My Week: Neil Morrissey of Morrissey Fox

The actor-turned-beermaker updates MT on his micro-brewing venture (as currently seen on TV)...

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

It’s our bonfire party tonight, so the kitchen staff have been preparing lots of outdoor food. Chef’s doing warm pork pies and peas (or Lancashire caviar, as they call it up here), and this absolutely brilliant terrine-style black pudding and mash wrapped in bacon (which is baked, sliced and then fried). Elsewhere we've been busy organising the plastic trays, making sure that all the right people are there, and letting the authorities know what’s going on.

We've also been getting the Christmas ale on; it went into cask a few days ago, so I'm hoping it's on the bar when I get to the pub in about half an hour. Hopefully it will be, because the more beer we sell from our own brewery, the more profit we make. And we've just finalized the recipe for our best bitter, at the seventh attempt – it’s an absolute cracker. We're going to start pushing that in the next couple of weeks.

I’ve been working on Waterloo Road for the last six months – I don’t finish until later this week – so mostly I’ve been keeping up over the phone with Foxy, and then getting here every weekend I can manage. It is difficult to get a perspective on how things are running unless you're there constantly; there’s only a certain amount you can get from the figures because that just tells you what's been sold – it doesn't tell you how, or how well executed. But I only get good reports, which is nice.

And of course we’re constantly reassessing how operations are going, or looking at the numbers to see whether we can improve. We’re very happy with the service, but we’re always looking to squeeze out a few more pence here and there. But not necessarily out of the public; it’s all about creating demand for new products – either new beers, or more dishes that people want to come and eat. Because we're independent, we can afford to be a bit more flexible about our food – we’re not tied to particular suppliers, so we can be slightly more entrepreneurial in terms of what we offer our punters. Chef gets a feel for what kind of stuff goes down well, so I generally leave that to him.

It never quite works exactly how you want it to, does it? But we're very happy with how things are developing: we’re looking to expand early next year into a few more premises and get some more beers out to a broader area. Our cask business is going really well – we’re hoping to be in about 4000 pubs within the next few months. We’re working with a company called Waverleys, which is one of the biggest distributors of guest ales in the country – they’re fantastic, we couldn’t do it without them. And that success is all down to the taste, because they don’t care who you are – even if you’ve just stepped out of the grave as Marilyn Monroe, nobody's going to drink your beer if it’s rubbish.

We’ve got a good relationship with Tesco, and we’re working on the others as we speak. We went out with a six-month exclusivity deal, which gave us a great feel for the market and the whole logistics and distribution side. After all, this is a new business for both me and Foxy. But the plan is that we’ll be more of a development arm in the future, rather than just operations and logistics – we’ll be looking at things like creating new products and establishing closer relationships with the supermarkets. And we haven’t even touched the off-trade yet, so we need to figure out how to approach that. But one thing at a time…We’ve had a bit of extra interest since the programme came out, but to be honest, I don’t want to suddenly do a massive countrywide campaign – we’re still really trying to establish the Morrissey Fox brand.

It’s always been a bit of a dream to be part of a business (I was going to say it keeps me out of the bars, but I suppose it’s quite the opposite really!). Times are tough for the lager people – I just heard today that Carlsberg’s closing its Leeds brewery – but real ale is still on an upward turn. And I think that’s largely to do with provenance – people want to know where things are from, and what’s in them. Plus there’s a big drive to buy British, which should also help us. These days when the locals come in, it tends to be our beers that they drink – and people even travel to try them. We want to make sure we don't bite off too much too soon - but now we're fairly well established, we'll certainly be putting our foot on the accelerator quite soon.

Neil Morrissey, the actor best known for his starring roles in Waterloo Road, Bob the Builder and Men Behaving Badly, runs beer brand Morrissey Fox with chef Richard Fox. The two friends have bought a pub in Yorkshire and built a micro-brewery out the back where they make their own beers (now available in Tesco and various pubs in the region). Their venture is currently the subject of a Channel 4 documentary, Neil Morrissey's Risky Business.

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