The Craft of Brewing
PUBLISHED: 12:58 12 June 2017 | UPDATED: 12:58 12 June 2017
Essex is seeing a boom in the number of micro breweries producing unique and high quality ales. Here Stephanie Mackentyre speaks to three producers worth raising a glass to
The Hop Beer Shop
Micro breweries are now calling themselves craft brewers and supporting them is a new breed of pub — the micro pub. In fact, it’s these micro pubs which are helping to grow the micro breweries around Essex. Today 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 term craft brewer means any brewer producing below the Duty threshold of up to 5,000 hectare litres per year. As a craft brewer you pay only half the Duty rate, which is proving an attractive proposition for some.
John Prior owns the Hop Beer Shop in Chelmsford, which he opened in 2015 after being turned down for a pub license. His micro pub is one of a number of new places where you can enjoy the rudiments of real ale from around the county and further afield. Open from Tuesday to Saturday (noon to 9pm), you won’t find a G&T or a glass of prosecco here. This place is strictly attracting the connoisseurs of craft beer.
‘We’ve been here for just over two and a half years,’ says John. ‘Before I opened, I made an application for a pub which was unsuccessful, but a friend had been down to Kent and seen micro pubs there. He told me about the Micro Pubs Association website, so I had a look at that.’
What John wanted to create originally was a traditional pub. ‘After researching the website it made me realise I could create a different type of pub,’ he explains. Martin Hillier was the originator of the micro pub. His first was the Butchers Arms in Herne. His vision was to strip back everything and make it as simple as possible, therefore opening up a mini pub without great expense and using a disused shop. The micro pub concept was born, providing simply beer and small beer snacks.
John continues: ‘Once upon a time you had to go to the courts to sell beer in a pub. Anyone with no experience at all could get a licence. If that person didn’t have the licence, the pub couldn’t trade. But it changed in 2014 so that the premises had to hold the licence and the landlord had to go on a course to cover the basic five objectives of the licensing act.’
Today that means local councils can control what happens on the site and also the person who runs it. ‘The Hop Beer Shop is all about supporting local micro brewers and creating a chatty, well balanced environment. Our customers are all here for the beer and good conversation,’ adds John.
The Hop Beer Shop features four regular cask ales, all from casks which are gravity fed in a cold room, and four kegged beers. There are also six ciders to choose from and literally hundreds of different bottled beers too. The Round Tower Brewery has been producing beers for The Hop Beer Shop as a micro brewer for just over three years.
It is this working relationship that is the foundation for success. ‘The Round Tower Brewery simply produce fantastic beers right here on our doorstep in Chelmsford,’ adds John. ‘We have a great relationship with them. In Essex alone there are at least 29 micro breweries, plus more great beers coming out of London from craft brewers too.’
Sam Martyn is the head brewer at Georges Brewery which was started by Mark Mawson and named after Mark’s father.
‘This is the first brewery that I’ve worked at,’ says Sam. ‘I started working here and have worked my way up. Mark has taught me everything I know, so that now he’s able to split his time between here and his other business.’
Georges Brewery aims to have between nine and 13 different beers available at any time. ‘This year our sales have increased, especially for our core beers of Cockleboats Best Bitter (4.0%); Wallasea Wench (3.6%), which is a pale copper, lightly hopped easy drinking session beer; Checkpoint Charlie (4.0%), a blonde ale; Broadsword (4.7%), a deep burnished copper-coloured ale, and Wakering Gold (3.8%), which is a permanent feature in our cold room.’
The team also run tours of the brewery for groups of 12 or more, which include a Ploughman’s lunch. ‘There’s an opportunity to see how it happens, drink beer and ask questions. We also run ‘Brewer for the Day’ experiences which allow the visitor to see the whole process from the very beginning to the very end.’
Regulars at the county’s beer festivals, and most recently at Old Leigh, the team are hoping for another invitation to the Great British Beer Festival. ‘It’s the big one for the whole of the UK. Hopefully we will hear this month by letter asking us to put some ideas forward for it.’ They have attended before but with the huge growth across the UK of micro brewers, there are now so many to choose from it’s not a foregone conclusion.
Sam explains: ‘The growth I believe is partly due to the relief on the duty by Gordon Brown as it suddenly allowed others to start breweries with much less money. However, this resurgence primarily started over in America, with breweries starting to produce beers we’ve never had before, and year-on-year it’s still growing. It’s the hop varieties and the use of hops within the beer. They have really created some fantastic new ones by putting different hop species together to make different flavours and aromas, which has really grabbed people’s attention. You don’t just have a best bitter or a normal pale ale now, you can enjoy a double IPA or a style which is different to what you’ve had before.
Billericay Brewing Company
Sometimes the brewing call comes from within, as it did with Trevor Jeffrey. He is the owner of the Billericay Brewing Company, which was established in 2012 after a long-time interest and passion for beer.
‘I was following in the footsteps of my dad, who used to home brew beers and wines,’ says Trevor. ‘I did a brewery experience day in 2011 at Brentwood Brewery and afterwards I thought, I could do this myself! So I looked into it a lot more, did the training courses and spoke to other brewers.’
Trevor also did some work experience back at Brentwood Brewery. ‘I wanted to create a craft brewery where I could supply as much as I could straight to the public, so I started off with the shop while I was brewing with the Titchfield Brewery. Then, in 2012, we started brewing ourselves here on the premises and finally opened the shop and the micro pub in 2014. The definition of a micro pub is a very small, simple premises, serving really good ale with no frills. It’s not a restaurant or a disco, it’s just serving good beer and a place for good conversation.’
The Billericay Brewing Company was the second micro pub to open in Essex and opened right next to the brewery. The team run tours every other Saturday afternoon, which include tastings, plus the popular Brewer for a Day sessions.
So is the micro brewing bubble set to burst anytime soon? ‘No. I think it’s still on the increase, but maybe not at the rate it has been in previous years,’ concludes Trevor. ‘Saying that, I have heard about half a dozen new micro breweries, which are due to open in Essex already this year.’
Get the Taste
The Hop Beer Shop
Billericay Brewing Company
54 Chapel Street