PLANS have been unveiled to create a sit-in tasting area for craft beer fans inside a Stourbridge off licence.

The Hop Vault in Market Street has proved a popular addition to the town since it opened its doors last summer in the empty Music Matters unit.

It has become a firm favourite with beer connoisseurs and those wondering what the craft ale craze is all about; and now plans have been submitted to Dudley Council to create a sit in tasting room the back - for up to around 30 people.

A design and access statement submitted to planners states: "The plan is to improve the current customer experience.

"The tasting room is a supplementary offering aimed at facilitating the provision of draught products which can then also be offered for off-sale purchases. It is expected that off sales will remain the major part of the business.

"Draught products stocked will continue to be in line with current business, high quality cask ales, crafts ales and traditional ciders."

Software engineer Mark Reynolds opened the venture with his wife Hannah Barley, a personal trainer, and his dad Ron - a former pub landlord.

It was always the plan, Mark said, to open a tasting room but due to the coronavirus pandemic they had no choice but to keep to off-licence sales to begin with.

But with all legal limits on social contact set to lifted on June 21, if all goes to plan, they are now looking forward to developing the business further - if planning approval is granted.

Mark said: "We're hoping we're going to be ready to open on June 21 when all restrictions are lifted - that's the plan if we get the change of use of the building."

The shop got its name The Hop Vault as number 9 Market Street was previously a bank and the aim is to turn the old vault at the rear of the property into a tasting area to give customers chance to try out a variety of different craft ales in cans and on draught.

Mark said: "The reason we were called The Hop Vault was because we had the bank vault, hopefully when people can sit in the tasting room and enjoy a beer it will make sense."

He said he hopes the additional venture will bring something different to the area and give people an alternative social option.

He said: "I get the impression people's habits have changed. People who really didn't know much about craft beer and were just kinda curious have become regular customers - they're coming back every week."

He believes it will be hard for people to "go back to drinking average beer in a pub" after trying some of the varied options available in the shop which sells craft beers from all over the country and Europe plus local favourites from the likes of the Green Duck and Fixed Wheel breweries as well as traditional ales and ciders.

Mark said to date the shop has "had lots of good feedback from people in the town" and he believes the tasting room will enhance the offering and have a positive impact on Stourbridge town centre which he is hoping will be rejuvenated when coronavirus restrictions lift.

He said: "It's a town that's got an awful lot of potential. There's no reason why the town centre shouldn't be full of interesting ventures. I think there'll be a shift back to the high street rather than things being centralised - when everything's centralised it's very fragile as we've seen during the pandemic."

If the plan to change the use of the off-licence to include an associated drinking establishment goes ahead it will lead to the creation of a small number of new jobs, planning documents state.

The application is due to be determined by May 20, a spokesman for Dudley Council confirmed.

Stourbridge News:

To help encourage people to spend their money locally as businesses emerge from months of restrictions and closure - we have relaunched our Love Local Business campaign.

This follows our successful campaign, of the same name, which we ran in the News Group last summer and over Christmas.

The aim is to promote the fantastic traders we have in our towns and urge readers to give them their custom at this key time.

As part of the Newsquest publishing group, the Stourbridge News reaches a large percentage of the local population with its print publication, record online audiences and social media.

Businesses wishing to be featured in the campaign can call 01905 742372 or email