The scene when I arrive at The House of Trembling Madness is comfortingly chaotic.

Tourists and festive shoppers pour in from the busy cobbled street in the centre of York, a delivery has just arrived, beer fans carefully peruse the 850 or so different bottled brews in the ground-floor shop, while one level up, diners cram into the medieval drinking hall for lunch and beers.

At the heart of it all is the entrepreneurial owner Ian Loftus, advising staff on pricing changes, speaking to a supplier who has dropped in on the off-chance of selling some wares, and helping a cleaner provide the finishing touches to the business's two popular rental apartments.

After a quick tour around the building, some of which dates from 1180, he modestly suggests his award-winning venture started by chance.

He had previously owned a cocktail bar a few doors along on the same street, and he sold it around the time the craft beer scene was beginning to emerge.

 

 

"When we first started it was pretty much Punk IPA starting the craze and there wasn't much else apart from real ale," he says.

"I wasn't that interested but because I sold the cocktail business, I got pushed in that direction. Luckily Beavertown started up and Brooklyn started selling lots of beers in the UK.

"I think it was more luck than judgement. The beers got more interesting and the market took off."

The shop established itself and now sells hundreds of beers from around the UK and the rest of the world, as well as a wide selection of craft gins.

 

 

Upstairs you will find one of the most popular bars in York, which, Ian says, is vital to the business. "Lots of successful places now do have on and off-site working together," he explains.

"The profit margin isn't very high on craft beer, so you need a small pub or a drinking area to actually make any money."

"We only have craft beer on tap, so people do have to drink it. Hopefully they are getting turned on to it."

The drinking hall and the locally sourced food help Ian attract an audience beyond the stereotypical craft beer drinker.

"You have to appeal to everyone to succeed in business," he continues.

"I had a fashion shop before and beer is just the same. You have trends and you have to follow them to be at the front of the game. You need to know what breweries are up and coming and what's happening on social media.

"Also, taste the beers and trust your judgement. We have 30 or 40 new beers coming a week. I pretty much sample them all. You basically drink them and if they don't taste good you don't buy them — unless you have customers demanding you stock them."

 

Squaring up to the supermarkets

Recent stories in the press about customers being able to buy a pint to drink whilst doing the shopping at Morrison's have again focused attention on the challenge pubs face when competing with the off-trade.

Ian is tackling them square-on and hopes to be able to open his very own craft beer supermarket once he has found a suitable location for it.

"Hopefully we can stock double the lines to about 1,600 beers as well as spirits, because there is a huge market for gin and there are not that many outlets for whisky any more," he says. "We would be looking at 4,000 to 5,000 lines. If we get the right premises then we would have a section for eating and drinking."

The lease on Trembling Madness is set to expire next autumn with the landlord potentially not renewing, so they can expand their own shop next door. Ian has already taken action by finding another premises a few streets away to move the current business into.

It will triple the floor space and allow Ian to have bigger bar and shop areas as well as the kitchen that the current venue is lacking.

It is potentially a huge year coming up for the business, which means the madness is only likely to grow.

 

 

What's in a name?

The House of Trembling Madness also goes by the Latin name Delirium Tremens, or the DTs, or the shakes as many will know it. It refers to the state of confusion, shivering and sweating that can be brought on by sudden alcohol withdrawal.

 

The House of Trembling Madness, York

Staff: 19
Beers stocked: 800
Awards: SIBA's Best Independent Craft Retailer (2017), Drinks Retailing News Best Beer Retailer in the North (2017)
www.tremblingmadness.co.uk