Here's where you can get cheese, gin and ale all under one roof
Written by The Newsroom on June 12, 2019
After 20 years of working with big brands at a major supermarket, Louise Sharpe knew it was time for a change.
“I just woke up one morning and decided I’d had enough,” she said. ” I realised I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years of my life doing that too, I was managing 50 people and I was fed up with it. So I quit!”
Louise freely admits her husband thought she was having a mid-life crisis, but five years on she is the proud owner of the Cheese, Gin and Ale Barn at Curborough Countryside Centre in Lichfield, selling more than 200 types of gin, 60 types of cheese and more than 50 ales, as well as sweets, popcorn, relishes, chutneys, crackers and much more.
“I didn’t do much for about a year, just this and that,” she recalled. “I was working at Middleton Hall near Tamworth and a little unit came up so I decided to take it.”
Middleton Hall is famed for its historic house, beautiful gardens and independent shops in the courtyard so Louise’s idea for a cheese and ale shop was a good fit.
“Because I’d worked in a world where everything was mass produced, I knew how hard it was for new businesses to get a break,” she said. “I had my personal licence anyway so I decided on cheese and ale and our ethos was always to be for small producers.”
She moved from Middleton Hall into a unit at Curborough Countryside Centre 18 months ago and said the move gave her the opportunity to not only expand but to change her signage and add the gin into her brand.
“I’d always stocked spirits but I wanted to add the gin into the shop’s name.
“Everything we stock in the shop is British except for one cheese,” she explained. “And the only reason we have that cheese is because it won a Supreme Champion award, so we got it in and it’s really popular.”
It would be impossible to take in everything at the barn on one visit, with the vast range of produce including cheese from former Blur star Alex James, vegan cheeses, condiments, honey, pickled onions from the Funky Food Company, Staffordshire Gin, Miss Mollies gins, sweets from Holly’s Lollies, ales from Buxton Brewery, the Steam Machine and Burton Town Brewery and gins from Aber Falls, Fatty’s, Noveltea, Campfire Gin and Whitley Neill, accompanied by tonics from brands including Franklin’s and Double Dutch.
Louise has just doubled the size of her shop, knocking through into the next door unit, and said the move would help with one of her most popular ventures – tasting evenings.
At the end of May she held a Gin Infused Prosecco night and future events include a cheese and gin night, Game of Thrones whisky tasting and Ladies’ Pink Gin with the Naked Butler.
“The Game of Thrones whiskies are a really limited edition so many people who buy them will either keep them or only be able to taste one, so on our tasting night it’s brilliant that they will be able to try all of them,” she said. “We had a tasting night recently for Miss Mollies sweetshop gins and had lots of fun dipping the rims of the glasses into sherbert.”
The cheese counter is a dairy-lover’s dream selling some really unusual flavours alongside old favourites. The chip shop curry flavoured cheese is very popular, according to Louise, and goes exceptionally well on a baked potato, as does the sundried tomato with spring onion cheddar, which tastes just like pizza.
Louise also does her bit for charity, reusing gin bottles from her tasting evenings.
“We get some really beautiful bottles, so I put lights in them and sell them for £5,” she said. “My customers also bring their empties back, and I take £1.10 for the cost of the lights and the fitting and the rest goes to charity.”
One particularly beautiful bottle was recently turned into a lamp. Its gorgeous blue colour was complemented by a shade made by a local lady and it was auctioned off, making £50 for the charity pot.
Customers are often encouraged to try the gins before they buy and Louise can only sell products she likes and believes in.
“If I don’t like something myself, I just can’t sell it,” she said. “I want people to be really happy with what they buy from me. If someone spends £30, £40 or £50 on a bottle of gin and then doesn’t like it, it’s such a waste and I feel that would reflect on me.
“I want everyone who buys from me to be really happy with what they get.”