Unusual Brewery involvement in the Community.

Hook Norton Brewery is a central part of the local community, by supporting and involvement in such things as local charities, sports teams, brass band and fire service.

This all started in 1895 with the establishment of the first Parish Council on which sat Brewery Company Secretary George Groves, Head Brewer Alban Clarke and John Henry Harris, son of the founder John. I’m on the look-out for any of the more unusual Brewery Community involvement, here are a couple found so far from Parish Council records.

Regarding the Fire service, one of the requests made on the Brewery in October 1925 was to quote for providing horses for the Shand Mason fire engine day or night. This came following a serious fire at Rye Hill which the village brigade was unable to attend through lack of transport. At this time it was not unusual to see the village coal man left stranded with no horses attached to his wagon, the animals having been commandeered by the brigade! It is not clear if the request was approved but so far no evidence has been found that deliveries of beer have been held up by the absence of Dray horses due to Fire duties!


Another odd duty taken up by brewery personnel occurred in March 1934 when farmer local farmer Fred Painter spoke of the annoyance caused by large numbers of wasps in the village. He suggested that queen wasps should be destroyed before May, and the man in charge of their disposal was non-other than Head brewer Bill Clarke. Bill asked that he be informed of any sightings and he would be willing at any time to destroy them!

More to follow as found……………..

James Tobin    (with thanks to Hook Norton Village Museum)

Granny Di’s ‘Twelve Days’ Christmas Pudding.

It’s a bit early I know, but I’ve just placed my order for my Twelve Days Christmas Pud. Now this one is so delicious I thought I would also let everyone else in on the treat (with Granny Di’s kind permission of course);


The following will make one 2lb pudding or two – 1lb puddings

4 oz shredded suet
2 oz self raising flour
4 oz white or brown breadcrumbs
1 level teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
8 oz soft dark brown sugar
1lb 2oz mixed dried fruit- sultanas, raisins, peel, cherries – your own combination
1 small Bramley Apple, peeled, cored and finely chopped or grated.
Grated zest of 1/2 a large orange
Grated zest 1/2 of a large lemon
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons brandy or rum, or a drop more Twelve Days

The day before you plan to cook the pudding take a large mixing bowl and put in the suet, flour, breadcrumbs, spices and sugar.  Give it a good stir then add the fruit, the apple and grated orange and lemon zest. Check to make sure you have put everything in.

In a smaller bowl mix the Twelve Days, the eggs and the brandy/rum (if using).

Mix this thoroughly with all the other ingredients.  Get the family to have a stir and make a wish.

The mixture will be fairly sloppy – it should fall straight off the spoon when tapped on the edge of the bowl.  If not, add a spot more beer.

Cover the bowl and leave overnight.

When you are ready to cook the puddings, heat the oven to 140oC, gas Mark 1

Grease your bowl or bowls, and fill with the mixture.

Cover the tops of the puddings with a circle of grease proof then cover the bowls with a piece of foil.  Tie a piece of string round the bowls.

Put the bowls in a roasting tin, half fill the tin with hot water, and then cover the whole tin with a large sheet of foil and place in the oven for 5 hours.

You may need to top the water up part way through the cooking time.

This is a much better way of cooking the puddings as they will steam in their “tent” rather than having a kitchen full of steam all day.

Remove from oven, when cool give the bowls a good clean round the outside and store until the big day.

One can of course double up the quantities and make four 1lb puddings, some to give away!

They would all still cook together in their “tent”

Granny’s tip.  Drink the remaining beer – you’ve earned it!

If you do give any away, be prepared for them to want one every year!


James Tobin and Granny Di.

Keeping the tax man happy!


In the Brewery Malt store there is a key board hanging up and people on a Tour will often ask, what are the keys for? Well, the answer is they are part of the Inland Revenue act of 1880. Although this Act came in 137 years ago, and has been superseded by later Acts, there is still some evidence of its application still on view in the Brewery today.

Included in the Act were three provisions that the Brewer must comply with, namely;
1) Provide access to the local Excise Officer at any time day or night. To provide the required access to our local officer, Frederick Lightfoot, the set of keys on the board in the Malt Store were made available to him so he could carry out the required monitoring of our brewing and apply the relevant duty rates.
2) Identification of every vessel used in the Brewing process and each room and entry door.As we go around the Brewery today we can see many examples of this still being applied. Some examples are shown above, including; ‘Sugar Store 3′, ‘Store Room 8′ and ‘Malt Store Room 7′. The ‘Mill Room’ is still applicable, but the other rooms are of course used for different purposes today.
3) Maintenance of a Brew Book recording all the required details of each brew. The Brewery still holds most Brew records going back to 1856; some of these are held in the Brewers office as shown above.

So there we are, another fine example of the fascinating history we have seemingly lurking in every corner of our wonderful old Brewery.

James Tobin

Scaling Everest in Hooky – without Oxygen and frostbite!

At a Tour Guides meeting the other day we were discussing how many tours some Guides had undertaken. It appears at least two of them (Malcolm and Chris) had each done over a thousand.


This got me thinking, given we have a Tower Brewery I wonder how high they could have climbed during these tours. Actually it is quite easy to work out, each step height is 9″ and they usually go up (and down) at least 80 of them. So 80 times 9″ divided by 12″ times 1000 tours  = 60,000ft.

Now mount Everest is 29,029 feet, so in effect they have each climbed the equivalent of the mountain twice!

Me? I’ve only done 600 tours so I’m currently on my second Everest climb!

James Tobin.

Hook Norton Pubs in Verse

A story goes that in the 1930′s a vagrant called at the back door of the Sun Pub. “I have no money”, he said to the Landlord, and continued “but if I can come up with a poem mentioning all the Hook Norton pubs will you give me a free drink?”

“O.K., you have a deal”, replied the landlord.

After a while the vagrant returned and recited the following verse;

“The Sun shines brightly in the Morn
The Blackbird flies in for his feed of corn
The Pear Tree hangs over the oak door
And the Lion comes out with a roar
There’s a Wheatsheaf standing by South Hill
And travellers rest at the Hotel on Tank Hill
There’s a Gate hanging High on the old drovers road
And a Bell that rings out atop its own road”.

Apparently the vagrant got his pint!


James Tobin (Based on a story related by Richard Stevens)

Grist to the Mill, or Grist from the Mill?


When taking groups on a tour of the Brewery and we reach the Malt store, I refer to our obtaining Malted Barley Grist from our Grist Mill. When hearing this people will often say ‘Surely the saying is Grist to the mill, not from the Mill?’

Actually, both sayings are correct. In a flour mill, Grist is grain that has been separated from its chaff in readiness for grinding, and in Brewing, Grist is crushed grain that is obtained after passing it through a Grist mill.

At Hook Norton we have a most unusual, if not unique, Grist Mill located on the fourth floor of the Brewery. Installed in 1899 it features a Malt Dressing machine made by Nalder & Nalder of Wantage (the wooden covered parts) and a Milling machine made by Buxton & Thornley, Burton on Trent (the red painted parts). As its name suggests the Malt Dressing part prepares the grain for milling; it does this by removing dust and grading the grains into either larger or smaller size, before milling. The Mill has two sets of rollers, side by side; one is set to crush the smaller grains and the other set for the larger ones. By the machine grading the grains in this way it provides an even crush and the maximum extract from the Mash later on in the process. There cannot be many machines in the UK still running on a daily basis that were installed in 1899!

So there we are Grist can be either ‘To the Mill or from the Mill’.

James Tobin.

Brewing 812

Having been a Hook Norton Brewery Tour guide for a number of years I had seen many brews in process but I now see things from a different perspective. This is because I recently had the pleasure of actually helping ‘hands-on’ to brew a Beer that was being brewed especially for a project I was involved with. That project was establishing a Memorial to eight airmen who died as the result of a Boeing B-17 bomber crashing near Great Rollright on December 23rd 1944. The Team involved with the project are shown above.


The process started with a meeting with brewer Rob Thomson, here we gave him a brief outline of the crash with the crew details. We discussed with him the possibility of creating an authentic ’1940′s Brew, or somehow link it to our Crew. After this initial discussion Rob suggested we leave him to think about it.

Well, I must say we were thrilled at his suggestions. Following his research in the Brewery archives, he told us that traditional beers of the time were pale and slightly sweet with low hop rates and low to medium alcohol content, there were some rare strong ales topping 5.0% ABV but these were not the norm.

Apparently the brew house at Hook Norton had been in full swing just two days before the tragedy, brewing P.A.B (Pale and Bitter), on December 21st 1944. This was a light coloured beer with low bitterness and at 3.4% ABV it was mid strength for the time.

Based on this Dec 21st 1944 brew, Rob suggested using a similar malt base recipe for our ’812′, to yield the appropriate base sugar, colour and balance combination.

To give us the right bittering and aroma balance, the choice for hops in ‘812’ comes from combining UK and US varieties with an attempted reference to the US home state of the flight crew.

In all, 5 hops were chosen for ’812′; Fuggles and Goldings are traditional UK varieties used here for bittering. UK grown US Cascade was chosen as a link between the two nations, with US Amarillo and Chinook being tenuous links to the crew. Amarillo imparts Floral, Citrus and Orange notes to the beer. Chinook imparts Grapefruit, Citrus and Pine notes.

So there it was, Rob planned ’812′ as a Brew of 3.5% ABV using a Malt mix from Dec 21st 1944 and carefully selected Hops from both UK/USA, reflecting the ‘Special Relationship’. Date set for Brewing was April 13th.

Come Brew day, to give a brief overview, Roz, Tony and mself arrived and Rob quickly put us to work mixing the Malts in the mash by hand. I’ll never forget that steamy aroma as we stirred things in! With the mash settled at 148 degrees, we moved on to weight the 5 different hops ready for the copper. While the malt was mashing in, it was time for breakfast!

An hour later, with mashing in complete, Rob started to run off the sweet Wort from the mash into the copper. Although looking like beer, the Wort of course is the sweet extract from the malted barley. We actually tasted some, it was delicious!

With the Copper filled it was time for us to add the hops and boil the mix. While the boil was going on it was time to empty the spent malt into a stillage and clean out the mash tun.

With the boil complete the brew was cast form the Copper into Fermentation vessel 10 where yeast was added to eventually give us a brew of 3.5% ABV.

’812′ would now be in Fermentation until racked into casks on April 20th. Early sampling reports from Roz indicated that it was very good indeed! Eventually I too got to sample some, absolutely delicious! Well done Rob!

I’m told it was the first beer to sell out at the recent Banbury Beer Festival. If you get the chance, try some ’812′, you won’t be disappointed!

You too could brew your own beer alongside Rob, contact us at Hook Norton Brewery.

James Tobin


Hop growing in North Oxfordshire?


When considering Hop growing areas in the UK we naturally think of Kent, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and maybe South Oxfordshire but not North of the county. What made me study this subject was the reference on an old 1800′s map of Banbury (above) to there being a ‘Hop garden’ showing on Salt Way. Here’s what I’ve found so far.


Looking back using the sources shown below I found the earliest reference to Hops came under Wroxton in 1685, for ‘purchase of a Hop ground’. I suspect this was part of Wroxton Abbey that most likely had its own Brew house.

Of special interest was the 1706 reference, under the Reindeer in Banbury, to there being ‘a close at the back called Hopp Yard’. So again this suggests the growing hops for own use. This seems likely as there is a reference in the 1800′s Banbury to ‘one Brewer growing Hops’.

Again, possibly linked to a large country house, we have an entry for Broughton in 1778 ‘new crops including hops being grown’. There is a similar entry for Swalcliffe for the 1700′s and Adderbury in the 1800′s. Heythop Park is mentioned in 1805 where there was ‘work for 25 women including Hop Picking’.

Regarding the Hop Garden shown on the map, this could possibly connected to the cultivation of ‘medicinal plants’ by the Usher family of Bodicote in the 1800′s, although there are of course a number of large country houses nearby.

The coming of the Railway in 1850 was probably the reason Hop growing in North Oxfordshire ceased, as supplies could then be easily obtained from elsewhere.

James Tobin

A History of the County of Oxford – The Banbury, Bloxham and Wootton Hundreds – Alan Crossley – OUP.

Who shot the lights out?

Over the years the buildings of Hook Norton Brewery have been used for a number of things other than Brew related.

It started with World War Two and soldiers being billeted in the Stables, and then with the threat of invasion the Malt House was earmarked as a food store. In later years the local Fire Brigade used the site for practice drills.

In the 1950′s the local 2207 Squadron Air Training Corps used the area above the present stables, now occupied by Thomas Franks offices, as a rifle range. They would proudly march down from the ATC hut with their -22 air rifles on their shoulders excitedly looking forward to having a go. Entry to the range was up a ladder and in a door where the flat is now located. Targets were set up down the end where there is now an entry staircase.

Bags of grain were laid across the floor and cadets would lie on the floor resting their rifle on the bags aiming towards the targets on the far end wall. Once the first cadet was ready to go the officer would issue the ammunition.

I’m told that one evening all was going to plan and cardboard targets were duly being peppered. Then just as a cadet was about to fire, a rat decided to run across the floor in front of the targets. Unable to resist the opportunity the cadet let off his round at the scurrying rodent instead of the target. Unfortunately, the bullet glanced off the floor and hit the electric panel, plunging the range into complete darkness!

It is not known if the rat survived nor is it recorded what the officer said to the cadet involved, he was more concerned with getting the dozen or so cadets with rifles safely down from the building in the dark!  I’m told he still looked pretty pale when they got back to the ATC hut!  Apparently Bill Clarke was OK about things as the cadets were allowed to continue to use the range.

Happy days!

James Tobin

Why the gardens in Hooky are blooming

Brewers Spent Hops.

Last month we looked at Brewers Grains and their use when the Brewery had finished with them, this month we look at spent Hops.

Hops are the flowers the hop plant, they are used primarily as a flavouring and stability agent in beer to which they impart bitter, zesty, or citric flavours.

The choicest hops are used in Hook Norton Beers. Traditional varieties such as Fuggles, Goldings & Challenger dominate with First Gold & Styrian Goldings also being used in some seasonal ales. The chosen blend of hops is added and the copper is then boiled for 1 hour 15 minutes. This process allows the bitterness to be extracted from the hops.

After the boil, the contents of the Copper are cast to the Hop back where the hops are separated from the liquid and sent out of the Brewery into a stillage,  as shown in the foreground below;


Unlike Brewers Grains which are used in animal feed, Spent Hops are used for Garden compost.

I would like to clarify a local myth. There is a notion that if Spent Hops are spread on a lawn then the grass will come up Half Cut! I can confirm here that this is not the case.

James Tobin.

A Brewer’s Musings