A MICRO-BREWERY co-owner says he's 'never worked so hard in my life but I've never been happier at what I do'.

Married couple Sam and Red Kellie founded the award-winning First and Last Brewery business in 2016.

Hexham Courant: Sam and Red Kellie, brewery co-ownersSam and Red Kellie, brewery co-owners (Image: First and Last Brewery)

Sam, 46, said winter temperatures make brewing difficult.

"It's been exceptionally cold, so the delivery runs are slower because the roads are a bit dicier. We're working a lot slower, the main brewhouse hasn't got heating because that's not conducive to the brewing process.

Hexham Courant: Outside First and Last BreweryOutside First and Last Brewery (Image: First and Last Brewery)

"We layer up and wear lots of thermals. This week, it's taken us an hour to defrost the brewing kit before we even start brewing, so we're adding at least an hour to the day."

Hexham Courant: First and Last beersFirst and Last beers (Image: First and Last Brewery)

First and Last moved from Elsdon to the bigger premises of Bellingham's former ambulance station.

"The thing I'm worried about is water pipes freezing and with it being a new premises, I need to get up there and check where we're at with insulational pipes to try and mitigate any damage.

Hexham Courant: The First and Last brewing teamThe First and Last brewing team (Image: First and Last Brewery)

"In the summer, we were trying to keep the product cold enough and now we're worried about it freezing in the bottles."

The product is kept in insulated storage to protect it from the cold as much as possible. 

Hexham Courant: The new premises of First and Last breweryThe new premises of First and Last brewery (Image: First and Last Brewery)

Sam added these challenges remind them why they chose to work in Northumberland. "The snow and the ice and sub-zero temperatures are extra challenges but it's been absolutely beautiful out there."

Sam explained how the brewery starts its day.

Hexham Courant: Winter at First and LastWinter at First and Last (Image: First and Last Brewery)

"One of us will start the brews, so we'll mash in (start brewing) about 8am or earlier, and get the brewery going. The other one is looking at deliveries for the day and making up any boxes or mixed cases, loading up the van, printing out the delivery slips, ordering everything and then get out delivering.

"We're delivering to pubs, independent shops, delis and direct to the public as well. We do free delivery across Northumberland and Newcastle.

Hexham Courant: Night at First and Last BreweryNight at First and Last Brewery (Image: First and Last Brewery)

"It's pretty long, busy days at the moment."

Sam said most people wouldn't expect that in the brewing industry, only 10 per cent of the time is spent brewing and the other 90 per cent is cleaning. 

"The vessels that you brew in, if they're not clean everything's ruined, the casks you put the beer in, if they're not clean the beer's ruined.

"The casks need rinsed, then they need a wash with caustic, then they need another rinse, then they need a peracetic acid rinse, which is a sanitiser," he said.

Hexham Courant: First and Last BreweryFirst and Last Brewery (Image: First and Last Brewery)

Sam explained 'you have to be flexible' when running a small business. Sam and Red, 43, also have two children, Noah and Erin. 

"That's one thing I love about the job, you have a plan for the week of what you're going to do but you have to be prepared to prioritise and drop your plan and change it depending on what's happened."

Spending time with their children has always been 'sacrosanct' to Sam and Red.

"We always said at the beginning, we were very mindful we've not to let this encroach on family time. I think with anything, certainly if you're passionate about it, you could do it 24/7, so we try and keep our weekends pretty free.  

"The kids are in a Christmas play, that's fine, we'll go and then make up that time later. You've got flexibility over when and where you work, and how you work. 

"We'll be busy up until Friday, December 23. There's a few days between Christmas and New Year where we're restocking pubs, but it starts to quieten down quite a lot then. 

"The nature of hospitality is that we need to make the most out of December because December is what gets us through January, February and March so the pressure is on this season.

"On a good day we could be done by 5pm, this time of year it's probably more like 6pm. The temperature you make beer at is quite critical to the process. We use stainless steel brewing vessels, if it's -14 outside then the stainless steel metal's a similar temperature, -10 or similar.

"That's been problematic because that's going to drop the temperature of everything. If we're out by just one degree, that's going to make a significant difference to the beer. We pride ourselves on consistency, so that might add an hour to the day quite easily."

He said they have opened a new tap room at the brewery and the support from the locals 'has been absolutely fantastic'.

The brewery and tap room sells First and Last beers, plus a range from other Northumberland and North East-based breweries.

"Because most of what we do is supplying beer into pubs and bottles into shops, you don't always get to have that conversation with the person that's drinking your beer."

Sam said he got into the brewery business about six years ago, and before brewing, he was a teacher and then worked for the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

Since becoming involved in the brewery industry, Sam said he is a lot happier.

"Not to say that I was unhappy, I've never worked so hard in my life but I've never been happier at what I do. It's challenging, it's difficult, but I love the fact that every day is different.

"It's nerve-wracking. Red and I, we've got kids, all our financial eggs are in one basket. We both work for the brewery, and it's tough for everyone at the moment. Quite a few pubs are struggling, they are tough times but they're tough for everyone and we've just got to keep on doing what we love and doing the best we can."

READ MORE: 'Tap room helps us tell our story': Brewery opens in Bellingham