April 1st saw my completion of 25 years service at the Brewery, not including of course the holidays worked as a teenager, learning some of the ropes. After just over a year spent on a pupillage at Randall’s Brewery in St Helier, Jersey, working under the legendary Paul Clubb, I started here with the remit of establishing in-house laboratory facilities; up til then we were outsourcing twice yearly micro audits. Clearly room to invest in this core requirement of the business. A small lab was established in the Brewers’ Office, which we soon out grew, and built a purpose designed facility in a redundant room in the old Brewery. At the time our cold liquor storage tanks were open topped, we were still using open wort coolers, and CIP was an acronym we didn’t really use. So a lot to get stuck into!
But of course the market was so different then, with a large amount of the cask beer offer, of just three beers, going into the tied estate, and pub going still very much the most important part of many people’s leisure time. My how things have changed. The creep of Sunday opening hours from noon til 2pm moving to 3pm, then all day opening. It is hard to remember the days when the pub shut at 2pm, and didn’t open again until 6pm, or 7pm on a Sunday. And smoking; it seems unbelievable to think smoking was so prevalent in pubs, and now you even feel a bit of a pariah when smoking outside a pub. Sundays were Church, pub and lunch; simple days, but happy days, and generally much more family centric. But times change, and we need to change with them.
Similarly our beer range. Mild, Best Bitter and Old Hooky, with the latter only featuring from HM The Queens’ Silver Jubilee. I can still remember when Mild was our biggest volume beer, most of it going to clubs in Coventry where grandfather had established supply arrangements in the 1930s. 1991 saw us add the first of the seasonal beers, a 5.5% Christmas Beer, using some chocolate malt. We didn’t even have a name when we racked it, with the casks being simply labelled Christmas Beer, handwritten onto address labels and stuck onto the casks; Twelve Days was born. The following year we brewed Haymaker, based on an original recipe, a Pale Ale, at the time relatively heavily hopped with English Goldings. 1996 saw us brew Double Stout, which had ceased brewing in 1917, when we exhausted our supplies of dark malts, due to energy restrictions of the First World War, having stopped malting here in 1915. There followed a plethora of new beers as the consumer interest in beer grew, and in 2006 we even brewed with some US hops; we proudly proclaimed this was a first, until reviewing some of the old brewing ledgers one day, we discovered that in 1909 we were using hops from both Germany and the US, as there was a domestic shortage. Interestingly, where English hops are used, the grower and year are proudly proclaimed; but for the overseas hops, it is merely an acknowledgement to the region where the hops were grown. How this has changed too! The pilot plant we installed a couple of years ago brewed over 40 different beers last year, one of which has gone to full production. And having avoided keg like the plague in the 1970s, we are currently investing in a new packaging facility……….
Distribution has always fascinated me, and another benefit of undertaking a pupillage in the Channel Islands was that the age for an HGV licence was 18, and the trucks were limited to 7 feet wide and 20 feet long, with an island speed limit of 30mph, so I returned to the mainland with an articulated lorry driving licence. We were running a fleet of the ubiquitous Bedford TKs when I started here, these reliable trucks served our industry well for 30 years; but with the demise of Bedford, we moved to Volvos. What a luxury, and something we possibly never thought would happen. Now we have a fleet of Scanias, but are looking at a fleet of smaller, more nimble trucks. No longer are we delivering case upon case of returnable minerals, and the average drop size per pub has significantly fallen. Back then, Firkins made up about 20% of our draught business, the balance being Kilderkins and Barrels; now 90% is firkins.
We have been able to invest in equipment to replace aging items, the wort mains were still copper and brass, the wort pumps were driven by the steam engine, with leather seals which had to be specially manufactured. New coppers, mash tun, paraflow, racking line, FVs and racking tanks are in place, many pieces of kit as a fall out from brewery closures.
There has been an undying and very important consistency though, and that is people. I have been fortunate to work with some great people, had knowledge passed down from Grandfather and father, and many members of staff over a long time. And there can be no better experience than enjoying a pint, in a pub, and seeing other people enjoy a beer that you have played a part in brewing. The future is exciting, there are many challenges, and the drinker is ever more discerning and demanding. I look forward to the next 25? years, enjoying the positive health benefits of moderate beer consumption, though we did recently reminisce how the 14 units per week current recommendation used to be a decent lunchtime. And with the pressure on hop supply, I am confident of a new beer style emerging, which could well be called something like best bitter.
And finally, just the one picture; who can guess what this is? Tweet to @hookybrewery, first correct answer gets a case of beer.