A STOURBRIDGE couple have been raising a glass after emerging from the pandemic with a thriving craft beer business which they bravely took the plunge to open during lockdown.

Husband-and-wife team Hannah and Paul Tunnicliffe run HAUL! Beer, which sells a range of independent craft beers and ciders online and in store.

Hannah, a dental practice receptionist, and software delivery manager Paul - who share a 'mutual love of artisanal craft beer' - opened the new venture in Lower High Street after gaining planning permission in June 2020 to turn a former Thrift shop into an off-licence with sit-in tasting area.

Although the pandemic has seen stores shut up shop as people switched to online ordering - creating a big problem for high streets - the hybrid approach adopted by HAUL! Beer of combining a simple-to-use online ordering service with an in-shop tasting experience has been proving an effective solution to weathering the Covid storm, with the business becoming a popular addition to the town.

Paul said: “We started trading during June 2020 at the height of the pandemic. At the time we were renovating our bricks and mortar shop and taproom which brought its own issues and no little stress. Not only did we need to completely strip down the mess of a building, which was previously a thrift store and had been thoroughly trashed while it was uninhabited, but we then realised, quite late, that the floor was riddled with damp and had to be completely replaced. It set us back a good four weeks which was pretty stressful.

“But we eventually opened as a take-out only specialist beer off-license in August 2020. We've grown from there and recently opened our taproom and evolved to be our town's newest hotspot."

Stourbridge News: Paul Tunnicliffe of HAUL! BeerPaul Tunnicliffe of HAUL! Beer

The couple felt there was a gap in the market to bring high end beer to Stourbridge and they were keen to play a part in helping the high street to thrive once again post-Covid and Paul said: "Things are going extremely well. Most people have been really complementary, and we’ve had a lot of great people following our progress and supporting us since day one. People always want quality beer - even during a global pandemic.

“We’ve got big plans. We're renovating our premises and looking at potential new venues as well."

While the pandemic has seen a number of once popular stores leave UK high streets for good, the couple believe there's still a future in having a physical town centre presence and the businesses that are making it through the choppy waters of the Covid-19 crisis are those that are authentic, honest and able to market themselves well online.

Paul said: "There are three things which are at the heart of our success. One, we’ve utilised social media to promote ourselves and our products. This is essential and anyone not doing this well is missing out massively.

“Second we were determined to never be pretentious and to make sure we showed the ‘real us’. Customers can sense if you're hiding behind a brand that doesn't reflect your character. Customers want that human connection with you.

"Finally we’ve always been honest. We’ve admitted our mistakes and faults. We're all human and we're all always learning, especially when starting a new business. Your customers will happily stand by you if you present yourselves in a true and open way."

The business, which also offers customers chance to buy online for delivery, opt for free click and collect or choose curbside pick-up if required, has been praised by business broadband provider Plusnet for setting up shop during the pandemic.

HAUL! Beer is among just a handful of businesses nationwide awarded a That'll Do Star by Plusnet, which wanted to help entrepreneurs emerge from Covid.

Nick Silverwood, head of business at Plusnet, said: “We’re really thrilled to be taking our hat off to the incredible businesses launched over the last year who are really making a difference to their communities.

“Plusnet already supports small businesses by offering business broadband, and we want to support these entrepreneurs further after an incredibly difficult year by shining a light on them and helping them continue their journeys into their second year.”

Paul from HAUL! said of the accolade: “Getting this award feels like recognition for people being brave or mad enough to open a business during lockdown which is lovely. I guess it's good to know that other people were kind of going for it too even though the world seemed to be a bit against them.”

HAUL! is not the only craft beer venture to have launched in Stourbridge since the pandemic hit.

The Hop Vault in Market Street, run by Mark Reynolds, his wife Hannah Barley and Mark's dad Ron, has also enjoyed a similar success story.

Having opened as an off-licence last summer in the old Music Matters unit, the business also won approval to open a tasting room and also become a firm favourite with beer connoisseurs.