3 of the best independent brewers and distillers in Essex
PUBLISHED: 11:43 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 11:43 22 May 2018
Stephanie Mackentyre speaks to three local producers of alcoholic beverages who are helping to put some fizz and pop into the joys of summer in the county
Jane Mohan, West Street Vineyard, Coggeshall
This is a very special month for Jane Mohan, who owns the West Street Vineyard in Coggeshall, as May 28 sees the beginning of English Wine Week.
“We’ll be doing even more tastings throughout that week and really flying the flag for our English and local wines,” explains Jane. “There’s a real interest in English wines and Essex wines are doing particularly well.”
Did you know that in the CM3 postcode we have more vineyards per square kilometere than anywhere else in the UK? In acknowledgement of this, Maldon and Braintree district councils are repeating the successful Grape and Grain Trail again this summer. The trail gives you the chance to visit local vineyards, brewers and distilleries from Constable Country to the Crouch Valley, including West Street Vineyard.
“It’s a brilliant initiative giving people the chance to travel from one place to another trying local wines, spirits and beers,” adds Jane. The trail runs throughout the year and for a map and more details, you can contact www.visitmaldondistrict.co.uk. “I’m planning to also organise my own cycle routes between vineyards, which I think will be popular,” says Jane.
West Street Vineyard runs regular wine appreciation courses and Jane’s most popular is the Introduction to Wine Saturday Workshop. The next one is on Saturday, May 19 from 11am and the course includes lunch. It’s a chance to find more wines which might become your favourites from around the world.
Jane continues: “I do understand that people don’t want to pay over the odds, but buying wine is like purchasing a beautiful piece of meat. If you want a beautiful tasting wine you do need to invest in that taste.
In a £5 bottle of wine, £3.50 is just tax. If it’s a local product with some integrity, where the producer is working hard to keep the additives down and produce it as ethically as possible, there is a cost involved in that quality of production.
“Each year we are slaves to the weather. The wine producer is at the mercy of the climate. Unlike distilling or brewing, the weather will dominate the vintage, so every year is a brand new year, but that’s what makes wine producing so amazing.
“I believe wine with a meal and family has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures, so it’s understandable that we buy what we’ve bought before. With our wine appreciation course I hope to give people the opportunity to try other wines, so that the next time they purchase some wine they might choose something different, such as a Viognier or perhaps a delicious red from Southern Italy.”
Jane opened her business five years ago and has so far received a bronze and silver medal for her own wines. “My goal is to get a gold – I can rest then.”
Beth Paterson, Slamsey’s Fruit Gins, Great Notley
The popularity of a refreshing G&T has hardly wavered, but there has been a recent rise in lower¬strength, sweet, gin¬based liqueurs hitting the bar shelves.
Slamsey’s Fruit Gins are made on the farm in Great Notley which was purchased by Beth Paterson’s grandfather, Phil Wheaton, in the 1960s and is now owned by her father, Bill Wheaton. Beth searches the fields and hedgerows on the farm to pick a variety of berries and flowers to bring back and slowly infuse in quality gin to make her exquisite gin liqueurs.
“I’ve grown up here on the farm and I was previously doing a job I wasn’t entirely happy in,” says Beth. “As a family we’ve always made sloe gin, so I decided to try making different fruit flavours, thinking that if it all went wrong we’ll just have to have a big party!”
Now she produces around 1,000 litres a year as well as being a full¬time mum to two toddlers and a very young baby. Her eight different flavours of gin include marmalade, plum and blackcurrant, but raspberry and her sloe gin are the most popular.
“My dad used to do pick your own, but he took out the fruit when the demand declined. Now I’m gradually putting the fruit back again to use for my gins. It’s nice to see we are reverting back to how the farm used to be.”
Each bottle has a beautiful label which is inspired by the wildlife on the farm and by the work of eminent naturalist John Ray who lived nearby (1627 to 1705). You can purchase Slamsey’s Gins locally at Cammas Hall Farm at Hatfield Broad Oak, Lathcoats Farm Shop at Galleywood near Chelmsford and The Blue Egg at Great Bardfield. You can also email Beth and collect your order directly from her at the farm.
Beth has exhibited at food shows in the past but has no plans for this summer. “With our young family at the moment this is all I can commit to, but you can buy my gins online to. “Hopefully in five or so years’ time, once my children are at school, I will have a bit more time to devote to expanding my gin production.”
There’s seemingly been an explosion of craft brewers in and around Essex. You’d have to travel back more than 70 years to find as many of these small breweries across the country as we have now.
The Red Fox Brewery was developed from specially refurbished chicken sheds back in July 2008, founded by Russ Barnes who began his first brewing in August 2008. Russ was the brewer of the Supreme Champion Beer of Great Britain at Great British Beer Festival for two years in a row with Crouch Vale’s Brewer’s Gold.
However, after almost four years at Crouch Vale Brewery, Russ decided to start the Red Fox Brewery. With a selection of traditional beers all from East Anglian malts, the brewery produce a wide variety of ales ranging from golden, aromatic beers to rich, full¬flavoured porters plus plenty of seasonal beers. Recently Red Fox Direct has been launched to sell beers direct to the public.
Nick Unsworth is director of Red Fox Direct. He says: “We are in local pubs but like most micro-breweries we are geographically restricted as it’s not easy to transport beer any distances.”
With that in mind Nick has overseen the opening of a brand new shop in Coggeshall in an old, listed building in the centre of the village. “It’s called Copper and Cask, and we have all of our beers on sale. We currently have 30 beers in total with seven or eight as our core beers plus seasonal ones, all of which are now available to purchase in the shop.
“We produce stouts, milds and very hoppy beers, and at this time of year our light, fruit flavoured beers are particularly popular.”
The brewery has recently won an award for its Ruby Red, coming third in the Championship Beer of Essex awards. “We have six beers which have won awards over the past five or six years and so we are also offering an awards box to buy at the shop.”
The shop also offers a variety of 10 different craft gins including Coggeshall Spirit, but the beer is the main focus and being local is the key for Nick. “The shop and brewery for us is still a small business venture, it’s a Coggeshall beer, brewed in Coggeshall.”
You might spot them this summer attending local markets and fairs with tastings and if you’re stuck for a gift they offer a brewery experience day.
“For £80 you do the whole brewing process including the bottling and you take away your own beer, which works out at 30 pints of beer. The day starts with a bacon buttie and then we have lunch at the local pub.”
So whatever your tipple you can find a huge variety produced right on your door step, so why not buy local this summer?