Brewed in Brentwood
PUBLISHED: 11:47 24 February 2015
A pint of beer is very much an English institution, but one Essex town has a particularly strong affinity with the nation's favourite alcoholic drink. Petra Hornsby explores Brentwood's special relationship with beer
Up until the 15th century, ‘light’ ale consisted of malted barley, water and yeast and was considered to be rather nutritious. Imported hops from Holland and Flanders were introduced over time which, as well as being a preservative, added a deeper, more bitter flavour and the UK’s love of beer was born! By the 16th century, England was growing its own hops and oast houses, still found in some counties including Kent, were used to dry the crops.
The making of ale or beer was initially done only in the home and a good brewer would often sell to the whole village and sometimes further afield, but production depended on the supply of good ingredients. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I would always send someone ahead to test the ale at her next destination and if it didn’t pass the approval of the tester, she would summon supplies to be sent from London.
One can only assume that the ale production met with Royal approval in Essex as our county seemed to be quite busy producing beer and ale, reaching something of a peak in the 19th century. Market towns across Essex attracted passing trade from travelling coaches making their weary way to Norwich, Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds, and several of the coaching inns that characterised the high streets would brew their own ‘refreshments’. The White Hart Inn in Brentwood was once one of the most frequented coaching inns in Essex and is now called the Sugar Hut, famous as a popular night spot for the young and glamorous.
Records show that Brentwood once had dozens of pubs and inns, many in the High Street, but also one-room tap rooms, tucked down side-streets and also on the road to Warley, where the Barracks, made permanent in 1804, provided plenty of trade for the brew houses. The hospital in Warley, which was built in the mid-19th century for the mentally ill, was, rather surprisingly, also known to have its own brewery.
Brentwood’s beer back then was brewed locally by Fielders, situated on the Kings Road, and Hills Brewery on Myrtle Road. The Fielders site was perfect for brewing thanks to two deep wells supplying fresh water and is still marked today by the pub, The Brewery Tap.
The town also had its own maltings and supplied malted barley both locally and further afield to many famous brewers including Watneys.
Although the barracks closed in the 1960s, and coaching inns have long been replaced by service stations, there are still plenty of watering holes to be found in and around Brentwood and thanks to one enterprising pair, brewing is back and alive and well. The Brentwood Brewing Company was formed in 2006 by Dave Holmes and Roland Kannor who felt they would do well at producing a decent pint, and they certainly seemed to have proved just that in a relatively short space of time.
The company has won countless awards for its beers and The Brentwood Brewing Company has spent a lot of time showcasing its wares at various beer festivals over the years — not only at regional beer festivals but also further afield. In Belfast, the firm won the Champion Beer of Belfast award and in 2014 in Hungary, it was awarded gold status for its Brentwood Gold beer. In 2010, the small team won the award for Best Growing Business (Micro) in the Essex Business Excellence Awards and with business and production growing, they made a move from Coxtie Green Road to roomier premises at Calcott Hall Farm where a visitor centre, complete with shop, was added. Tours of the brewery and even a Brewery Day Experience are now on offer.
Roland, who describes himself as ‘head cook and bottle washer’ and a Brentwood man for 20 years, explains what he sees as an increasing appreciation of locally-produced beer. ‘When we first started, there were about 200 micro-breweries and now there are closer to 2,000,’ says Roland. ‘I feel people are more aware of what they eat and drink; people want to know the origins of their drinks and they care about the taste. It’s not just about buying the cheapest, and that goes for beer, too.’
Roland has also seen a change in those taking an interest in beer. ‘In pubs, the age of your average drinker is on the older side, but at the beer festivals, you will see a much younger age group, somewhere between 20 and 30 years old.’
The production team remains small and includes head brewer Ethan Kannor and Mike Holmes as assistant brewer. Between them, they produce what currently amounts to 9,000 pints of beer a week. The brewery maintains production of around half a dozen regular brews and throughout the year will add in special, seasonal ingredients to create limited edition beers.
The beers, ales and lagers are often tantalisingly named — such as After 8 and Cookies & Cream — and contain some very tempting ingredients ranging from cocoa powder or gooseberry to elderflower or strawberry.
With so many awards, Roland is hard-pressed to choose the one that means the most, but early success is always remembered well. ‘During our first year, we produced a beer called Summer Virgin and took it to the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Summer Beer Festival in Chelmsford. Competing against 300 other beers, we won Champion Beer. It was very encouraging and set a benchmark. Our low alcohol beer, BBC 2, has also been named champion against a range of tastes and strengths and even enjoyed a tasting in the Houses of Parliament.’
And Roland and the rest of the team are looking forward to many exciting things for the future. Roland explains: ‘We are settled where we are and plan to carry on making good local beer for local people. We enjoy a good demand locally and we have just received our first order from Thailand, so who knows?’
The passion for good local beer and the desire to support its production has led to something of a new approach to how it is served and enjoyed. The micropub defines itself as a ‘small’ (often one room) freehouse, serving mainly ales by the cask, avoids electronic entertainment and serves pub snacks. The idea is that the customers are given a voice and that conversation and easy company inspired by the ale and the atmosphere are promoted. The numbers of these pubs are on the increase and for a full list visit www.micropubassociation.co.uk
Within Essex, why not try The Billericay Brewing Co. micropub on Chapel Street in Billericay or the Hop Beer Shop on Chelmsford’s Moulsham Street?