The Lay of the Land

We talk to Melton Mowbray-based Round Corner Brewing about paying support forward, and the potential of beer to bolster the East Midlands' thriving food manufacturing industry


Combie Cryan’s wiry brows and statement spectacles are a welcome sight. I’ve only ever known Round Corner’s co-founder to be a wellspring of positivity, and today is no different. You can’t blame him, as Round Corner has a lot to be positive about. The last six months have seen the brewery rake in a string of coveted awards at the European Beer Challenge and International Brewing & Cider Awards, and while operating at maximum capacity since the beginning of the year has posed its challenges, Round Corner is counting its blessings. Growing pains are bittersweet in today’s craft beer landscape, so the brewery is holding tight to its roots in Melton Mowbray and not losing sight of its mission to make uncommonly good beer. 

Combie acknowledges that Melton Mowbray — a now rare example of a town centre market — has offered Round Corner a geographical community that it wouldn’t have if it were based on an industrial estate. The site on which the brewery is based hosts a plethora of independent businesses, vendors, and food festivals that feed locals, as well as out-of-town members of the farming and agricultural community that come into the town to do business. This unique confluence of growers, farmers and food manufacturers in the area has long rendered Melton the rural capital of food and drink in the UK, and the only town in the country with two designated origin products – stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies. 

Combie is immensely proud to call Melton Mowbray Market the home of Round Corner Brewing. He tells me that the site is so old, and so tied to trade and agriculture in the UK that the 20-acre plot is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Yet in spite of the market being over 1,000 years old, and located right in the middle of the town, Combie still encounters local people who haven’t set foot inside. Granted on trading days Melton Mowbray Market is a riot of farmers herding hundreds of sheep and cattle through the space, but outwith that, Combie hopes that by attracting people to the brewery’s taproom, situated on the market, Round Corner can drum up more local pride and interest in Melton Mobray’s role within the UK’s food and drink scene. 

PHOTO: Colin and Combie, the founders

Combie hopes that in the future, the taproom – and by extension the market – will become a visitable experience at least five days a week. Right now, the taproom is closed when weekday trade is ongoing, moving with the ebb and flow of the market so as not to disrupt neighbouring operations. When the market space is not in use, the taproom is free to spill out into it, expanding and contracting as needed. It’s not lost on Combie that being situated on the market means Round Corner plays a very visible role in the community it caters to, but in attracting new demographics, it also has the potential to have a regenerative effect on the area. 

By this, Combie is referring to a town-wide project backed by a £12 million pledge from the local council that’s already underway, to make Melton Mowbray a destination for food and drink lovers. Combie points out that “the tradition of making world-class products is fairly well ingrained” in the East Midlands, and Melton Mowbray in particular, but it still isn’t a destination for food tourists. While Melton Mowbray annually hosts four of the country’s largest food festivals – Pie Fest, Choc Fest, The East Midlands Food Festival and the Artisan Cheese Festival – it doesn’t attract visitors on a consistent, year round basis. 

“We see it as our collective job to make that farm to fork, town meets country experience, really, really special, and share that with a broader range of people,” says Combie. “We’ve got a farmers market running here on a Friday that, in my mind, is the truest representation of a farmers’ market ever. For a start, they’re all farmers, many of whom have been running their pitches for 30 or 40 years, and their produce is available at good prices because no one has dreamed up big pitch fees that the vendor has to pass onto the customer. So we’ve got these amazing neighbours who are totally fascinating to us and that we try to work with as much as possible. For example we’re surrounded by butchers and cheesemongers, but we’ve also got a smokehouse and a gin distillery right next door. Our job is to find more of those and complement their products where we can.”

In my experience, Combie and the rest of the Round Corner team are innately generous with their time and resources, but that didn’t make me any less interested to learn that the support of other local businesses solidified the brewery’s determination to pass help forward. 

“Samworth Brothers are a two billion pound food business, and Long Clawson make 75% of the world’s stilton as well as a whole load of other products,” Combie says. “Both are based in Melton, both are big businesses that don’t have a huge overlap with what we do, but they’ve just been so good to us. They’ve shared manufacturing expertise, given us contacts, sorted us out with pallets when we need them. We have no right to expect that kind of love and care from them, but they’ve never hesitated to give it to us. We’re very grateful for that and hope that as we get bigger we continue to pay it on to the next businesses that come into the market or into Melton.” 

The Midlands isn’t plush with breweries despite being home to Burton-Upon-Trent, the spiritual home of traditional English brewing. Combie is quick to remind me he’s a ‘blow-in’ (Irish expat) like myself when I ask if he has any insight into the relative scarcity of independent breweries in the Midlands, but he goes on to say that outwith the obvious — the brutality of the beer world these days — he can’t be sure why there aren’t more breweries in the East Midlands. “It’s nothing to do with taste,” he says. “We’ve seen the appetite for quality local products, and it certainly isn’t financial, a pint of our beer is the same price as a pint of a macro product in a pub.”

While Combie is pragmatic, he’s also a fountain of energy and optimism. He’s less concerned and more excited about the challenge of connecting with consumers of macro products who haven’t traditionally been catered to by artisanal producers. “Of course, you have to be clever about how you approach those new connections,” says Combie. “You're not going to approach them with 13% Imperials or anything like that. We’re going to offer really beautiful, crisp lagers and well balanced IPAs when it comes to the West Coast side of things, as well as for the NEIPA and hazys. We’ve always tried to win through accessibility and through slowly helping them on their journey.” 

In a way, drinkers and stockists are helping Round Corner on its journey too. Last year a distributor in York, Pivovar, essentially sponsored the brewery’s re-entry into the cask category, taking nearly every drop of cask it made for six months. Since then, the brewery has continued releasing a new cask beer every month, which Combie says has been a great way to engage with new audiences. The brewery has also begun rolling out national distribution, ensuring its beer reaches all corners of the UK, a feat that would be impossible without stockists, distributors, and the appetite of drinkers keen to be part of Round Corner’s story. 

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