Axis of ales

Stephen and Alison Kay

Photo by Rachel Bush

When Stephen Kay, a former accountant from England, moved to the States for a temporary job transfer 23 years ago, he didn’t realize how long he’d stay here or that he’d one day switch career paths. But after playing around with home brewing to help minimize his beer budget, he had so much fun that he opened his own family brew business, British Bulldog Brewery, built in his own backyard. Run by Stephen, wife Alison Kay, daughter Emma Martin and son-in-law Justin Martin, the operation initially relied on selling kegs at wholesale to bars, restaurants and the public. Kay is now turning his efforts to The Allies Pub, a taproom that will blend the family’s English roots with American culture, and offer beers of both country’s styles. Check out their website for occasional private tasting events, or stop by the pub when it opens downtown this spring in the Silberstein Park Building.

What motivated you to turn your brewing hobby into a business?

Stephen: About five years ago, Justin challenged me to put together my own business plan to prove that a microbrewery was a bad idea, because originally, I thought it was. But we found that, actually, [the plan] does pencil. But we were never doing this as an expansion model, but as a forever village pub. It was always a family concern; it’s always been about making a sustainable business for the family.

Alison: Meanwhile, friends and family would come over and drink our beer. I think they liked the unique style of British beers, and they encouraged us to take that step and build the brewery.

What are some differences between English- and American-style beers?

Alison: British-style beers tend to have less alcohol, less carbonation, and are more malt-forward and less hoppy. They’re usually very easy to drink.

How many beers do you currently brew?

Stephen: We have 35 to 40 beers on rotation. We have some that we offer on a regular basis, and others are seasonal.

Which one of your beers are you most likely to drink tonight?

Stephen: Right now, I’m really enjoying Home Guard, which is a classic British best [pub ale].

Alison: My favorite is Signalman, [an ESB] with malty flavors and caramel notes. That was named after my dad, who was a signalman in the Navy. He loved our beers and that was his favorite, too.

Why shift your focus from wholesale brewing to opening a pub?

Alison: It just made sense to open our own place and have more control over the business. When we sell to bars and restaurants, people can’t try all of our beers, maybe just one or two. We’re now able to show our business and tell our story. And Chico doesn’t have anything like this yet. It’ll be a unique experience: casual, family-friendly and dog-friendly. It’ll be a place to meet and chat with people.

Stephen: Traditionally, in England, a pub was meant to be a gathering place to share stories. It was a center of community. You didn’t need to go to a therapist, you just went to the pub and talked to someone. That’s the kind of environment we want to mirror downtown.