The James Clay Story team group

The James Clay Story

James Clay & Sons wasn’t part of the plan. There was no plan, at least not at first.

In the late seventies, there was just a man: Ian Clay.

Ian had developed a passion for weird and wonderful beers that he knew were out there, but just couldn’t be found in British pubs and bars at the time. So, in his home town of Sowerby Bridge, he converted an old canal side warehouse into a bar; creating a stage and marking the start of a quest to find great and unusual beers for his customers.

An entrepreneur starting out on his journey. A man rooted in Yorkshire, but with a taste for beer that stretched way beyond. To Dutch pilsner. To German wheat beer. To the lambics, fruit and strong ales of Belgium. These were the beers that got him excited. These were the beers Ian wanted in his pub; the beers he wanted his customers to taste and talk about.

So, with the help of his wife Ann and friend Andrew Armstrong, he began to bring them over. He started with Lindeboom, a Dutch pilsner from a small family brewery. Then followed beers brewed by Belgian monks, and beers brewed by Bavarians. These were beers that tasted great with food and beers that tasted great on their own.

His customers were interested; they liked it and wanted more. He began to wonder if he was onto something – perhaps other bars and pubs would want to offer their customers the beers he loved so much? He started sharing the beers with them too. First locally, then more widely across Yorkshire, and then, bit by bit, nationally.

Eventually, somewhere in amongst the kegs, bottles and order sheets, Ian realised that he was no longer a publican. He, Andrew and his growing team, were importers, distributors, and finders of speciality global beers. Arbiters of the very best ones.

Without really knowing it, they had forged the beginnings of a whole new business; while there might not have been a plan at the start, suddenly there was an ambition and a vision:

We’ll get great beers to great bars, shops and restaurants. We’ll build a portfolio of the finest beers in the world. We’ll sell the distinct, the interesting and the flat–out delicious; the homegrown and the far flung; the good, the great and the greater still. We’ll go wherever the beer takes us, and we’ll bring it to the cellars, fridges, taps and shelves of our customers.

James Clay & Sons was founded on that vision; on the belief that by staying true to the sort of brews and breweries that Ian loves to drink - that we love to drink - a family company from the Calder Valley, Yorkshire, might just change the landscape of UK beer.

Over forty years later, the landscape of UK beer has been transformed - and we’re proud to have played our part. But our landscape? It’s still the mills and hills of Yorkshire, and an unquenchable thirst to share the very best of beer with you.

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