Stephen Crawley is a man who knows his beer. Born and raised on the Wirral, he entered the beer world here in the North West selling Labatts and Rolling Rock to Greenalls, Bass and Isle of Man Breweries – before becoming managing director of Edinburgh-based Caledonian, where he stayed for 20 years.
During his career at The Caley he championed better beer, particularly cask beers, and yet at the back of his mind he mused over a move back to Merseyside.
“Liverpool doesn’t have a major regional brewer,” he explains. “Yes, there are some great independents, but it lacks a brewer synonymous with the city – Manchester, has Holt’s, Hyde’s and JW Lees.”
When he saw the opportunity arise, Stephen set about changing that by resurrecting Higson’s, which was founded in 1780 in Dale Street and closed in 1990.
He came back to Merseyside, and bought Liverpool Craft Brewery. He’s now working with its joint founder and Crosby craft brewer, venue owner and fellow beer lover Paul Seiffert, who is now H1780 Tap & Still retail director.
After a extensive refurbishment, and with the help of a team of beer-loving investors, this weekend Stephen opened the doors on his vision for an urban beer and spirits experience with a brewery and distillery, three bars, a kitchen, a shop and a tasting room, in the heart of the L1 in the bustling Baltic Triangle.
It’s been a labour of love and a increasingly large team. The H1780 Tap & Still in Bridgewater Street has required a huge amount of work, but it’s the perfect home for Higsons and Love Lane beers and a new selection of artisan gins from The Ginsmiths of Liverpool, made on site.
There’s great food too, although Stephen is keen to point out it’s not a restaurant – it’s the Tap and Still!
“We don’t want it to feel formal,” he explains. “It’s a place where we serve really good food with inspiration from some east and west coast USA craft brewery taps, and great British food served in the brewery dining rooms of a bygone era” (maybe just like Higsons!)
“The idea is that you can go on a brewery tour (from Feb 1. 2018) or pop in to buy some beers or a bottle of gin, (from 7th Dec. 2017) then stop off and have a snack. Maybe from there you might want something on toast, or a main meal, but it’s all very relaxed.”
Stephen has found a pair of kindred spirits to run the food offer at the Tap & Still in husband and wife team Hayley and James Dodds.
James was another Wirral lad working away. Originally from Neston, chef James worked at the Chester Grosvenor before working around the country, mostly across the south west.
There he met wife Hayley, who runs a tight ship front of house, and the couple gained a strong reputation at restaurants including the award-winning HIX Oyster and Fish House in Lyme Regis, before an unusual yet inspired step to Darsham Nurseries café in Suffolk.
“You say garden centre and people think ‘jacket potatoes’,” laughs Hayley. “But this was something completely different – a cafe that was based completely around its produce.”
James adds: “We could go out into the cottage gardens every day and pick exactly what we wanted. It was a chef’s dream to have those kind of fresh ingredients, and that flexibility in the kitchen. We loved it.”
The reviewers clearly loved it too, with Tracey Macleod giving it 15/15 in the Independent food review, with her last full marks score going to the three Michelin starred El Bulli.
“That was a very nice surprise,” says Hayley. “We’d only been open a few days, so it was a great start.”
From there they moved to Riverford Organics in Cornwall, to run the restaurant and farm shop.
“Again, we were surrounded by the most amazing produce,” says James. “It was a family service, where we piled up great big dishes full of food and put them in the middle of the tables. It was a great way to work, having all that organic fruit and veg on our doorstep.”
James is clearly a chef who loves his veg – as he talks about it his eyes light up and his right arm is covered with the most beautiful sleeve tattoo of gorgeous fresh vegetables.
As well as running the staff kitchens and public restaurant, James worked on recipes for the vegetable boxes that Riverford deliver around the country, while Hayley ran the retail side in the farm shop.
While the lifestyle was idyllic, the job at the H1780 Tap & Still was the challenge they’d dreamed of, and the couple are now settled in Wirral, working with small regional suppliers on some exciting new menus.
There are three main sections to the menu – the snacks, the ‘on toasts’ and the main meals – offering good value for fresh, lovingly-cooked food.
“It’s great for me to be back home,” James explains. “Hayley and I have fallen in love with the place. We’ve been all over the world together – we got married in Thailand and it’s great to travel – but with an opportunity like this, there’s no place like home.”
The H1780 Tap & Still in Bridgewater Street is open now. For more details see the website www.h1780tapstill.co.uk or call the team on 0151 305 1292 to make a booking or discuss an event.