THE REFRESHMENT ROOM: Micro Brewery, Maximum Passion
Here at KOMPAS we love to explore, so much so that we’ve made it our business. We are constantly exploring, finding new and interesting places to introduce you to, and not always within the confines of locations on the app. And another thing we love, is beer.
Even though we’re based in London, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that there is life outside the city. Jump in the car and drive two hours west, however, and you’ll arrive in the heavenly Cotswolds. Fresh air, wide-open spaces, beautiful houses, and some very good pubs await…What’s more, the craft beer scene very much rivals that of London. Sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side.
When you hit a certain age, what once was usually discussed over a cup of tea at the kitchen table is replaced with a pint down the local. It’s a communal thing, and always has been. The very origins of the pub itself come from one house in the village becoming “public” (hence: pub), to sell water infused with hops and barely to take away the taste of the poor water quality. History always has a way of repeating itself. This concept of “home brewing” to provide the local community with a place to meet and drink has made a firm return with the rapid growth in the number of microbreweries and tap rooms that have sprung up over the past few years. The increase in commercial breweries registering with the HMRC has been exponential: 2015-2016 alone saw a 55% jump in growth.
A cultural shift in consumer awareness has occupied the food/drink space for a few years now, with a farm-to-table consciousness pervading. We are now more drawn to purchase if we know the story behind the production; not only is the quality of the product heightened in our psyche, but it gives an added kudos and enjoyment, encouraging confidence in the brand, and loyalty as a result of that.
Having been on numerous brewery tours in the Capital, a new appreciation of the Cotswold craft beer scene began instantly upon arrival at Hillside Brewery, halfway between Gloucester and Ross-on-Wye. It certainly helped being greeted with a bacon bap and large coffee while looking out across the gorgeous Gloucestershire countryside.
Led into the Brew House by head brewer Will, you’re hit with a wave of nostalgia; as soon as grain met water in the mash tun – the first stage in the brewing process – the room filled with the undeniable malty aroma of Horlicks. Will went on to explain the various flavours that can be accomplished by the different heating variants of the grain, and how the amounts of wheat used affects the head retention on the beer. The exactness required in the heating of the water in order for the starch to be broken down into the sugar that the yeast then turns into alcohol was discussed – enzymes being activated between 63-71o if you’re interested – while the process of brewing was thoroughly underway.
This aspect of experimentation and the excitement of seeing what different variants can produce seem to be a continual driving force behind the growing successes of craft beer in this country; the more options the better. This of course is aided by the amount of space these breweries can enjoy outside of London, allowing for more equipment and room to indulge the inner mad-scientist. A sense of hyper-locality by using local ingredients, a local workforce – with room for the locals to drink the stuff – furthers this. Why just support your local grassroots football team when you can support your local brewery too?
Whereas the convivial aspect of beer drinking is very much a British pastime, there seems to be a common theme in the origins of many a brewer’s passion for craft beer; that of the brewing scene in America. It was during a 5,000-mile road trip across the west coast of America that Lucy and Colin of Corinium Ales first happened upon the incredible varieties of craft beers in the plethora of brewpubs they passed by (and stopped in!) Pungent and hoppy, it was a fortuitous read of the in-flight magazine home featuring an article on microbreweries in Gloucestershire that persuaded them fate had spoken. Corinium Ales was founded that year.
As with a majority of microbreweries life started in a shed or garage, before operations moved to the Old Kennels of Cirencester Park, C19th home of the hunting dogs for the historic Vale of the White Horse hunt. A variety of hops are used, with some imported from the States, yet Corinium Ales is very much attached to the famed Roman history of the local area. Their core beer range is identified via Roman numerals, whereas their more experimental and seasonal beers, such as Pliny the Elderflower, highlight famous Roman figures. Apparently, the Lord of the Manor is a particular fan of Ale, Caesar! (I wonder why…) Supporting various local events, the brewery’s open afternoons every Friday are incredibly popular, with local tastes dictating what experimental batches are produced next. That’s one way to always give the punters what they want!
What seems to permeate at each brewery is the pure passion for the process, the final product, and the joy of experimenting in between. All the breweries we visited have taprooms attached; drinking at the site of production always makes it taste better somewhat, and it is no surprise to see the brewing team enjoying the fruits of their labour at the same time. Staff drinks are apparently an incredibly hearty affair at the Cotswold Brewing Co., whose staff room doubles up as the tasting room (handy.)
A fascinating tour of the brewery showed the difference between ale and lager fermentation, while it was also explained that all their beer was vegan friendly, an Italian wine filter of crushed seabed rock being used for filtration.
A specialist lager microbrewery – one of the first in the country for craft lager – although they use a mix of English and American hops, they remain very connected to the local area; spent grain is picked up by local farmer Roy in his tractor who then feeds it to his cows. This is the same at Hillside, where this is taken one step further; the cattle that feed on the spent hops and grain in turn produce the milk that is turned into Hillside’s very own beer ice cream!
This giving back to the land is a huge focus at Stroud Brewery, who are fully committed to organic production and supporting local Cotswold farmers to promote strong husbandry and biodiversity in the local landscape (explored in more detail in an upcoming interview.) They are very much tied to the local land, using barely grown locally by Warminster Maltings, the last of two traditional floor maltings in the country.
This amount of friendliness and community spirit is almost expected outside of London, big city culture never overly conducive to the return of a smile. But friendliness must be something to do with the harmonious nature of the beer producer – and drinker. Back in London, we met up with Louis Village, of Villages based in Deptford.
While talking over a beer (naturally) one Friday afternoon at the brewery, it was discussed how the approachable nature of beer and its production has led to this rise of backyard hobby to professional brewery. Bringing people together, from all backgrounds – inspired by his and his brother Archie’s many trips to the local pubs in the Peak District where they grew up – has been the main impetus behind the founding of their brewery. Keeping an element of simplicity, craft beer is all about enjoying quality together, exuding from every stage of the brewing process, leading to a naturally cordial environment. Louis summed up what we had come to learn during the tours, that there is a lot of support for people doing things with honesty.
With such a diverse range of beer styles, tastes, and to an extent, production techniques, one thing that remained consistent throughout each tour was the absolute passion of all those involved for the end product. When discussing the various tours and breweries, there was no sense of competition, more of community. With every sip of beer, this consumption became more about being a part of something, rather than drinking for drinking’s sake. As much as beer is made up of four main ingredients (grain, hops, yeast, and water), four things stood out about each brewery: quality, flavour, technique, and personality, something that is sometimes lacking from more established brands. What may have appeared an otherwise nascent craft brewing culture (when compared to America), the community focus of each brewery certainly made it feel more of a renaissance.
KOMPAS would like to thank Hillside Brewery, Corinium Ales, The Cotswold Brewing Co., Stroud Brewery, and Villages Brewery for their time, amazing hospitality, and beer! For more information on each brewery, and how to book a tour:
The Cotswold Brewing Co.
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