All roads lead to Rooster’s
Robyn Gilmour catches up with the OGs of Yorkshire craft
Rooster's Brewing Co
Saturday 11 March 2023
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Beer has been a lifeline for everyone in the Rooster’s story, with the brewery itself tying all disparate threads of a thirty year timeline together. It becomes apparent to me, mere minutes into my conversation with commercial director, Tom Fozard, that Rooster’s Brewing Co is a classic example of a brewery so focused on honouring its roots, that it sometimes forgets to celebrate more modern achievements. Tom agrees, they’re guilty as charged. Saying that, it’s understandable that Rooster’s rather spectacular story has traditionally been told this way, given the winding path that’s led to what the brewery is today.
Unlike many established brands to feature in this month’s Beer52 box, and which set out on the UK scene 30 years ago to brew traditional British styles, Rooster’s original founder, Sean Franklin, made Rooster’s name on the back of trailblazing trends then only emerging in America. Sean’s approach to brewing was born in his training as a winemaker, and led him to treat hops as grapes, the source of a brew’s subtle and most complicated character. After a false start with Franklin’s brewery, a business that Sean opened in the mid-80s but couldn’t sustain without the infrastructure and market interest that would blossom and become available a decade later, Sean went back to full time taxi driving until Sierra Nevada peaked people’s interest in American hops.
When Sean started Rooster’s at an unknown and, much to Tom’s dismay, undocumented point in 1993, he was so ahead of his time as to be secretive with recipes and records, some carefully concealed paper forms of which never made their way into our modern world. What we do know is that as cascade, columbus and chinook gained interest in the US, Sean began importing the hops directly from the farms they were grown on, beating out export routes as well as trails to paler and higher ABV styles. Sean even entered his brews in the World Beer Cup, and won back to back golds with YPA (Yorkshire Pale Ale) in 2006, and 2008, only taking home silver in 2010 because another beer he entered, Leghorn (Pale Ale) won gold.
Tom and his brother, Oliver, and Dad, Ian, had grown up and gotten older knowing about Rooster’s and jumped on the opportunity to learn the brewery’s full backstory in 2011 when Sean, ever protective over process and product, began looking for someone suitable to sell the brewery to.
Now, put a pin in 2011 and rewind to the year 2000. While Sean Franklin was eking out the beginnings of Rooster’s Brewing Co, various members of the Fozard family were on journeys of their own. Twin brothers Tom and Oliver inherited their interest in beer from dad, who entered the world of beer in the 90’s, buying a pub which he ran part time, and as a hobby, while working his day job as a senior manager in healthcare. The combination proved as unsustainable as it sounded, but fortunately, as Ian lay in wait for the right time to resign, BUPA bought the company he worked for, giving him the golden goodbye that allowed him time and money to invest in becoming a hospitality entrepreneur.
Between 1999 and 2011, Ian would build a chain of 15 pubs across Yorkshire, all of which centred the patron experience in good quality beer, wine and food. Rooster’s, it should be noted, was always on the menu. Tom and Oliver finished school the year Ian quit his career in healthcare, and so began their own journeys to brew beer. Oliver, being the more hands-on of the brothers, wanted to get stuck into the world of practical work right away, so with the help of his local job centre, he started working as a trainee brewer in a local brewery in 2000. It seemed an appropriate progression for him, given the twins had been exposed to beer and pub culture growing up.
Tom, being the more academic of the two, would take a more winding path; classic creative. He’d enjoyed school, and so wanted to go down the university route to prolong his learning years, eventually ending up working for an independent publishing company, and unfortunately being made redundant during the 2008 financial crisis. “I struggled to know what to do with myself after that”, Tom begins. “I ended up on the dole for a little bit, then got a job in a pub. I was supposed to be covering someone’s two week holiday but ended up staying 18 months and really enjoyed it. It kind of reintroduced me to beer; I'd gone to university, down south and so had ended up drinking cider for years.”
To keep a long story short, Tom started home brewing from there and loved it, motivating his move to an independent Leeds based bottle shop, where he became better acquainted with world beer styles and craft producers. Eventually, financial necessity required he begin considering how he could make his passion, skill set and experience of working in pubs, work for him. Tom approached his dad Ian for advice and input on a business plan that would support him setting up his own brewery. Little did he know Oliver had recently done the same thing, and Sean Franklin would also soon be picking up the phone to Ian, one of his longest standing stockists, about whether his two sons would be interested in taking the reins of Rooster’s.
The rest, as they say, is history. Through tangled paths and unclear trajectories, Franklin found the Fozards, and Fozards fell in love with beer again and again and again. Since 2011, this next generation of the Rooster's team has continued to accrue awards from SIBA, CAMRA and the International Beer Awards for the likes Baby-Faced Assassin, an IPA with American roots, but which has been developed and brewed by Tom and Oliver. Today, which is to say, 30 years on, Rooster’s brewery is all stainless steel and swanky onsite taproom, a far cry from the ramshackle dream machine they inherited from Sean, but a suitable final form for a brewery that’s been built to American standards.festation of what Rooster’s set out to be.
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