All hands to the pump: Cockermouth's historic Jennings brewery is back in business

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Roger Protz hears how staff picked up the pieces after the brewery was devastated by floods – and kept the beer flowing

There's white smoke coming out of the chimney," Jeremy Pettman says with a relieved smile. Cumbria hasn't chosen a pope: the smoke signals that Jennings Brewery is back in business and that head brewer Pettman has started the first brew of Jennings Bitter since the disaster.

Back in November, Jennings' home town of Cockermouth was hit by devastating floods. Homes and shops were ruined and vital bridges over the rivers Cocker and Derwent were swept away. The brewery, on its site at the foot of Cockermouth Castle since 1878, was especially badly hit as it stands at the confluence of the two rivers.

Brewery manager Gaynor Green points to a line on a newly whitewashed ground-floor wall that marks the height the water reached on 19 November: six feet, or two metres. She recalls arriving at the brewery to find the ground floor, including the visitor centre, knee-deep in water. By the time she had evacuated the entire staff a few hours later, the water was waist-high and vehicles in the car park alongside the rivers were bobbing around like corks.

As well as the visitor centre, the cooperage, the yeast store and the power system were destroyed. The mash tun and coppers are located one floor up and were saved, but 50 tonnes of malted barley had turned to concrete in the malt store. Casks of beer floated out of the brewery and ended up in Workington (which may have brought some relief to that stricken town). Without power, malt and yeast, the brewery was at a standstill.

Once the waters had receded, Gaynor Green called the workforce together and told them there was no question of Jennings closing for good. She had received a phone call from Stephen Oliver, boss of Marston's Brewing Company, which owns Jennings, assuring her the brewery would re-open and asking her just one vital question: "Do you want to brew beer off-site, or wait until the brewery opens again?" Green says she was nervous about brewing Jennings beers elsewhere. But if the closure was going to last for a month or more she would need supplies for pubs in Cumbria as well as for bottling. Richard Westwood, Marston's director of brewing, arrived two days after the flood, surveyed the damage and told Green he could arrange to have the Jennings beers – Bitter, Cumberland Ale, Cocker Hoop and Sneck Lifter – produced by Banks's in Wolverhampton and Marston's in Burton-on-Trent.

There was no attempt to pass the beers off as genuine Jennings brews. Special attachments, known as "wobblers", were clipped to hand pumps in pubs to explain why the beers were being brewed elsewhere and that 10 pence from every pint sold would go to the flood relief fund. Sales of beer have so far raised £178,000 and make up the biggest single contribution to the fund.

"We've had no negative reaction to the beers," Gaynor Green says. "Customers said they didn't taste the same as when they were brewed in Cockermouth – and that was music to my ears, proving that cask beers have a unique taste due to their location." Sneck Lifter, a dark Porter-style beer named after the catch, or "sneck", on a Cumbrian pub door, was brewed at Marston's and had the famous sulphury aroma from the Burton water, which is never encountered in the Cockermouth version.

Green has nothing but praise for her workforce. "They came in their wellies and old clothes and cleaned the brewery up," she recalls. "BT fixed the phone lines within a week so the telephone sales girls could start moving beer again." There was sufficient stock in the system to enable Jennings to supply its customers until new beer was ready. A container-load of beer destined for bottling was retrieved and racked into casks for pubs. The mash tun and coppers were not damaged and the fermenters were cleaned of ruined beer, but production couldn't start again until the buildings were dry and passed as safe.

Environmental health officials insisted that brewing water from the on-site bore hole had to be cleaned out three times before they would allow it be used. The power panels have been moved from the ground floor to the first and should be safe even if the Cocker and the Derwent flood again.

Beer can't be made without yeast. A batch of every British brewery's yeast culture is securely stored at the National Yeast Bank in Norwich. A sample was taken to Marston's laboratory in Burton and a sufficiently large batch was made to start the first few brews at Cockermouth.

Jennings is a sizeable brewery, able to produce 50,000 barrels a year. It supplies 50 of its own pubs in Cumbria as well as other pubs in the Marston's chain in the North-east, Lancashire and Yorkshire, plus a large free trade and a growing bottling business. Marston's could have closed the site but instead has spent a large sum getting it going again. The company won't give a precise figure as insurance is still being negotiated but we're talking of a six-figure sum.

Jeremy Pettman and his deputy head brewer Rebecca Adams believe in using the finest raw materials for their beers. Maris Otter is their choice of malting barley, a variety favoured by many craft breweries because of its rich biscuity flavour and its harmony with yeast. Maris Otter was de-listed by seed merchants and agribusiness more than a decade ago and replaced with "higher yielding" varieties that produce more grain per acre. But a few specialist malting companies, such as Warminster Maltings in Wiltshire, buy Maris Otter from selected farmers and supply craft brewers.

The blend of grain for the first batch of Jennings Bitter was pale, amber, crystal and chocolate malts: it's an unusually dark version of bitter, one that has been satisfying Cumbrian drinkers since Victorian times. The colour of the malt depends on the roasting temperature in the maltings: highly roasted grain such as chocolate malt looks like coffee beans and adds a delicious dry, chocolatey note to the beer.

In the brewhouse, Jeremy Pettman mixes the malts with pure hot "liquor" – brewing water – in the mash tun. A superb aroma reminiscent of freshly baked bread and Ovaltine fills the air as starch in the grain begins its magical transformation into fermentable sugar. Two hours later, Pettman and his assistant brewer Eldred Burns taste the "first runnings" from the mash tun. The liquid is hot, biscuity, delicious and surprisingly dry rather than sweet. They are satisfied with the result and open the slotted base of the tun to allow the extract, known as "wort", to run into a receiving vessel, and then on to the copper for the boil with hops.

Jennings uses whole flower hops rather than compressed pellets or extract. Pettman believes the herbs in their natural state deliver the finest aroma and bitterness to his beers. For Jennings Bitter, he uses three English varieties, Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings, chosen for their different levels of bitterness and piney, citrus and spicy flavours. Hops are added three times during the copper boil as some of the aroma – known as the "angels' share" – is distilled into the atmosphere.

An hour-and-a-half later, the "hopped wort" will be cooled then pumped to fermenting vessels, where it's vigorously mixed with yeast. Fermentation creates so much excess yeast that Jennings will soon have enough to brew its full range of beers. One week after the first mash, Jenning's Bitter will be on its way to local pubs, helping to bring pleasure back to a community still struggling in the aftermath of the torrential floods.

Roger Protz writes beer-pages.com

Perfect partners: The best beers for food

Real ale, a living beer that continues to improve and mature in the cask, is a good companion at the dining table. Jenning's beers, malty, fruity and hoppy, match a variety of foods.

Jennings Bitter (3.5%) goes well with hearty meat or vegetable soups. It's the perfect companion for the classic Cumberland sausage, the spicy hops melding with the meat. For non- carnivores, cross the Scottish border for a vegetarian haggis.

Cumberland Ale (4%) is a bronze-coloured beer with a powerful citrus note from the hops, along with juicy malt. Drink with pasta dishes, white meat or fish. It can be used in the classic beer dish, carbonnade of beef. It is excellent with cheese, especially tangy mature Cheddar or Stilton.

Cocker Hoop (4.6%) is a golden ale brewed with Styrian Goldings hops from Slovenia. They bring a floral, resinous and piney note to the beer. This is the beer for pizza, a tangy salad, light fish or chicken.

Sneck Lifter (5.1%) is a porter, the junior version of stout. The Irish drink stout with oysters and have annual stout and oyster festivals. Sneck is therefore ideal for shellfish, but its roasted grain and chocolatey notes also makes it a good dessert beer with rich puddings or chocolate dishes.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Voices
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
Sport
world cup 2014
Sport
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
books
News
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
News
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
News
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
people
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Sport
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
News
business
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice