Anyone who attended the Nottingham CAMRA branch meeting at the Hotel Deux earlier this year will remember the talk given by Claire Monk who is the head brewer – or brewster - at the newly opened Welbeck Abbey Brewery. Set deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, on the historic Welbeck Estate just outside Bolsover, this is a state of the art microbrewery, It is jointly owned by the estate and Kelham Island Brewery and was built with grant assistance from the East Midlands Development Agency.
Claire wanted to brew a commemorative beer for the late Nottingham CAMRA chairman, Spyke Golding to be sold at the Robin Hood Beer Festival. She kindly issued an invitation for two committee members to join her at the brewery for the day to assist her. The two lucky people were Ray Kirby and David Mason. I managed to tag along having promised to write an article about it for the Nottingham Drinker and take some photographs.
We set forth on a lovely Sunday morning in October. Claire had requested that we meet her at the brewery to start work at 7.30 am. (This seemed like a ridiculous time to yours truly, for whom Sunday morning does not officially start until the end of the Archers omnibus!) We made our way through the countryside, and managed to find the estate and then the brewery, with a lucky escape for a pheasant along the way, which nearly went under the car wheels!
Claire was waiting for us when we arrived and put everyone straight to work. She told us that we were going to be brewing ‘Spyke’s Gold’, which would be a light, tasty, golden ale, with all English ingredients and an ABV of 4%.
Having put all the ingredients through the hopper, water was added. After some worrying noises the mash tun finally sputtered into life! The mash tun (right) had its own history – previously used at the Kelham Island Brewery, it had originated from a bakehouse and brewery somewhere in Hampshire. Claire was impressed by the fact that it is older than her, but unfortunately, that was not the case for the rest of us! During this process, we got to taste hot wort – this was a sweet, and not unpleasant warm liquid, which I could imagine being very good for colds!
Once this was finished, it fell to Ray to clear out the spent grains from the tun (after the wort had been transferred to the copper). Having undertaken this heroic task, the tun then had to be cleaned thoroughly in preparation for the next brew. There followed the battle of the base plates – which Ray finally managed to get back into place!
Pictured right: David adding the fresh yeast to the wort.
It is certainly a rural location! As we sat outside at lunchtime eating our sandwiches (the predicted rain having held off) the background noise was that of guns from the local shoot! Ray and I sampled some of Claire’s ‘Henrietta’ from the conditioning tank (another first!). David, being the driver, enjoyed a nice cup of tea! Claire explained to us that the spent grains from the mash tun are collected by a local farmer who uses them as cow feed, and that other local farmers come and collect the spent hops which they use as compost.
Like many CAMRA members, the three of us had visited numerous breweries over the years and were familiar with the equipment and theory. However, none of us had ever observed or participated in the actual full brewing process before. Claire had said at the beginning of the day that brewing is 90% cleaning and as the day progressed, we began to see exactly what she meant. We could also see why such an early start had been required – we began at 7.30 am and were not finished and cleaned up until gone 4.00 pm (I say ‘we’ – I admit that my contribution on this front was ‘nil’). When we finally got to sample the finished product at the Robin Hood Beer Festival, we appreciated it all the more for the effort which we knew had gone into it.
It was an extremely enjoyable day for all of us and I can certainly recommend making a visit to the brewery for yourselves. Brewery trips can be arranged for groups of eight or more.