Tuesday, 19 March 2019

A Magical History Tour of Beer and Brewing in Oxford

Britain is enjoying what would seem like a golden age of beer and brewing with many new breweries and beer styles on the market. But go back to the turn of the last century and we had possibly the greatest period of brewing growth and widest variety of beers ever.

Oxford in the nineteenth century had a great many commercial and college breweries. Several of the larger ones were clustered between the station and the castle. This was Oxford’s Brewing Quarter and its industry lasted right up until 1998. Taking a walk around this part of the city there are a few reminders still to be seen of the brewing trade.

Starting opposite the station walk along Becket Street; this was where Hanleys Brewery Maltings once stood, the large buildings ran along near the railway yard now the car park. Head through the church yard and follow St Thomas Street past what was once the Chequers Pub.

Follow the street and you will soon come to the gates of the former Morrells Lion Brewery. The site is now flats, but the yard, gateway and some of the buildings have been preserved as has the brewery chimney standing beyond.  To the left of the gates stands the former brewery tap and the little bridge opposite crosses a small stream which once powered the water wheel of the brewery.

Standing at the cross roads on the Quaking Bridge you can see the Horse Hospital where the Morrell’s dray horses were cared for. The Georgian town house on the corner was the home of a former brewery owner Mr Tawney. Alongside the river, much of Fox Maltings still stand. Look for the low windows and shallow floors.

Now walk down Paradise Street and turn right onto the path which runs by the stream, this whole area was the site of the Halls Swan Brewery. At the end of the path the Swan Maltings still stand, now converted to housing.

Head back along the stream to Park End Street where all along the south side of this road once stood brewery buildings: Phillips Tower Brewery and Weavings Eagle Steam Brewery. The last part to remain was the Halls Brewery depot near Frideswide Square and the Jam Factory.Now go past the castle towards the Westgate and along Queen Street, the building now housing Top Shop was once the offices of Halls Brewery. The entire area behind this street was once the Hanleys City Brewery. A small part of it still remains and is now the Museum of Modern Art – it’s free to look around upstairs in what were once the fermenting rooms.

Beyond the brewery quarter there were many more areas involved in the making of beer:

North, off Woodstock Road behind the Radcliffe Observatory, was the St Giles Brewery now the site of Belsyre Court.

South off Cowley Road behind the UPP cinema and Big Society was Flowers Brewery, here only the dray stables remain and are now used as a garage.

West off St Clements on the appropriately named Little Brewery Street was the Wootten & Cole Brewery, but only the name of the street remains here. Head up the hill towards Headington and the former wealth of the brewing trade is more clearly evident. The whole of South Park and Headington Hill Hall was once owned by the Morrell family, now a public park and part of Brookes University.

As well as the commercial brewers, many of the university colleges made beer through much of their history, most noted being New College and Brasenose. The last to brew was the Queens College Brewhouse, last used in 1939. The buildings are still standing on the corner of Queens Lane off the High Street. Of course the colleges, abbeys and commercial brewers were making beer way back to the very earliest days of Oxford; unfortunately not a lot remains to be seen of them now. Only Brewer Street off St Aldates gives a hint to just one location of these much older brewers.
More recently some smaller brew pubs have come and gone: one at the Red Lion on Gloucester Green, called variously the Oxford Bakery & Brewhouse, under the revived Halls Brewery brand, then latterly Fuggle & Firkin. The City Arms on Cowley road was for a time brewing as the Philosopher & Firkin.

Of the breweries mentioned: Hanleys, Phillips, Wootten and Weavings became part of Halls, which then became part of Allsopps, later Allied Breweries and now Carlsberg. There are still many ceramic plaques on pubs around the city bearing the Halls hare logo. Morrells Brewery closed in 1998 and the beer brands were bought by Marstons and the pubs by Greene King.

Brewing in Oxford is still in fine health, there are several independent breweries around the city and many of them are part of the Oxford Brewers Alliance. The Alliance seeks to increase awareness in Oxford of the range of high quality locally produced beers and the brewers committed to that craft.

With thanks to the following sources:

Liz Woolley - Industrial Architecture in Oxford, 1870 to 1914

Queens College - Liquid Legacies: Beer and Brewing at the Queen's College

Alfred Barnard, The Noted Breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, vol.1

Brewery History Society http://breweryhistory.com



Saturday, 28 July 2018

Hackney & Bethnal Green Craft Beer Pub Tour

East London has a wide range of pubs and brewery tap rooms. This is a tour starting in Hackney Wick and working back towards the city centre. The route is about 4 miles end to end - but it is designed to follow the bus route 388 - so you can easily hop on and off the bus which tracks near all the pubs listed.


Hackney Wick 


Beer Merchants
Beer Merchants - Bar
In Hackney Wick - start at the new Beer Merchants Tap room  - ticking everything on a craft beer bar check list - exposed brickwork, dangly industrial lights, cable trays, rough planking and a tap wall - its a great new asset to the Hackney beer scene. A decent range of keg and bottle beers and helpful staff in a spacious and airy re-purposed industrial space

A short walk away is a brace of bars which are now must-do sites for a London beer geek:

First off try CRATE - true hipster location on the canal, alternative living and anti-establishment house boats abound. Sit on the terrace watching the bikes and boats drift by. The actual brewery is across the yard and supplies most
of the beers in the bar, including a decent range of cask beers and keg from other London makers.

Within shouting distance across Queens Yard is the tank bar - Howling Hops Claiming to be the first dedicated tank bar in the UK - a selection of all in house brewed beers served direct from the tanks behind the bar. Long Teutonic style benches in rough industrial chic.

The Mason and Co is just north of here if you want fancy street-style food and craft beer.

Victoria Park Road


Heading back towards Bethnal Green you could try: The People's Park Tavern or the Hemingway
Or alternatively walk the canal tow path - round from CRATE towards Bethnal Green; a pleasant stroll past Victoria Park to emerge on the Cambridge Heath Road.

Mare Street

Try the London Fields Tap Room or the Forest Road Brew Co Tap Room


Cambridge Heath Road 

Mother Kellys
Redchurch Brewery Tap Room - Tucked away off the main road, a London classic micro brewery: in a railway arch with the ubiquitous white corrugated ceiling liner and plenty of pallet wood on show. But a real gem of a tap room and open pretty  convenient hours. Near by is the essential stop on any craft beer tour: Mother Kelly's. A long row of fridges hold all sorts of bottle beers and a menu gives access to the 20+ taps on the back wall.

Bethnal Green Road

Old St Brewery
Old St Brewery Tank Bar
A tucked away little treat is the Old Street Brewery Tap Room - follow the passage to the side of the railway and yes its a planking and white corrugated plastic trimmed tap room. But small batch brews are sold from mini serving tanks behind the bar. The enthusiastic staff talk you through their beers and clearly enjoy what they do. Outdoor seating along the passage mixes with second hand furniture and other local traders.

There is whole street of interesting pubs along Bethnal Green Road - Sun Tavern, Star of Bethnal Green, and tucked up a side road the Three Sods Taproom

The Kings Arms is a London modern-traditional-hipster pub - old school Victorian meets multi-tap keg emporium.

Back on the main road is the quirky Well and Bucket - faded elegance of fine crumbling tiles climbing up the pock marked walls to high ceilings.

If you are feeling peckish now - its a handy detour down Brick Lane for a world of food choices. 

Follow up with a beer at the Williams Ale and Cider house or the Craft Beer Co St Marys Axe

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Bamberg – An Adventure in Brewing, Malt, Smoke and Beer

The air was heavy with the aroma of gently roasting malt as we disembarked from our train. Standing on the platform we were taken with the smell of the Weyermann maltings, its majestic brick façade towering over the beautiful Bavarian town of Bamberg.

We had travelled here to take part in a collaboration brew at the brewery attached to the 140 year old malting company. Weyermann make some highly specialist malts, many of which we use in of our XT and Animal beers. They have an amazing no-expense-spared, high tech brewery to test their malts and experiment with a wide variety of beer styles, and we had been invited here to play on it.

Bamberg must be one of the world’s top places for beer and it is well known for the local smoked Rauchbiers. As with much of Germany the locals are very loyal to their local breweries and the styles particular to the region. Generally I will always search out the local beers in my travels, but to only see local beer and no national or multinational brews at all was a revelation. The Germans see beer as a highly valued part of their culture; it’s not just a ‘drink’ and somehow inferior to wine. The brewing and serving of beer here is a respected career choice.

The old town of Bamberg is beautifully preserved, and a pleasure to wander around its old timbered houses, grand churches and cobbled streets. The locals get about on bikes on the many cycle paths and somehow they manage to ride normal looking machines without the need for lycra or carbon fibre. Most importantly however, Bamberg is blessed with nine breweries, all of which are within the old town environs. The breweries all have their own traditional bars attached, plus there are numerous pubs to tempt you, it’s actually quite hard to find a bad one. Here is a short list of some of our favourite breweries and bars:

Spezial - A traditional brewery which still smokes its own malts for the house speciality Rauchbier. We stayed here during our time in Bamberg, and it is well worth seeking out these characterful places – take a look on www.braugasthoefe.de for similar brewery guest houses across Germany.

Zum Sternla – Thanks to our hosts Weyermann, who are almost the Bamberg royal family, we had the honour of sitting at the ‘top table’; this is a bit of tradition where the landlord has his own reserved table and holds his beery court. It’s a great way to meet a wide variety of the locals and get to understand the traditions and enjoy the respect that German’s have for their beer and the well trained staff that serve it with such reverence. Sampled some very fine Weissbier (wheat beer) here, which has deep rich flavour missing in many more commercial versions.

Keesmann – Famous for its Herren-Pils and Helles, but for me it was most memorable for the huge food portions which actually defeated my companion who is not normally the loser in man vs. food. On investigating the extensive brewery behind the bar I spotted a huge machine which at first I could not identify, after enquiring I learned it was for the cleaning of beer bottles. In Germany the regional breweries use standardised bottles and they regularly collect and refill them. This was eye opening and a radically different way of thinking to our own throw-away culture.

Mahr’s Bräu – Opposite Kessmann, we really enjoyed the biergarten here and, after the night closed in, the convivial conversation on long benches in the dark wood panelled bar inside. The shared tables in the bars are very much part of the drinking culture; everyone sits together and if you arouse their interest, you will inevitably be drawn into the conversation of your neighbours. This bar also introduced us to the delights of “Ungespundet” which literally means “unbunged”. It’s a process for maturing beers with open vented vessels leading to much less gassy beer. The age old Reinheitsgebot or purity law has far reaching influence over the beers here, interestingly it also forbids the use of extraneous gas in the beer, only gas from the fermentation can be in the beer. So there is a little puzzler for you real-ale purists, is German keg-beer real-ale?

Klosterbräu – Attractive riverside brewery here for over 450 years. The oldest in Bamberg.

Schlenkerla – Probably the most famous Rauchbier: Aecht Schlenkerla. The extensive bar with several panelled rooms and covered yards serves only one beer: it is black and it is very smoky. Served directly from wooden casks behind the bar, it’s a very special beer and special bar that encapsulates Bamberg and its deep beer traditions. If heaven forbid you want a different beer, you can buy the bottled helles, and yes that is smoky too!

I would definitely suggest a beer adventure in Bamberg with its great beers and great bars plus the added bonus that it’s actually a very attractive town. Bamberg is certainly up there in the top ten beer cities of the world.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Future of Cask and Craft Beers

XT Brewing welcomes proposals by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) to widen its remit to include all quality beers, and not just cask ales.

XT Brewing head brewer Russ Taylor said CAMRA’s move fits in well with XT’s business philosophy.

“Following a very busy 2017 when we made a significant investment in new brewing equipment and a new brewery tap room, we are 100 per cent committed to increasing the production of our cask ales.

“However, we are also committed to increasing our production of all our craft beers, which are also produced in kegs, bottles and cans.

“CAMRA’s proposal to appeal to a wider range of drinkers who enjoy all quality beers – while continuing to advocate that real ale is the pinnacle of the brewers’ craft, fits in well with our thinking.

It’s been a great voyage so far on the good ship ‘XT’ – seven years ago we were just setting sail as a new virgin brewery in a beer world where there were only a few hundred like us. Now there are five times more breweries in a very crowded sea. However – we are still going at full steam ahead, with strong growth every year since the outset.

There have been some significant changes in the world of beer – it has made seismic shifts from dull mass marketing or nerdy, “Fred in a Shed” brews to the glamorous new epoch of ‘Craft Beer’. Back when we started our branding was quite unusual, turning away from the traditional look or silly names, we went clean, slick and straightforward with a cutting edge numbering and colour coded look.

The terminology of ‘Craft Beer’ is something of an enigma in England. The Americans, who arguably coined the term, view the beer and brewing world: vertically in terms of volume by producer; whereas over here, we do things differently, and view it horizontally in terms of dispense method. This does rather make twisting an American view point over our beer world a bit tricky.

So is cask beer ‘craft’ or not? –Yes probably, but I don’t think it really matters. At XT we make beer for cask, keg, can or bottle and we ‘craft’ all of them with the same love and care. The most significant format for us is, by far, Cask. Cask beer makes up most of our production and we have invested heavily over the years in our facility and equipment to make more of it and make it better. The cask range under the core XT or experimental Animal brand has been growing and we have striven to keep evolving and developing.

Our R 'n' D programme has been bringing some wondrous beery delights including the 12 month Imperial Stout, aged in a variety of seasoned oak vats; the ever changing Animal cask range and its impetuous little cousin the Baby Animal series of nano-brewed one-offs. The Eisbar Craft Lager has been rolled out to our pioneering pubs. One of the most recent developments has been our newest beer of 2018: the HopCat IPA; it is bang on trend as a hyper hoppy but lower ABV session beer.

The design world of beer has now caught up with our branding but we will keep moving ahead of the pack and continue to do our own thing. To further show our faith in the future of cask beer – we have brought our cask beer branding up to date with a modern new look. The next generation branding will be launched in March 2018 and gives all our beers a cohesive family look while keeping to our core branding principles.

We see the future of XT firmly in the cask market, working with our existing pub partners and also reaching out to other operators who are looking for an innovative brewery to develop new markets for beer with us.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Sardinian Brewing Adventure

Collaboration Brewing & Sardinian Beers

 Last summer at XT we brewed a Belgian Wit Beer, the ‘Animal Donkey’, with innovative and eccentric Italian Brewery BBBirra from Bosa. The beer was made with wheat and loads of potent Sardinian orange zest brought over by our brewing friend Carl Fitzpatrick.

This year I headed out to the idyllic Sardinian coastal town of Bosa to join Carl again and get our brewing heads together for round two of our international collaboration.

Carl runs his brewery and farm in the medieval town of Bosa on the banks of the river Temo in NW Sardinia. The two ventures are built on very strong environmental and sustainable principles close to Carl’s heart. The farm grows all the barley, wheat and hops for the beers, and his well provides all the brewing liquor; the yeast even comes from the local wine producers. Both ancient and contemporary varieties of grains are grown to ensure a diverse culture on the farm and remove the need for chemical assistance.  The by-products of brewing are fed to the farm animals. Unusual these days – even the used beer bottles are returned by Carl’s drinkers and refilled. The locals are so used to this now; he doesn’t even need to charge a deposit! The whole process from field to glass takes place all within walking distance of the farm.

The first beer we worked on in the four storey brewery, tucked away in the narrow, winding streets of old town Bosa, was based on an Italian speciality – “Doppio Malto”. This very high gravity beer is made with a unique double mashing process. The super strong wort is then munched away by yeast which had been cropped from actively fermenting Malvasia wine. To balance the massively chewy malt flavours, high alpha hops are added for a citrus bite.

If the beers travel further than Bosa, Carl takes them in his mobile pub – an amazing, converted German fire engine. With hand pumps, a bar and a bespoke chilled cellar; the beers are enjoyed in perfect condition while drinkers rest on old wine barrels. One day, between brews, we collected an old oak foeder from an ancient and crumbling wine cellar. The cellar tucked away in a tiny narrow street was an Aladdin’s cave of amazing old wine casks resting unused for many years, I wish I could have brought one home for a bit of whacky fermentation of my own.

As a balance to the Doppio, we turned our attention to a beverage made from the oldest strain of grain grown by man – Einkorn wheat which was originally cultivated in ancient Egypt. It’s a tough little grain and takes a lot to get it to give up its sugars for brewing. To help the process, our grist needed to be blended with some contemporary malted wheat. The flavours of this hazy, refreshing “Pharaoh’s Ale” perfectly matched the heat of the Sardinian sun.

Sardinia has a hot, Mediterranean climate and the beer culture has grown accordingly – with the locals and visitors preferring lighter and fruity beers, softer IPAs, wheat beers and lagers. The craft beer craze has swept across the whole of Italy and now even Sardinia has over two dozen local breweries.

The beer market is still dominated by Ichnusa – a classic Euro fizz lager. As with many similar brands this brewer is now a part of the giant Heineken, but a raft of small independent producers are making many inroads.
My pick of these new kids on the island include:

Marduk from Orosei on the east coast – this is one of the more commercial of the independent producers and their beers include American style IPAs, Czech Lagers and a Munich Alt Bier. But as with BBBirra they also follow a sustainability field to grain principle and have their own farm and maltings. 

Birrificio Cagliari, based in the capital, produce a very wide range of styles –and all packaged in beautiful bottles with very stylish labels. Worth it just to enjoy the Italian designer look.

Birra Lara from Tertenia on the south eastern coast is a very modern brewery creating beers using barley grown on their own farm. The owners enthusiastically support the traceability of their ingredients throughout the process.

Sambrinus from Sassari in the north is the oldest craft brewer, operating since 1999. Beers follow a more classical style of traditional brews.

Birrificio 4 Mori based in the south western town of Guspini, the brewery is housed in old mine workings and uses an excellent numbering system for their beers.

Most of the beers are available in bottles – generally I found these to be bottle conditioned, the locals expect ‘craft’ to be cloudy and preferably with lots of foam. Finding the beers on draught was a little tricky, but when you do find them, they are often ‘keg conditioned’ in key-keg or other bag type disposable systems. Many of the beers I tried were unfiltered and unpasteurised. In order to enjoy a really good range look out for one of the many beer festivals around the island. These tend to be laid out in the ‘market street’ style where you can meet and talk to the brewery teams on their own stalls. 

It was a pleasure to work with Carl again this year, and get an insight into beer and brewing in Italy. Travelling for beer – what could be better?