Wednesday 30 January 2019

A visit to Robinsons Brewery

A rather dull day in July brought me to Stockport, a town on the outskirts of Manchester, with plenty of rail connections to the City. A chance meeting some 25 or so years ago at the Stockport Beer & Cider Festival even ended up on me working in England, a story for a another day, perhaps? Anyway, back to the brewery, Robinsons started brewing on this site in 1838, at the rear of what was then the Unicorn Inn on Lower Hillgate, which has since been demolished in order to expand the brewery. This pub was situated in a steep valley which flows into the River Mersey further downhill, providing a clean supply of water for brewing the beer, although well water is used today. More about the history of the brewery and the Robinson family can be found in the book, The History of Robinson's Brewery which is available online or from their shop. Today Robinson's brew a range of beers including the Iron Maiden inspired Trooper and Old Tom Barley wine.
The visitor centre is entered from the other side of the brewery to the Hillgate Side and features a shop, bar and restaurant, as well as a museum.

The first thing I noticed on entering the visitor centre was the impressive old copper, now dissected and displayed for all to see.
 The dents on the central part of the copper were from the brewers throwing in cakes of sugar during the boil!
The old copper is an impressive bit of brewing history which was in use until recently. In fact Robinsons have installed a brand new brewery, alongside the older plant, a logistical feat that was made with only centimeters clearance to allow the new vessels in. Work began in 2011 and was completed in 2012.
Some old bottles of Old Tom, Robinsons famous beer that has been brewed since 1899

The tower brewery, the modern plant was installed on the side with the windows facing the road

A climb to the top of the tower brewery and these two odd-looking vessels were the first parts of the in-place old brewery to be seen. Apparently these copper vessels were used for cooling the beer after it had been boiled in the copper

Inside the beer cooler

Onto more familiar items next, below, the grist mill
 Below: mash tun

Below, interior of the mash tun

Above: A Steel's Masher, patented 1853
Below:The modern grist mill, able to handle different grains unlike the old one

Below: Modern mash tuns
Below: Modern copper (left) and holding tank(right)

Above: Hops are added to the wort by using these 3 chambers, each charged with different hop varieties or the same hop to be added at different times during the brewing. The hot wort is diverted from the holding tank into the charges and then carries on with the dissolved hop pellets into the copper for boiling.

Below: A "Hopnik" which is used for infusing hops and other flavours into the beer, more information on it here

Above: Not sure what this vessel is/was but it was at the base of everything else! Whirlpool?
Below: the open fermenters

Above: Yeast growing in an open fermenter
All packaging of the beer takes place at a different site, the beer is tanked to nearby Bredbury to be  casked, kegged or bottled. I did ask why the family had decided to fit a new brewery alongside the old one, rather than build a new brewery elsewhere at a more accessible site, "History", was the answer, "The family brewing business started here and will always continue here", replied the tour guide.
Then it was back to the bar in the visitor centre which was starting to fill up with diners.
Tours of Robinsons Brewery can be booked online and cost from £9.95 each with a "Gold" package including a gift bag and 2 pints at £24.95 (2019 prices). Enjoyable, although the tour guide could not answer a few questions I asked such as is Robinsons Unicorn the same as Robinsons Best but rebranded?
Above: Robinsons Brewery as seen from Stockport town centre

Stockport is also worth visiting for the pubs there
A pint of Robinsons in the historic Arden Arms (below)

Below: The Queen's Head, an historic Sam Smith's pub (most of them are!)

 Stockport is home to another brewery and bar, Remedy
There is also a micropub in Stockport, The Petersgate Tap

Wednesday 16 January 2019

A visit to Shepherd Neame

Looking back at old photos there were a number of regional breweries the Brew Wales editor has visited over the last 30 years or so and a lot of them are no longer there - King & Barnes, Brakspear, Youngs, Buckley's etc so last year I decided to start visiting the regionals that were still left and photographing them. No rush to this project so expect occasional updates.

Last March, I found myself on my annual visit to London for the last of the CAMRA London Drinker Festivals, there's only so much of Camden Town Hall I could take so for a change I visited Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, just over an hour by train from St Pancras Station if you catch the fast train, which is also very useful for Stratford and back!
Looking on Google Street view I immediately recognised a Victorian Tower Brewery but this is not Shepherd Neame, their brewery is on the opposite side of the road, sloping down to the River Medway.

 The former Fremlins Brewery, Faversham

This brewery was taken over by Fremlins in 1949 and was originally George Beer & Rigden. The former tower brewery has now been converted to flats whilst the maltings are now a Tesco. Fremlins was taken over by Whitbread in 1967, more about Fremlins can be found here.

The frontage of Shepherd Neame Brewery, showing the shop and visitor centre on the left and the brewery offices on the right

The brewery tours are run from the shop, housed in an ancient timber-framed building which only became part of the brewery in the last few years, adjoining the shop is a bar/tap room and the viewing area to watch the video for the start of the tour. Shepherd Neame claim to be Britain's oldest brewery, dating back to 1698, the Three Tuns Brewery in Bishop's Castle was first licensed in 1642, however, recent research has moved the date for the Faversham Brewery back to at least 1573 and before that the site may have had a brewing connection with a nearby religious site. For more information on the history of the brewery visit the Shepherd Neame website. In fact, researching the history of this brewery has produced three volumes of books about the site, something of a record for a brewery I think?
After the video the tour departs outside and in through the door of the attractive offices, decorated with hop motifs on the outside and this on the inside:

From Hurlimann Brewery, Switzerland
Sheps brew Hürlimann under licence so it was not much of a surprise to see this. Through the back door of the offices and we are into a passageway with the brewhouse to the left and above us, on the slope going down to the River Medway.

The old shoot from the brewhouse, used to pour the spent grains from the brew into a waiting farmers' wagon

The interior of the tower brewhouse was fitted with new plant in the 1970s and during this rebuilding the old wood cladding from the previous brewery was reused around the modern vessels.
Above: the grist mill and below mash tuns

A Steel's Masher, patented 1853 used for mixing the grist with the hot liquor

Whilst this room was quite impressive, well for a brewery geek such as myself, the adjoining room which contains the lauter tun and copper features stained glass windows.

The fermenters are more industrial than artistic 

There are still a couple of old steam engines at the brewery, kept in working order and fired up at special events

After the brewery tour there was a visit to Sheps' vintage vehicle collection and an old cooperage before heading back to the tasting room.

The tasting session was a bit different to others I have been to at other breweries, here the tour guide gave us a blind tutored tasting, I quite enjoyed this as I'm not too familiar with Shep's beers apart from Spitfire.
All in all, an enjoyable tour on an historic site, tours cost £14/person and are a good way to spend an afternoon. Especially in Faversham in March. Tours can be booked online here

Faversham has a few nice pubs and micro-pubs as well that are worth visiting

Oh and there's a Chaverspoons as well


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