Category Archives: Brewery

Calverley’s Brewery, Cambridge

Cambridge has a new microbrewery. Calverley’s Brewery has just released its first beer and Sam and Tom invited a few of us along to the brewery for a sample last week. The 4.8% Best Bitter was well received by all, a pleasingly full-bodied beer, malty toffee flavours balanced with good bitterness – we all seemed to keep happily returning for top-ups. A promising start, and there are lots more recipes in the pipeline.

The Best Bitter has already been delivered to the Kingston Arms so that’s likely to be the first pub in Cambridge to serve Calverley’s beer, and also happens to be the nearest pub to the brewery, less than 300 metres from door to door.

Calverley's Brewery

The brewery is located at the end of Hooper Street in one of a cluster of workshop buildings that have included organ builders, upholsterers and garages. The building is shown on an Ordnance Survey map from the 1880s, and presumably dates from the 1870s when most of this area was built up. It was apparently used as a horse stable until 1935, becoming a machine workshop, typewriter repair workshop, and an organ builders before it became Calverley’s Brewery. There were once two pubs on Hooper Street – the Great Eastern Tavern on the corner of Ainsworth Street, and the White Hart, now the Backstreet Bistro, on the corner of Sturton Street. This area off Mill Road was also once home to a couple of breweries – William Worboys Sturton Brewery and off-licence stood on nearby Sturton Street, and Pitson and Newman’s Gwydir Brewery existed at the Mill Road end of Gwydir Street, later the site of Dales Brewery.

It’s a family run venture with brothers Sam and Tom doing the brewing and other family members helping out. The pumpclip shows the brewery logo, an Eagle Owl from the Calverley’s family crest, taken from the coat of arms of Sir John Saville, the first alderman of Leeds – his sister Alice married Sir William Calverley. The Coat of Arms of the City of Leeds also features these owls on a blue background.

Keep an eye out for it in Cambridge pubs this month and hopefully at Cambridge Beer Festival next month…

Greene King – outside the abbey walls

We went to Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre again this year, and as you might expect in the home town of one of England’s largest breweries and pub retailers, Greene King had quite a prescence, even the towering brewery chimneys are visible from the market on Angel Hill. Nevertheless, we were surprised this year to see their new range of beers from the recently installed “innovation brewhouse” already available to buy in bottles, and there were plenty of other local breweries selling their own wares throughout the town.

St Edmund Brewhouse

Greene King are one of the sponsors of the Christmas Fayre and have a couple of stalls and the nearby brewery centre selling a range of beers, beery condiments and merchandise (having owned a couple of MGs, I was tempted by the Corgi replica of the Old Speckled Hen MGB until I saw the price). Much of their focus was on the new range of ‘experimental’ beers coming from the St Edmund Brewhouse, an additional small batch brewery that will apparently “enable greater exploration into more craft beer styles”. Even leaving aside their pub retail shenanigans, this could be seen as an attempt to cash in on the ‘craft beer’ bandwagon as part of the aim to “capitalise on impressive sales growth”, but not for the first time we spoke to a brewer there who seemed genuinely passionate about the brewery itself and enthusiastic about the new line of beers.

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Poppyland Brewery – Ales Gas n Lager

Poppyland Brewery reached its first anniversary a few days ago, a year of “extraordinary ales using local ingredients”. These have included beers made with hops smoked in an old Cromer Smokehouse, “wild landrace hops gathered from nearby ruins of medieval monasteries”, locally picked flowers and fruit, and barley from nearby Branthill Farm. And they do taste extraordinary.

Poppyland Brewery

The brewery is located in the Norfolk seaside town of Cromer, a short walk from the beach, on the corner of West Street and Cabbell Road opposite the fine red brick and flint Methodist Church. Part of the brewery building was previously Allen’s Garages, the letters on the sign rearranged as ‘Ales, Gas ‘N Lager’.

Poppyland Brewery

When I visited the brewery, Martin was bottling Dr Rudi’s New Zealand Saison, described as either a “massively hopped Belgian saison” or an “IPA brewed with an ascertive Belgian saison yeast”. Neither description would have prepared me for the intense burst of lemony citrus, refreshingly sharp with a growing sourness and bitter, dry finish. It’s a beer that seizes the senses.

On The Edge

It follows the farmhouse-in-a-hop-field theme of the earlier ‘On the Edge’ saisons, one hopped with Bobek, another with Cascade & Hersbrucker Hallertau – the Poppyland saison I’ve enjoyed most, well hopped, citrus and floral, the slight tartness balanced with caramel sweetness, perfect on a sunny day. The Crab Apple Saison offers another twist. It’s been a long time since I bit into a crab apple, but the beer is as mouth puckeringly sour, tart and acidic as I remember them tasting.

Poppyland Brewery

Smoking hops
The first Poppyland beer I tried remains my favourite. It uses not only smoked malts, but hops smoked in a Cromer smokehouse that’s over 150 years old. Each bottle of Smoked Porter has revealed experiments with different smoked hops and variations in the strength of the beer. I found the 5.7% the richest experience, but most recently opened a bottle of 5.4% and was unexpectedly greeted with lively fresh hop aromas in a cloud of oak smoke, piney hop flavours, smoky sap and coal tar, a wonderful beer. The smoke and tar thickens in the stronger Ten Thousand Geese, a beer which seems to have absorbed the salty sea air. The whole range of beers are free of finings, so vegetarian friendly – no crabs were harmed for the Crab Saisons – although in the same way vegan rauchbiers can impart smoked meat flavours, the smoked beers do carry homeopathic proportions of cured fish in flavour and aroma only.

Smokehouse Porter 10k Geese

The Sour Plum Porter also uses smoked hops, though the aroma of smoke, toast and hops again doesn’t quite prepare the senses for the depths of flavour – vinous, stewed dark fruits laced with smoky resin, a creeping sourness, acetic and dry. I savoured each mouthful until I was short of breath.

Sour Plum Porter

Only 36 bottles of Sour Plum Porter were made, so I’m unlikely to try it again, and it’s unlikely any casks of Poppyland beer will turn up at pubs or beer festivals. As I understand it, there are no plans to grow or to make the beers more widely available. These are small batches of beers, each a search for new sensations. They are however available direct from the brewery and a small number of local outlets, and online from Beautiful Beers.

The latest brews include big IPAs, an Imperial Austrian Porter and a Dandelion Saison. Here’s to another year of Poppyland’s extraordinary ales…

Pints and Punts – HMS BlackBar

The River Cam provided the main route for trade in Cambridge for over a thousand years, perhaps as far back as the eighth century, with Cambridge regarded as a seaport up to about 1300 (Bryan, 2008). Though the arrival of the railway in 1845 destroyed most of this commercial activity, transport of goods along the river continued well into the twentieth century (Taylor, 1999).

Beer on the Cam

Several mills, granaries, malthouses and brewhouses stood slong the river, with Stourbridge Fair providing a centre of trade for hops, according to Defoe’s Tour Through Great Britain.

In like manner great quantities of heavy goods, and the hops among the rest, are sent from the fair to Lynn by water, and shipped there for the Humber, to Hull, York, etc., and for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and by Newcastle, even to Scotland itself. Now as there is still no planting of hops in the north, though a great consumption, and the consumption increasing daily, this, says my friend, is one reason why at Stourbridge fair there is so great a demand for the hops. He added, that besides this, there were very few hops, if any worth naming, growing in all the counties even on this side Trent, which were above forty miles from London; those counties depending on Stourbridge fair for their supply, so the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Northampton, Lincoln, Leicester, Rutland, and even to Stafford, Warwick, and Worcestershire, bought most if not all of their hops at Stourbridge fair.
(Defoe, 1722)

The river was also important for transporting beer and the ingredients for making it, and some breweries were built by the river to take advantage of this means of transport.

Undoubtedly some breweries used river transport both for the reciept of barley and malt and for the delivery of beer. Indeed some of the more remote riverside pubs can only have been supplied by river for much of the year (Flood, 1987)

Bitter Beginnings

Almost certainly, none of this was in mind when Joe Kennedy from BlackBar Brewery decided to deliver his beer to Cambridge Beer Festival using the river as transport. Perhaps environmental concerns led him to consider punting the beer for the last 3 miles of the journey from the brewery to Jesus Green. More likely it was partly to avoid the city centre traffic and partly as an excuse for a spot of firkin about on the river.

From Spring Lane Field in Grantchester, twenty five firkins were loaded onto an ocean liner of a punt, provided by Scudamores and ably guided downstream by our captain Dan.

Dan can

With buzzards wheeling overhead, and sedge warblers chattering in the reeds, it took just over an hour for us to calmly glide down the river, save for a bit of effort negotiating the deep water and sharp bend that is Dead Man’s Corner, to arrive at the weir where we were granted shore leave to visit the Mill.

MillThe Mill public house stands overlooking the weir where two mills once stood, Bishop’s Mill and King’s Mill. Lauren generously provided free pints of BlackBar Bitter to any landlubbers who showed up wearing black in support of our efforts, along with a few who weren’t wearing black but were nevertheless keen on free beer.

Refreshed, we then gained a few extra pairs of hands to help roll the casks along the road in front of the Mill, and down the steps to the lower river where our punt was waiting.

We then embarked on the final leg of the journey, gaining a shipmate at Quayside as Louise boarded, with Rich, our photographer, apparently losing his sea legs:

BlackBar encourages responsible drinking

Blackbar encourages responsible drinking

At Jesus lock we unoaded the beer and the casks were forklifted to the beer festival site. All bar one, which Joe took for a quick shred on the skate park:

Blackbar on a roll

And then we were finished. Well, Joe at least, and it was off to the Maypole for a final drink. The Maypole will be holding its own beer festival to coincide with the Cambridge Beer Festival, with a new BlackBar Porter on (I was granted a sniff from the FV while at the brewery and if the aroma is anything to go by, it will be a cracking beer).


Thanks to Joe for inviting me along, and to everyone that showed support for HMS BlackBar, particularly Lauren at the Mill, Scudamores and Cambridge CAMRA. Blackbar beers will be available at the beer festival – worth a punt.

Peter Bryan – Cambridge, The Shaping of the City (2008)
Alsion Taylor – Cambridge, The Hidden History (1999)
RJ Flood – Cambridge Breweries (1989)
Daniel Defoe – Tour through the Eastern Counties of England (1722)
HMS BlackBar 2013 The Story
Cambridge Beer Festival

Fuego in the Fens

My first taste of a beer from Bexar County Brewery was at the Letter B in Whittlesey during the Straw Bear Festival. On a bitterly cold day in January, I ordered a porter, what I hoped might be a winter warmer, but I wasn’t expecting the warmth to come from the creeping heat of chilis!

Bexar County Brewery Chili

Brewer Steve Saldana, who came over from Texas and established the brewery with the aim of brewing “aggressive American styled beers”, happened to be in the pub at the time and confirmed the beer was dry hopped with chilis. La Perla Negra En Fuego. It warmed up a cold winter day, a bit too much chili afterburn for my tastes, but Steve later admitted it was too subtle for his tastes. “I really wanted to put twice as many chilis in”.

It turns out that the term ‘aggressive’ doesn’t really do justice to the range of brews, all unfined ‘natural’ beers. Take Vaquero, a 3.7% pale ale with meadowy hops and soft pineapple flavours that’s creamy and sessionable, not so much ‘in yer face’ as ‘down yer neck’. Apparently though, this is down to pulling the punches again – “It’s barely stronger than water” says Steve.

Bexar County Brewery Choc Banana Mild

We visited the brewery, housed in a unit on an industrial estate in Peterborough, on a grey, rainy Sunday in March. It’s hardly an inspiring location for inspired beers to originate from. I almost expected we’d find it in a patch of piney woods and prairie that beers like ‘San Jacinto’ and ‘Seis-Banderas’ evoke.

“We’ve got work to do” he said, handing us empty pint glasses. It turned out the ‘work’ involved pouring beer, drinking beer and talking about beer. The most enjoyable was ‘Come And Take It’, a strong, bitter, hop forward IPA, hazy with Apollo hops and bursting with juicy grapefruit and sherbet.

Bexar County Brewery

Then came another chili challenge, taking a base beer and adding first Cascavel and then Hatch chilis, each addition lifting the beer and lingering longer on the tongue. Experimenting is at the heart of this brewery; stressing yeast to get the banana flavours in the Chocolate Covered Banana Strong Mild, investing in a smoker for the forthcoming mesquite smoked beers. There are hits and misses, such is the nature of experimentation, but this is preferable to playing it safe.

The biggest challenge seems to be convincing other people to drink these unfined beers, because unfined beers can be cloudy, and cloudy beer is apparently not always well received. This is understandable given that it can indicate bad beer, or point to poor cellarmanship. But what about beer that’s intentionally cloudy, unfined and therefore naturally hazy? To change the perception that cloudy beer is bad beer, ideally the brewer would be there at the point of sale, or at the point where a dubious looking beer is returned to the bar, to step in and explain why the beer looks like that. Which is exactly what Steve sometimes finds himself doing, overhearing feedback on his beer at festivals and in pubs, and offering an explanation as to the merits of misty beer.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Seis Banderas, a strong, chocolatey stout with vinous, dark berry flavours emerging from the depths might appear murky, but therein lies the magic.
Bexar County Brewery

Plans are afoot for Bexar County Brewery beers to be served at the Alexandra Arms and other Cambridge pubs. In the meantime, they’re due to feature at the following events:

29 March – 1 April: Green Man, Grantchester – Easter Beer Festival (Come and Take It, Chocolate Covered Banana Mild)
17 April: Meet the Brewer at The Mill, Cambridge
20-25 May: Cambridge Beer Festival