All posts by James Clarke

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.

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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!

pubs

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

Grist to the Mill, or Grist from the Mill?

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.

812brew

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.

map

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

References;
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;

grain

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.

Why the cows are happy hooky ones

Brewers Grains.

Regular visitors to Hook Norton Brewery will be aware of the Farm trailer parked at the base of the Brewery tower which is there to collect the spent grist from the brew mashing process. The grain is dispensed from the mash tun into the trailer via a tube in the centre of the tank-like structure that juts out from the side of the brewery (see pictures). The grain is then transported to a local farm where it is used in cattle feed, the supply being tightly controlled in accordance with the Feed Materials Assurance Scheme (FEMAS).

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Visitors in the 1950′s would have seen a different arrangement as shown in the picture below. As can be seen there is a shute arrangement and a drum in the centre of the tank.  The drum was actually a dispenser which measured 1 Bushel, or 4 Pecks.

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I am told that Brewery would supply the local Pig keepers with Brewers grains to add to the Pig Meal and scraps used to feed  their animals, hence the need to measure these supplies.

The keeping of Pigs in Hook Norton in 1950′s was a carry-over from the village Pig Club of the Second World War. In The Bourne alone, 8 householders out of 26 still kept them.  To earn a little pocket money local lads would borrow a trolley and with empty sacks go to the Brewery to fetch the Brewers Grains for these Pig keepers. Here the Grain would be dispensed from the drum and be shovelled into the sacks. Then it was into the Brewery Office to pay Harold Wyton the Company Secretary.  Unlike today there appeared to be no control over the supply of Brewers Grains for animal feed, other than the need to pay the formidable Harold!

James Tobin.

Hook Norton Brewery – Christmas 1939.

Any visitor to the brewery in December 1939 could be forgiven in thinking they had come to an army camp. This is because based here at that time were elements of the Durham Light Infantry.

Fortunately for us historians the head brewer at this time, Bill Clarke, has written some comments about the early war years in the brewing log books so we can pick up the start of the story from there;

‘Oct 20th, Contractors at work on the stables for troops’. This is reference to the stables being converted into temporary living accommodation. The conversion involved using timber planking being removed from the malt store.

‘Oct 24th, 95 Troops arrived [last] Sunday morning [22nd] 6th Durham Light Infantry’.

‘C’ Company of the 6th Durham’s, a Territorial Reserve Battalion, had been mobilised at Spennymoor at the end of August and were moving South in readiness for service in France. During their 3 month stay at the Brewery they would train and re-equip. They arrived as an Infantry unit but converted to an Anti-Tank role whilst here, equipping with the Boyes Anti-Tank rifle and Hotchkiss 37mm machine gun. Fields at the rear of the Brewery became practice areas and ranges, the trained eye can still spot the site of the odd fox hole and gun pit.

The odd Football match was played against the village team and lectures as well as social events took place in the village hall. Come Christmas, those soldiers who were unable to return home on leave were taken in by local families. Private Henry Ferguson was one such soldier; he spent Christmas with Harry Gardner and family living at Park Gate.

On January 17th the Durham’s paraded at Chipping Norton to be inspected by H.M. King George VI, three days later they were off to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. The next time the Gardner family heard from Henry Ferguson, it was via a letter from P.O.W. camp Stalag XX1D, he like many others were captured in the heavy fighting that lead up to the Dunkirk evacuation.

Today we can still see evidence of the Durham’s stay at the Brewery. There is the Malt store where one can see where the timber was taken from to convert the stables, then there are traces of digging in the field behind the brewery and in the village museum there is a model aircraft carrier ‘HMS Improbable’ complete with aircraft made by the soldiers.

James Tobin.

Sources;
Hook Norton Brewery brew books and Museum.
Henry Ferguson letters and photos kindly loaned by the Gardner family.
‘Hook Norton at War 1939-1945′ a talk by James Tobin.

Brew dates – Hook Norton beers.

During Brewery tours I’m often asked the question “Which is your oldest Beer?”. The easy answer of course is ‘Mild’ as this is shown as ‘Brew number 1, November 24th’ in the original John Harris brew records of 1856.

To further add to this, if we then look through the sources shown below we find these original brewing dates;
1859; Pale Ale,
1864; Bitter
1880; Haymaker
1903; Double Stout
1977; Old Hooky
1992; 12 Days
1993; Haymaker,
1996; Double Stout
2004; Hooky Gold
2005; Flagship.

Although our current Hooky Mild, Hooky Gold and Hooky can be seen as direct descendants of the 1850/60′s originals, the recipes will have kept in step with changing tastes over the years.

Then there is the question of the introduction dates of key ingredients. All of our brews contain Pale Ale Malt which is produced using a Barley called Maris Otter. This was first released in 1966, so none of our current brews can be older than the 1960′s. A number of our brews also contain Challenger Hops, these were first released in 1972 so again any brew containing this variety cannot be older that the 1970′s.

So there we have it, an insight into the age of our Brews.

James Tobin.

Sources/further reading:
Hook Norton Brewery records.

Oxon Brews: The Story of Commercial Brewing in Oxfordshire – Mike Brown.
A country Brewery, Hook Norton 1849-1999 – David Eddershaw.
Brewed in the Traditional Manner, The story of Hook Norton Brewery – Rob Woolley.