Will Janina Jones win the heart of Essex man?

From a `real ale' family brewery in East Anglia comes a tempting new bottled beer. If it wins over the locals, it could soon be at a pub near you, says Michael Jackson

The modern Philistine is held to be Essex Man, but perhaps we have been a little unfair on that county. In the matter of beer, a Philistine might be expected to drink a cheaply made lager bearing a foreign name but probably produced under licence in his local brewery.

It has to be conceded that Foster's Lager is kegged (though not produced) by the county's most renowned brewers, Ridley's of Hartford End, but its stock-in-trade is something altogether more characterful. Ridley's specialises in dry, hoppy, flavoursome ales. Until recently, products have been sold mainly on draught, cask-conditioned, in their home county, but now Ridley's has launched a bottled beer aimed at the national market.

Better still, the new product is among the small but growing band of "bottle-conditioned" brews. Traditionally, this meant that the beer was bottled without filtration. Today, the yeast is normally filtered out, then a fresh dosage added in a controlled amount.

Either way, the yeast causes a second fermentation in the bottle. It is the bottled counterpart to a cask-conditioned draught, a "real-ale". Arguably, bottle-conditioning produces an even greater complexity of aroma and flavour than cask-conditioning does.

Ridley's is the perfect picture of a "real ale" brewery. Far from the urban, estuary Essex, it is half a dozen miles north of Chelmsford and slightly nearer to Great Dunmow, of bacon fame. Where the gently rolling countryside begins to dip, the River Chelmer flows as little more than a stream and beside it rises the small, brick-built, brewery.

"Slow! Ducks crossing" says a sign made by Alice, the Ridley family's 15-year-old daughter. She has a dozen ducks on the river, and does not want them spatchcocked before their time.

The Ridleys trace their history to the 10th century, and have contributed a bishop martyred at the stake in 1555, a Master of Eton, and a physician to the Tsar of Russia. The present paterfamilias, Nicholas Ridley, acknowledges that his late political namesake may possibly have had a link with the family - but it was distant.

The Ridleys had a grain mill on the Chelmer in the 1700s, and the building is now home to Nicholas. The notion of turning grain into beer came when a Ridley married a woman from brewing stock. Ridley's brewery was built in 1842, from brick made in nearby Felsted. The brewery and a scatter of cottages built for its workers comprise the hamlet of Hartford End: there is nothing else.

Mr Ridley took control of the family company only three years ago, and was aware that it rested precariously on its 60-odd tied pubs, many doing slow business in thinly-populated rural areas. His desire is to strengthen the business and its pubs by selling its beer far and wide.

Until recently, Ridley's principal products were a caramelish draught Mild Ale and an India Pale Ale, a very good beer but a restrained interpretation of the hoppy style exported by British brewers to the sub-continent in imperial times. Since Mr Ridley took over, a bigger and rounder pale ale, elliptically entitled ESX Best, has been added. So has a roasty Porter called Witchfinder. Apparently, witch-hunting was once a common pastime in Essex.

Now Mr Ridley is adding to the brewery's range of bottled beers, with a view not only to reaching more distant pubs but also to servicing wine merchants and supermarkets nationally. The bottled products have long included a toffeeish brew called Old Bob and an extra-strong (8 per cent alcohol) speciality dubbed Bishop's Ale. The newcomer, Chelmer Gold, is the brewery's palest beer in colour but packs a respectable 5 per cent alcohol.

It is made entirely from East Anglian barley-malt, and seasoned with the classical soft hop variety Fuggles (from Herefordshire) and the famously resiny Styrian Goldings (imported from Slovenia). Chelmer Gold is fermented with Ridley's house yeast (which imparts fruity notes reminiscent of blackberry and apple), then has a period of warm maturation (which heightens these characteristics). The beer is filtered and re-yeasted in the bottle with a different strain, which seems to add a rose-like aroma.

The end product has a further period of maturation in the bottle before it leaves the brewery. It emerges with a spritzy, dry start; delicately flowery flavours and a crisp finish. The beer was created by brewer Janina Jones, who is something of a whizz with yeasts. Ms Jones and fellow-brewer Michael Thorp are jointly responsible for the production of Ridley's beers.

The grains are hoisted in sacks into the loft-like malt barn and are transformed into beer as they descend, floor-by-floor, on the Victorian "tower brewery" principle. They meet the brewing water in a cast-iron mash-tume; encounter the hop flowers in a copper boiling kettle; and ferment in copper-lined vessels made from oak.

In the cellar, a plaque marks the height of floods when the Chelmer has overflowed. It does this every 40 years or so and, for a tiny river, wreaks considerable damage. There are markers for 1906 (knee high), 1947 (shoulder) and 1987 (waist).

Will Chelmer Gold flood England, or even just East Anglia? Can Ms Jones win the heart of Essex Man? She is trying hard, visiting pubs and conducting tastings for customers . She has already been to a dozen and found people most interested. By the end of the year she will have racked up 50 such tastings. After a pub-crawl like that, surely they will believe her?

Suggested Topics
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor