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Mini growlers brewing a storm; With half a Mini and a recycling brainwave, The Pip Stop is going back to the future in its mission to quench customers' thirst. JANE HALL found out more.

We're pretty rubbish at recycling these days. The country is dotted with landfill sites, waste overflows from bins and in some areas there are more plastic bags in bushes than there are leaves.

Such is our throwaway mentality we now have to be reminded to recycle, with some councils even threatening to make it compulsory.

It wasn't always like this. The 'make do and mend' mindset of just a couple of generations ago meant nothing was wasted as furniture, clothes and even food past its sell-by date could always be reused.

One of the biggest scandals is the number of plastic and glass drinks bottles and take-out coffee cups wantonly discarded.

Fifty years ago milk bottles were left out on the doorstep to be collected and reused. 'Money back' glass pop bottles were the norm.

Grocery stores would stock kegs of sherry or beer, or even have hand pumps on the counter allowing customers to fill their own jug or bottle. Now a North East beer and wine retailer with a difference is resurrecting the age-old idea - but with a distinct American twist.

The Pip Stop at Maiden Law, near Lanchester, County Durham, has introduced the 'growler' system.

A growler is a glass, ceramic or stainless steel bottle popular in the United States and Canada and used to sell take-out craft beer, or even wine.

Growlers have become popular with beer enthusiasts this side of the Atlantic who like the idea of rocking up to their favourite brewery and filling their own bottle with their preferred tap-fresh tipple.

The back-to-basics concept has become popular in London and is creeping across the UK. Now The Pip Stop has picked up on the idea.

The venture, which opened two years ago in a converted 1950s garage, is not the only place in the region offering a beer growler service. But owner Ben Cleary, 28, is certain no one else has extended the idea to wine.

And it's certain no other independent beer and wine merchant in the UK - let alone the North East - will be using the same mini-bar system.

Mini, in this case, really does mean a Mini, as in the iconic British car.

One of the things that has always set The Pip Stop apart, apart from the near 400 wines, 140 beers and 40 gins stocked in the shop, is its quirky decor paying homage to the building's motoring heritage.

This includes the extremely cool two half-Mini Coopers embedded in the walls.

Now one of these has been utilised to house the four taps of the growler fill station.

Three beers and one wine are currently on tap: Wylam Jakehead IPA, Beavertown Lupuloid (a soughtafter limited edition from the London brewery), Alphabet Flat White English Breakfast Stout and Waverider New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

Turn to Page 46 The Pip Stop in Lanchester From Page 45 Customers are invited to choose a one, two or three-litre reusable growler bottle - costing from PS6.99 up to PS24.95 depending on the size and style - and then pour their own craft draught.

Currently, The Pip Stop is subsidising the first beer or wine with 20% off- if one of its own glass growlers bought in store or online is used.

The new service is creating a buzz of interest, especially among craft beer enthusiasts, not least because the tap system allows for a rotating array of tipples and, with no bottling costs to worry about, the end result is cheaper.

"A lot of people are wanting to drink draught craft beer at home and this allows them to come in, pour themselves one, two or three litres, and do just that," Ben says.

"It's also more cost effective. We are talking about a 15-20% reduction in prices per litre on average for the beers.

"Once you have bought your growler you have it for life and can just keep re-using it.

"It's a brilliant idea and is harking back to the past when you could go to your local corner store and buy draught beer by the glass or jug."

For craft beer geeks, the real plus is it allows them to drink limited edition or seasonal brews from new or small independents that aren't available in bottles.

For the ordinary person in the street, the humble growler is a sociable way to enjoy decent beer among friends.

Ben says the eye-catching Mini Coopers were the obvious choice for the growler fill station.

"While they are a talking point and look fantastic, they haven't had a use until now.

"When we first installed them, some people thought it was sacrilege that we were chopping a Mini Cooper in half and embedding them in the walls.

"But they were already damaged and now we can put at least one of them to good use as the growler filling station.

"I think it's a really apt use and I can guarantee that no-one else in the UK will have a growler station coming out of the back of a Mini Cooper."

Adding wine to the mix was an easy move. Ben is the son of Veronica and Anthony Cleary, who founded the Lanchester Group, which comprises Lanchester Wines and the Greencroft Bottling business, as well as energy and gift store companies.

Ben, who previously worked for Majestic Wine, where he became a manager within two years, says this allows The Pip Stop to compete favourably with supermarkets on wine prices.

"We are able to offer exceptional quality and excellent value, and we really push the customer service side and put a lot into stafftraining.

"As regards online, no one else apart from the major supermarkets and Majestic, has the range of wines, beers and spirits we offer."

The Pip Stop is a keen supporter of local producers, with around 40 beers from the likes of Wylam, Allendale, Steam Machine and Durham Breweries and Consett Ale Works on its shelves.

North gin names include Hepple, Durham, Poetic Licence, The Lakes Distillery and SteamPunk.

While The Pip Stop offers an impressive range of wines, beers, ciders and spirits, and last year saw online sales leap an incredible 600%, with a further 300-400% growth expected in 2017, Ben is ambitious and looking to expand.

He has his eyes set on opening another independent beer and wine business in either Durham or Newcastle that will give him up to seven times the space.

When he finds the right setting and space, he has bold plans aimed at keeping The Pip Stop's unique retail experience ahead of the game.

There would probably be a brewery, a home brew section and even a farmers' market.

The idea of bringing together a liquor store and artisan food producers is already big in America, where they are giving the major supermarkets a run for their money.

Ben says: "It's not something we've done here in the UK but it's all over America. I want to be the first to bring the idea to the North East.

"I also want to open my own brewery. I'm already experimenting with my own home brewing. It's a hobby but I want to know what the process is.

"Micro-brewing is showing no signs of letting up. I know people keep saying there are too many breweries and there's no room in the market for more, but I believe if you are doing it right and giving people something new, then there is room for everyone.

"We want to give our customers a rounded experience.

"It is something all the team is passionate about and we are all excited about what we can achieve."

The Pip Stop is at 58 Lanchester Road, Maiden Law, Durham DH7 0QS. Tel. 01207 523555 or visit www.thepipstop.co.uk

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Ben Cleary, owner of The Pip Stop

Owner Ben Cleary, right, with Jen Scott and Dave Smith of The Pip Stop team
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 24, 2017
Words:1313
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