Joe got the brewing bug seriously whilst studying brewing and distilling at Heriot Watt University, which included some work experience at the old City of Cambridge brewery off Newmarket Road. Since graduating, he's worked at Harviestoun, Old Cannon and Purity, plus some spells of travelling. Joe was born and bred in this area so when he returned in November 2010, he began looking for suitable brewery premises, eventually finding the Harston site. He got the keys in October 2011 with the first brew emerging on 31 December. All Joe's brews are numbered and batch 3, of Black Bar Bitter, was at our Winter Ale Festival in January, where it flew out of the cask.

When I visited Joe at the brewery in late February he was working on brew 09, a new beer called Black Light Blonde, intended to be a full-bodied golden ale with hops combined to give an American nose but a traditional English flavour. The other beers so far have been the Bitter, a 3.4% malty session ale with a notably dry finish, the wonderfully named (and wonderful tasting) Black Economy (4.6%), a black ale which Joe says is neither porter nor stout, and IPA Noire (5%), a limited release brewed with assistance from a French friend and loaded with hops. Joe aims to establish a stable of three standard ales, supplemented by regular, envelope-pushing specials. As he says, “expect the unexpected”.

Joe had originally intended obtaining a five barrel plant but the explosion in micro breweries means these are in very short supply, so he made do with a set up which delivers 2.5 barrels in theory but nearer two in reality. The equipment is all second hand and Joe has customised most of it as well as doing all his own plumbing and welding. The building itself needed a new floor and electrics but now looks the part – and Joe hopes to run some (ticket only) open days in the summer.

Something you can't avoid noticing is the stack of black and red plastic casks. Now when they first materialised a few years back, plastic casks got a bad name for durability – cheap but a bit nasty. The new breed of GPS casks, however, comprise one-piece injection mouldings and Joe demonstrated their strength by bouncing one up and down on the concrete floor! They're cheaper and lighter than metal casks – and greener too, which ticks another of Joe's boxes. Sustainability is at the heart of the operation and Joe is aiming for a zero emissions brewery in due course.

Another green example is the main dray – a bike with a trailer attached! Joe is a cycling fanatic, this being his main interest outside brewing, so using a bike for local deliveries makes all kind of sense. The trailer carries two firkins and from Harston to the Cambridge station area takes about 20 minutes.

Joe also mentioned that he has spent malt and hops available to anyone wanting them – the former perhaps for pigs and the latter as garden compost – just give him a ring, though you'll obviously need to collect.

Black Bar beers can currently be found in several Cambridge free houses such as the Maypole, Cambridge Blue and Hopbine and have also appeared at the Green Man, Grantchester and Anchor, Sutton Gault. They're certainly worth seeking out and can only improve as Joe tweaks and perfects the recipes. Plenty more info about the brewery on the website at