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Friday, 1st Feb 2019
The forgotten county
By Tim Porter
Stones in his pockets
Wednesday 24th April 2019
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Sitting in its beautiful, mellow Cotswold Hills landscape, Hook Norton Brewery is a proudly independent and passionate family business. But….. It didn’t know what it was letting itself in for as members of Stow Civic Society amassed in Stow Square ready to see what the brewery had to offer.
This outing was arranged following a lively talk last year entitled ‘barley, beer and barrels’ when it was decided that we should follow it up with a brewery trip. So, on Saturday 4th June, 25 members boarded the coach for the short trip to Hook Norton.
Hook Norton is one of only 32 family owned breweries and is the finest example of a Victorian Tower Brewery in the country. In 1849, John Harris moved into Hook Norton purchasing a farm of 52 acres that included a malthouse. He took over the existing trade as a maltster, expanded the business by becoming a dealer in hops and so began the seeds of the brewery. It is thought that brewing started in 1856. When he died the brewery business was taken over by his nephew Alban Clarke and is still owned by the Clarke family today with James Clarke, who joined the family business in 1991, becoming Head Brewer in 1998 and in 2012, the current Managing Director. All of this was explained to us in the museum by our guide, Sally before we got going on the tour.
Due to expert planning we had chosen the first Saturday in the month for the visit, which meant that the steam engine was running and the dray horses were being ’tacked up’. The 25 horsepower steam engine was installed in 1899 supplying, through a series of belts, wooden cogs and shafts, most of the motive power for the brewery. It is believed to be one of the last steam engines in the country still in use for its original purpose. The brewery also has two shire horses, Nelson and Major who undertake deliveries to four local pubs. We met and chatted to their long serving drayman, Roger and his team who look after them.
After our introduction, Sally led us up to the 5th floor of the tower to start the explanation of how their beer is brewed. This is where the liquor (water) is pumped up to a cold liquor tank which is right at the very top of the tower. Down to the 4th floor and on this floor the malt is checked and then crushed. Also on this floor we inspected the original flat copper cooling tank which is open to the elements and, thankfully, been replaced by a more modern heat exchanger system.
The 3rd floor is holding area. The malt, now called grist, that has been crushed upstairs is now stored in the grist hopper ready for use. Cold water (liquor) travels from the top floor into a hot liquor tank where it is heated. This floor also holds the modern cooling system. Down on the 2nd floor are the original mash tuns where the liquor and grist are mixed. The mash is allowed to stand for 90 minutes to allow the conversion of starch to fermentable sugars to take place. After 90 minutes, the sweet sugary solution called wort is drained, by gravity, to one of the two coppers on the floor below.
In the 1st floor coppers the required hops are added and the wort is boiled for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Hop varieties used are Fuggles, Goldings and Challenger. The wort is then cooled and transferred to one of the fermentation vessels on this floor where the yeast is added. Unfortunately, due to Health and Safety rules, we were not allowed to view these open vessels but were shown a film instead. Hook Norton beers remain in these fermentation vessels for a full 7 days. In that time the sugars from the malt are converted into alcohol. After fermentation the beer is cooled and checked for aroma, palate, colour, alcohol and trueness to type before being transferred to a storage tank on the ground floor ready for racking. Finally, the beer is run into casks, a process called racking where representative samples are taken and checked to assess quality and to monitor flavour.
By this stage we were all ready to try some of these samples! We were led into the tap room and let loose on their range of award winning real ales. Just what we were waiting for! After the obligatory ‘visit to the shop’ we made our way down the lane to the Pear Tree pub in the village to sample a few more ales and some excellent baguettes. Strangely enough, Roger and the dray arrived just in time for a spot of lunch and a Hooky Lion (4.0%) for the horses.
Drayman, Roger Hughes out on delivery with Nelson and Major
Our guide Sally, explaining the design of Hook Norton's Victorian Tower Brewery
The original stonework at the entrance to the pump room that inspired the logo
Members enjoying a tipple in the tap room at the end of the tour