Autumn Musings

After a summer that overall has been quite kind to us, we are now officially in the Autumn season, and time to consider the central heating, relight the Aga, and start to move from salad to vegetables.  Brewing is in many ways similar to cooking, and I enjoy both, with mixed success at the latter.  Saturday morning saw a trip to the butchers, for some shin of beef.  After a beer and food event some years ago in Upton Bishop, shin has become one of my favourite cuts, when cooked with thought and time.  So ten cuts of shin, as we had seven for Saturday dinner, and I also needed a good fill for the Forest of Dean Half Marathon the next day.

The meat is layered in a casserole pot, with some red onion, seasoned with salt and pepper and a couple of stockpots, and of course some Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, and then 2 bottles of beer added – in this case, some Cotswold Lion, which is a limited edition beer to celebrate 50 years of the Cotswolds as an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The beer is a single hop, using just the best quality Fuggles hops, and the malt grist is 100% Maris Otter.  This gives a very clean beer, delicate fruit notes, a balance of bitterness but not overly bitter, and some residual sugars which give a pleasant sweetness.  Not a beer I had cooked with before, so a trial was due. I then leave it to marinade in the frige overnight,  removing on the morning of cooking to attemporate for a few hours.  Bring to the boil on the hob, then into the oven for a long, slow cook time – at least four hours, to tenderise the meat.  Served simply with sweet potato and greens. A healthy meal, with probably the tastiest beef cut, but also the cheapest cut.  Cooking with beer is always fun, with lots of learnings.   Try substituting the glass of wine in a risotto with a bottle of beer – a lighter,  hoppier beer is best in my experience, but try something you might like.

We can all love cooking with beer – in the recipe, an accompaniment to your cooking labours, and of course served with the dish.

If you have a special recipe with beer, let us know, and we will share it with our followers. Who knows, this could develop into a brew and bake off.

Looking Back – World War 2 Military musings

Brewery in World War Two was, like everyone else, affected by the shortages of brew materials and of course manpower as men began to be called up for military service. As well as this the Government increased the cost of a pint in successive Budgets. And then there was the imposed reduction in specific gravity all of which meant the poor old customer ended up paying a higher price for a weaker pint!

But it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Hook Norton Brewery as new sales opportunities emerged as military forces became mobilised and took over requisitioned Country houses in the area plus of course, new establishments being built such as airfields. Based on information unearthed by Rob Woolley for his book on the Brewery entitled ‘Brewed in the Traditional Manner’ I have researched some of the ‘new’ Military customers supplied by the Brewery during the war period.

In 1939 we find beer being supplied to the Sergeants mess, Royal Army Service Corps at Daylesford and Stow on the Wold. In 1940 it was the Officers mess Liverpool Scottish and Irish at Banbury and Adderbury. Then in 1941 it was the 4th/7th Dragoon Guards east of Banbury at Culworth, Edgecote, Thorpe Mandeville and Woodford. The sales ledger for 1942 included the Officers mess Worcestershire Regiment at Adlestrop House, the NAAFI at Aynho petrol storage depot and Sergeants mess Burton Dassett.

New Airfields were being built in the area and we find sales to George Wimpey in 1941/2 at the ‘Shenington RAF site’ (RAF Edgehill). Once established the Brewery went on to supply beer to RAF Barford St John, RAF Chipping Warden, RAF Croughton, RAF Edgehill as well as RAF Upper Heyford.

It wasn’t just the British forces who liked Hooky; by 1944 the U.S. Army was being supplied at Adlestrop house and North Aston.

At Hook Norton of course we find soldiers being billeted at the Brewery itself during WW2. These included the Durham Light Infantry, Gordon Highlanders and Royal Artillery. Mostly these frequented the six pubs in the village although there are sales recorded for Sergeants and Officers Messes during 1941/42.

According to the wartime Brew books we only ran out of beer once, that was December 23rd 1941.

Come May 8th, V.E. Day, the Brewery workers were given a well earned break finishing at 12 noon on the 8th until Thursday May 10th.

Craft Brewing, safely

The whole Craft debate has been going on over here for a while.  The US captured a definition a while ago, but we have struggled a bit over here, and we have seen some use of the word by some companies which we might challenge, especially where “handcrafted” has been used, as we are not sure how close to the ingredients and brewing anyone’s hands may get.  There have been a number of attempts at definition, and calls at SIBA conference for a definition.  Then there was some acquisition activity, where some avidly craft brewers were taken over by bigger companies, so are they still craft? Of course size should not be a definer, as in simple scale multiples, this would just not make sense.  5 barrels, 50 barrels or even 250 barrels brewlength could still easily be craft, or not.  It is too simple to say things like a craft brewery is one where you can speak to the head brewer, or its a function of scale.  So what does it mean?  It has to mean consistent beers.  It cannot mean a brand which can vary in its properties, unless specifically designed to.  I do admire the way one brewery brews the same beer style with different hops – that’s clever, and they are damn good beers.  So its the brewers art as well as the craft, to have control of the process, have an idea of the implication of any changes to recipe or process, and enjoy the fruits of their labour

Oh, and it needs to be safe and wholesome.  We can lament about the facts beer is intrinsically safe, it generally won’t support growth of harmful bugs, due to the alcohol and pH; and everything is boiled isn’t it? Yes this is true, and in the last two centuries was very relevant.  But hey, this is 2016, we are producing food for human consumption, and we need to be able to demonstrate this, and prove we are responsible brewers.  We need to ensure hygiene is managed, we shouldn’t be using aluminium beer casks, we should be managing glass.  So the SIBA FSQ is a welcome and essential part of this.  It covers a range of areas of brewing, and seeks to ensure a good standard on manufacturing is being followed.  We recently had our audit, and now proudly have the logo on our e-mail footer.  its not just a hoop to jump through, its an essential part of safe and responsible business.  We are now working hard towards our SALSA Beer+ qualification, which is a recognised standard to demonstrate to our customers.  A number of our retail and wholesale customers have said they will insist on this by the end of this year.  I hope they do.  It frustrates me when I hear some brewers saying they will refuse to go for the FSQ.  The FSQ is good, honest brewing standards, and even if you are only supplying a small amount of beer, it is for human consumption, and just as we like to shout about ingredients, their provenance and so on, so we should shout about our high manufacturing standards, and be able to prove it.

In time, I think we will see the FSQ and SALSA Beer+ being pre-requisites to supply – this will include not just permanent sites, but temporary sites and festivals – it will be interesting to see if CAMRA insist on accreditation for GBBF – where thousands of drinkers flock to drink ale. FSQ

So to those who are resisting, why?  FSQ is a standard we as an industry should be working to at the very least. And if not, serious questions need to be asked as to why not.  Of course there is a cost, but this is where PBD helps the smaller brewer.  Its a big tough world, and we should be proud of beer, but beer brewed to the age we live in, where it is consistent, flavoursome and safe.


Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Gate Inn, Brailes.

The Gate Inn is located on the old ‘Banbury, Brailes and Shipston Turnpike Road’ of 1802. This old mail coach route is now of course the B4035.

It is thought that the name Gate comes from the location in the village of the Brailes Tollgate. It was common place for there to be an Inn near a Toll gate to catch trade from the enforced stopping place.

In 1896 Edwin Stanley was landlord and in 1899 P & F Taylor brothers opened Brailes Brewery next door. At some point the Gate Inn became the Brewery Tap.

William Baylis took over as landlord in 1907 by which time the Taylor Brewery had closed. Then in 1924 William Cuthbert became landlord and by 1940 it was Lewis Hall.

In 1966 The Gate became part of the Hook Norton tied estate having previously been owned by Whitbread.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Great Western Arms, Aynho

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them. Here are his musings on the Great Western Arms, Aynho.

As its name suggests the Great Western Arms has a connection with the famous old Railway Company of the same name, but its history starts much earlier.


In 1790 the Oxford Canal opened linking Oxford with the South Midlands. Along its route Wharfs were built at key locations for the loading and unloading of cargoes. One such Wharf was built 1 mile west of Aynho village. The principle cargo carried was coal from the Warwickshire pits and Wharfs such as Aynho were the unloading point and store for distribution to the surrounding area. In 1793 some 4,100 tons of coal were handled at Aynho wharf.

Given the level of activity on the canal, it is perhaps no surprise that the canal company also built a public house on the site. The pub was named King Alfred’s Head.

In the 1850′s, competition to the Oxford Canal arrived with the coming of the Great Western Railway (GWR) line linking Rugby and Oxford. The GWR needed land for a Station and Goods yard and a deal was done with the canal company for a portion of their land which included the existing Pub. The King Alfred’s Head was eventually remodelled and renamed The Great Western Arms. The rail station opened in September 1850. The station master Thomas Gurney boarded at the pub until a stationmasters house was built.

With the Canal wharf and Railway stations established a small industrial centre came into being with coal merchants, a brickworks and cattle market by this time all thriving at the site.

According to the Kelly’s Directory of 1895, Richard Howe kept the Great Western and in addition to keeping the ‘Great Western Arms Hotel’, he was also a ‘goods agent for the GWR company, a coal, hay and straw merchant, and also provided conveyances meet all trains at Aynho station’.

The conveyances referred to was apparently a pony and trap, providing a ‘taxi’ service typically to and from the station typically to Aynho and Deddington.

By the late 1930′s Mrs Mildred Howe was the Landlady of the Great Western, with daughter Mary as barmaid. Mrs Howe also owned a cow, which she kept in a field nearby.

With the outbreak of WW2, evacuees were housed in rooms at the Hotel.

Up in the village, in Aynho House Park, a major War Department petrol storage base was established. Petrol in 4 gallon disposable cans was brought to the Aynho rail sidings, then unloaded onto lorries to be stored in huge ‘haystacks’ among the trees.

The Royal Army Service Corp provided the transport and the Pioneer Corp provided the Labour. All this activity was overseen by the traffic officers whose office was in the Pub. The soldiers working in the sidings were apparently not allowed in the pub but on hot days some would come round the back and drink water from the pump in the yard.

After the war, traffic on the Oxford Canal declined as motor and rail transport took over, then the Rail station closed in 1964. By the 1960′s a pleasure craft hire firm was established at the old coal wharf, this would signal a resurgence in the use of the canal for leisure purposes. In July 1970, the nearby lock at Nell Bridge had been used 519 times, giving an idea as to the popularity of this particular waterway.

A new age had begun from where it all started 170 years earlier, and still there to welcome all, was the Great Western Arms!

James Tobin.


Aynho – A Northamptonshire village – Nicholas Cooper.
Aynhoe Village Life – Dawn Griffis.
The Oxford Canal – Hugh J Compton. – Aynho village website.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets. The Castle – Edgehill.


During the English Civil War, much of the activity took place in and around Oxfordshire due to the fact that the city of Oxford was the home base for King Charles. As it was common practice to temporarily billet soldiers in alehouses, pubs and inns, two of the pubs now owned by Hook Norton Brewery featured prominently in these events; The Reindeer in Banbury and The Castle Inn at Edgehill.

Also known as The Round Tower, or Radway Tower, the Castle Inn at Edgehill lies on the summit of Edgehill, some 700ft above sea level, overlooking the plain below which served as the backdrop for the first major battle of The English Civil War. The conflict occurred on Sunday the 23rd of October 1642 between Oliver Cromwell’s parliamentary troops led by the Earl of Essex and King Charles Royalists, led by Prince Rupert and Lord Wilmot. The two armies of approximately equal size; about 12,000 men, fought from early afternoon until nightfall, with neither side gaining a decisive victory.

The tower was built in 1742 by Sanderson Miller on the centenary of the battle and is said to mark the spot where King Charles raised the standard before the two sides clashed. The Tower; also known as the Radway or Round Tower was intended to replicate Guy’s Tower at nearby Warwick Castle.

In the bars of The Castle Inn, reminders of the Civil War years are plentiful – muskets, halberds, breastplates, maps and paintings adorn the walls.

Sitting in the garden with a pint of Hooky on a warm summer’s day, one would be hard pressed to find a better view than that presented over the plain below. The vista before us of course, takes in the site of the Battle of Edgehill as detailed above, but other things went on down there in later years.

Firstly, near the village of Radway there was an RAF Bombing range during World War Two. Trainee bomber crews from nearby airfields would carry out practice bombing on ground targets. Smoke bombs were used by day and flash bombs for night exercises. Results were plotted by ground personnel and details phoned back to the relevant RAF Station for analysis.

Then there is the vast Central Ammunition Depot, Kineton visible in the distance. Building commenced in 1941 and it became, and still is, the major MOD storage base for ammunition.

If we’d have been sitting there in 1943, we may well have witnessed the dawn of the Jet age for at nearby RAF Edgehill, the Gloster E28/39 ‘Whittle Jet’ was undergoing test flights.

What an interesting area!

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Railway Hotel.

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them. Here are his musings on the sadly now closed Railway Hotel.

The Banbury to Cheltenham Railway opened in 1887 and soon after the Railway Hotel was finished to provide accommodation, and of course refreshments, for rail travelers.


The business case for a hotel here was presumably based on likely requirements of those wishing to stay in the village in connection with the Brewery, and also the Ironstone quarries which by this time were beginning operations. It is thought that the Hotel offered accommodation in four guest rooms. The first host is listed as Thomas Prichard. By 1902 the Railway ran four passenger trains to Chipping Norton and four to Banbury.


Direct competition to the Railway arrived in 1919 in the form of the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus company (Midland Red), albeit initially with just two buses per week.

By 1932 the Railway service had reduced to three trains each way per day, meanwhile the Midland Bus service gradually expanded their service and this was supplemented by a bus put on the same route by Harry Turnock a local operator. In a show of defeat perhaps the Great Western Railway began its own bus service from Hook Norton to Chipping Norton and Banbury!

The Second World War was to give the Railway, and the Hotel a boost with the increase in Rail traffic as well as Soldiers based in the village. With Rail passenger services being withdrawn in 1951, the Hotel was to then rely more on village custom.

The Hotel was a popular destination for a pleasurable summer Sunday evening stroll for the family. At one time a Bagatelle Room was one of the attractions provided, but for the family the draw was the Beer garden. How well I remember consuming bottles of Vimto to wash down the Smiths crisps complete with little blue bag of salt included!

By the early 1960′s the railway had closed completely and closure of the Railway Hotel followed in the 1970′s.    

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Sun.

The Sun pub is located opposite St Peter’s church, Hook Norton in what used to be called Market Square. the_sun_inn_2014

According to local historian Margaret Dickins; “In the 16th century, Fairs and Markets were held here with stalls being built against the churchyard wall.

The Stocks and the Dungeon were close by for the control of the crowd, and the Fire Engine was conveniently near in the church tower” (1).   These sound like some pretty rowdy events!
With all this going on it would seem to be a good location for a pub, in fact there were to be 2 pubs in the square as we shall see.

The earliest Landlord of the Sun, according to the Brewery History Society, was Ann Bignell in 1778. Later, in 1885, Austin Hall became landlord. His Granddaughter Mrs Francis Smith recalled that as well as running the Pub he continued his coffin making business there. Apparently an adult coffin cost 16/- and child’s 8/-!

Fairs, markets and gatherings continue to this day of course, in what is now known as ‘The Sun Square’. The earliest photograph we have is shown below;


Next door to the Sun was apparently another pub called the Poleaxe, this burned down and was rebuilt as the Lion in 1830(?).

The Sun became part of the John Harris & Co tied Pub estate in 1891.

In the First World War there was listed a Prisoner of War camp housing around 40 men in Hook Norton. It appears this was located in a club room between the rear of the Lion and the Sun. This club room burned down in the 1940′s.

In the Second World War, due to the influx of Evacuees, additional accommodation was needed and the Sun club room was brought into use as a School classroom.

The Lion would eventually close and became incorporated in the Sun.

(1) History of Hook Norton 912-1928 – Margaret Dickins.

William Bradford – Father of the Ornamental Brewery

William Bradford – Father of the Ornamental Brewery  (1)

Driving up the narrow Brewery Lane in Hook Norton, we eventually get our first glimpse of the Brewery in all its splendour standing there bathed in the morning sunshine. Why does it look so attractive?

Brewery  Main

Well, it’s all down to the position, design and choice of materials and we’ve one person to thank for their application. That person was William Bradford – Architect (1845 to 1919).

In the 1890′s when it came to expanding the earlier Brewery (1872) Alban Clarke chose Bradford to enlarge the Hook Norton building. So really we should say that our wonderful Brewery we have today is all down to Alban Clarke!

William Bradford believed that 1) In terms of attractive Architecture, Breweries should rank alongside such structures as Churches and Public Buildings, and 2) He wished more licence was given to the architect to secure a building worthy in appearance of the important work to be carried on in it. (2).

With our Brewery I think he certainly achieved ’1′, and was allowed a considerable freedom over ’2′.

Its position is very pleasing; our eye is drawn into the structure from left to right. As we look more closely we see that the corner of the copper house is rounded off. Did Bradford want to avoid drays and carts banging the corner of his building perhaps? To set this off he included a carved stone feature at the top. Moving along we find a scroll over the Brewery entry door,


this would appear to be demonstrating his point about showing the importance of the building. Looking up from here we see two curved stone half circles, these seemingly take the plainness off this front facing wall. These are just some observations, the building is Grade II listed, and further details can be found on the Historic England site.

It is perhaps not surprising that the talented William Bradford was involved in some 70 brewery projects ranging from alterations to complete rebuilds.


(1)  British Breweries – an architectural history – Lynn Pearson.

(2)  Notes on Maltings and Breweries – William Bradford.

Looking back – Hook Norton pub snippets – The Gate Hangs High.

We are blessed with having many historic Hooky pubs so we set our resident historian and tour guide James Tobin the task of unearthing some of the more interesting stories that lie behind them.

His second visit was just up the road from Hook Norton Brewery, The Gate Hangs High.

The Gate Hangs High

The Pub as we now know it, was originally built for William Luckett as a Beerhouse and Farm in the 1830′s. The Beerhouse was in a prime position on the old West to East drover’s road, sometimes known as ‘The Welsh Road’ or ‘Banbury Way’. It became part of the John Harris & Co tied Pub estate in 1888 becoming known as The Gate Hangs High.

Why ‘The Gate Hangs High’?
Well, the pub sits at a crossroads. To the north is Sibford Ferris, South to Hook Norton, West to Whichford and East to Banbury. When the Beerhouse was built the Sibford road was gated and it is suggested that ‘The Gate’ part of the name comes from this. ‘Banbury Way’ was never Turnpiked so we can discount a Tollgate explanation. The ‘Hangs High’ part is thought to have been the way the gate was hung. As is known by walkers, a wide gate often sags making it scrape the ground and so hard to open and close. Apparently, the Sibford gate was mounted high enough up the gatepost to allow it to easily swing.

So, that’s ‘The Gate Hangs High’, what about ‘…and hinders none, refresh and pay and travel on’?
It is suggested that ‘Hinders none’ refers to the ease by which the gate opened and closed due to its mounting, and ‘Refresh and Pay’ can be simply explained as the farmer or traveler stopping and paying for refreshments. Located at the farm on site was a plunge sheep dip used by local farmers so this also would have provided a regular flow of customers.

In later years ‘The Gate’ would provide the ideal destination for a pleasant Sunday evening stroll from the village.

There was a reference to Highwayman activity along this ancient road but none associated with The Gate, unless one counts the case in April 1944 when P.C. Wright was asked to investigate the alleged theft of the pub till by locally based American soldiers!
Isn’t local history great?

A Brewer’s Musings