Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Whirlwind Tour Part 1

Theakston, Black Sheep, Coniston, Timothy Taylor, Wychwood, Fuller’s, Wadworth, and Hook Norton…the past three weeks of my life – a journey into the heart and soul of English brewing.  A mixture of large scale and small scale, fully automated and completely manual brewing, family run businesses and large corporations, historical Victorian era breweries and the most cutting edge, up to date operations…not necessarily all directly applicable to our plans for Present Tense, nonetheless, a valuable journey into understanding the nature of brewing in the UK.

Apart from working at Rooster’s, visiting pubs, writing a blog, and traveling on weekends, an inordinate amount of my time in the UK has been spent emailing breweries, arranging visits, working out logistics of how to get to said breweries, and on and on.  Many emails went unanswered, but after visiting Fawcett’s Maltsters…the tides turned for me.  Thanks to the incredible generosity of James Fawcett, he contacted several breweries on my behalf to suggest that they consider allowing me to visit their brewery.  And after that, I had more breweries to visit than I could manage. 

I had spent two months working full time at Rooster’s becoming fairly acquainted with the day to day tasks of the brewery.  It had become my routine – getting up at 4:30am, skyping with my girlfriend, packing my lunch, then getting picked up at 6:20 by Oliver and arriving at the brewery around 6:30.  A full day of filling casks, cleaning casks, cleaning the mash tun, cleaning the hop back, getting involved in the brewing occasionally, canning, and so on – the routine had become comfortable and predictable, not too many surprises. 

Then, after 2 months, I faced a brief departure from Roosters to explore some other breweries across the UK (this conveniently coincided with my 10 day trip with my lovely girlfriend to Paris, London, and Edinburgh) and my routine quickly disappeared. 

My first trip was with Oliver to visit Theakston and Black Sheep.  This would be my first visit to Theakston, but my second visit to Black sheep (see Blog 5 – The Sanctuary).  Masham, a small village on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, is home to both Theakston and Black Sheep.  Black Sheep is owned by Paul Theakston and his two sons, and Theakston is now owned privately after spending a short stint in the hands of a corporate conglomerate – the relationship between the two breweries is a little contentious to say the least, but they both make fantastic beer and are both particularly intriguing from the perspective of a traditional English brewery enthusiast, such as myself.

Theakston Brewery - Masham
Theakston's original grist hopper and mash tun.
Theakston's fermentation room.
Cooper apprentice at Theakston's
The sampler flight at Theakston's visitor center.
After my visits to Theakston and Black Sheep, I returned to Rooster’s for one more day of work followed by one more brewery visit before taking a bit of a vacation with my girlfriend.  After spending a day filling and cleaning casks, I picked up a rental car and drove to the Lake District to visit a brewery that I had held in high esteem for quite a while.  Bluebird Bitter is one of my favorite beers and one of the beers that enlightened me to the virtues of English ale.  Coniston Brewing Company, a two time Champion Beer of Britain award winner, is the brewery that brews this incredible beer.  The brewery is family owned and part of a complex of buildings which include a several hundred year old pub with accommodation and some newly constructed cabins.  The brewery is in an old building positioned right next to a beautiful stream which flows directly into a lake about a half mile down the hill.  I was greeted with the utmost hospitality – free accommodations, delicious fish and chips dinner, a few pints, and a full English breakfast and then loaded up with a case of beer on my way out the next day.

Brewhouse at Coniston.
Coniston Brewing Company
Filling the fermenter at end of the brew day.
Black Bull Inn at Coniston
Stream with brewery on the right.
Hand pumps in Black Bull.
I returned to Harrogate to get packed up for my trip to Paris.  My flight left the following morning and I landed in Paris…10 days passed – however time wasn’t much of a consideration at that point, just cherishing the time with my girlfriend.

Back at Rooster’s, feeling well rested and completely off of the previously ingrained routine, I spent one and a half days at the brewery before visiting an iconic Yorkshire brewery and then leaving again for another trip.  The aforementioned Yorkshire brewery was none other than Timothy Taylor’s at Knowle Spring Brewery.  Oliver, his brother Tom, and myself left the brewery around 9:30am for Keighley, about a 45 minute drive from Knaresborough.  If you ask any Yorkshireman what the most well-known, well respected beer in England is, he would without a doubt say Timothy Taylor’s Landlord.  Timothy Taylor’s is one of the rare, traditional, open for well over 100 years, independently owned breweries in the UK that has remained relevant and completely at the top of their game.  In North Yorkshire, Timothy Taylor’s can be found in any pub worth visiting, but even with its popularity and acclaim, it has never lost sight of its values – continuously investing in modern equipment and cutting edge operations – and its investments have paid off considerably by winning numerous “Champion Beer of Britain” awards and with Landlord, specifically, having won more awards than any other beer in the UK.  With all that said, the three of us were like kids in a candy store…utterly ogling at everything as the head brewer, Andy, showed us around the brewery.  Having the opportunity to visit the brewery was an unbelievable privilege, since it’s not commonly open to the public, but thanks to Mr. Fawcett, we were blessed with the exclusive access.  To cap off our visit, we headed down to the basement to the cellar to sample the latest batches of Landlord – one being just a couple days old, the other being a week old.  It was an incredible experience, one I will not soon forget.

Timothy Taylor's at Knowle Spring Brewery.
Buckets o' hops and hopback,
Happy beer in open fermenters.
Fermentation room at Timothy Taylor's
1 day old Landlord being poured.


No comments:

Post a Comment