one. This was a strange and scary time. The progress made every day with the building works, the enquiries, the messages and the excitement shown by those involved, kept us focused.
Each time we went down to the Wool House we came away filled with wonder and joy. Our little idea was growing into a fine example of creativity. And let’s say it – a pretty ballsy project.
Just before Christmas a shiny, new 6 bbl kit was delivered and installed. Our mezzanine floor upstairs was erected. Bars built, lights installed, including a chandelier designed by Greg and Mark from Artifact Lighting. Haggling commenced on Snooker table slate, wood from a Kentucky Race Course in America, a railway carriage floor and the floor from a whiskey distillery. All these items were bought and lovingly installed by the Technic Boys.
Doors from a Victorian School were dipped and stained. Old crittal windows were sourced and many favours were called in.
Derren, the Project Manager, designed and built a beautiful solid Oak door. This enabled us to open a defunct fire door. He has branded his door with the initials RR, and it will remain as his legacy to the history of the Wool House building.
So here we are.
This is what happens when you throw creative, passionate, slightly eccentric, driven, experienced, family orientated nutters together. Along with a bit of cash and a whole lot of dreams. Oh, and don’t forget the dog.
We have amazing staff lined up. 2 brewers and an experienced Land Lord and businessman. A sales and events organiser, Chefs and an Administrator. We also have excited investors, expectant customers, and a purpose built brewery. The design and add-ons have been so meticulously designed that if we should move on in 25 years nobody will be able to tell we were ever there.
And finally the ‘why’ we are here?
Craft Beer is undergoing a massive shift. We have more breweries in our country now than ever before. British and American Brewers are showing the World just what can happen with a little imagination and a passion for beer. It’s not about throwing as much grog down your neck as you can take, it’s like wine. There are so many hops, fruits, styles- it’s such an exciting trade to be involved in.
We all know about the obscene amount of pub closures we have suffered throughout the UK. The Dancing Man Brewery is our contribution and dream to bring the Craft Beer Revolution to you in Hampshire.
We love to entertain. We all enjoy good grub, history, company and good business practice and we are fortunate to be able to confidently – ORGANISE A P***-UP IN A BREWERY.
A well as all the above we now have a fab events space. There will be Conferences and mini exhibitions. The building itself will showcase Art Work which will constantly change so that the public can see the treasures of Southampton.
There will be brew tours and brew days. Weddings, wedding fares, christenings, birthdays, anniversary parties and wakes. Gigs, vintage fares, northern soul nights, and all manner of events, some supported with dances from our friends The Morris Men.
But don’t just read this stuff – come and see what we are doing. Come and learn to brew. Try our Award winning beers. Enjoy great food and learn how to pair with not just our Craft beers but beers from all over the World. Partake of the ciders and fine wines. Drink kicking coffee in The Cake Hole, eat pie in the Pie Hole along with other Modern British food served from our shiny new kitchen.
All this encased in a building steeped in history and beauty. A warm welcome awaits and apart from all that WE HAVE PIE! Huge, desperate Dan style pies and beer!
What more could you ask for?