Food Miles: Hop to it on a tour of Britain's craft breweries
Sunday 02 September 2012
Despite a decline in beer sales, British brewing is enjoying a renaissance, with craft or artisan brewers flourishing in all corners of the UK. For thirsty travellers, that means the opportunity to find out what goes on behind the scenes on a brewery tour that will almost certainly end with a sample tipple or two.
It is difficult to pin down what exactly constitutes "craft beer". Camra (the Campaign for Real Ale) has decided that the term describes "beer with a distinctive flavour brewed by artisans". It is a fittingly vague definition when you consider the range of options. It can be used to describe a microbrewery such as Coniston Brewing Company (015394 41133; conistonbrewery.com), based at the Black Bull pub in the Lake District, and major players such as Meantime (020-8293 1111; meantimebrewing.com). The latter has just opened a visitors' centre in its recently expanded Greenwich brewery which offers a range of tours of its state-of-the art facility (£15) including a Pie and Pint option (£30).
Founded by Petra Wetzel-Stewart, the West Brewery in Glasgow (0141-550 0135; westbeer.com), is one of the few female-run breweries in the UK and the only one to produce beer according to the German purity law of Reinheitsgebot that allows only water, yeast, barley and hops. A 45-minute tour costs £11.55, including four or five beer samples.
Grain Brewery in Harleston (01986 788884; grainbrewery.co.uk), Norfolk, has recently been renovated and tripled its capacity. Groups of 10 or more can tour the converted dairy for free as long as you take a bottle or two from the shop home with you.
The next dates for the Beer School at the acclaimed Lovibonds Brewery, Henley-on-Thames (01491 576596; lovibonds.com), are 8 and 22 September. The two-hour session, led by founder and head brewer Jeff Rosenmeier, includes a tour explaining the brewing process, followed by a tutored tasting of the brewery's beers (£19.50).
Established in 2007, the Association of Welsh Independent Brewers (awib.org.uk) has 32 members, including the award-winning Purple Moose Brewery, Porthmadog (01766 515571; purplemoose.co.uk), whose range of beers includes Dark Side of the Moose and where tours can be arranged in advance (£5).
Discover how Thornbridge Brewery, Bakewell (01629 641000; thornbridge brewery.com), makes its eclectic range of beers that includes the delicious and unusual Kill Your Darlings, a Vienna-style dark lager, during a 90-minute tour (Wednesdays at 1pm and 3pm; £7.50) that concludes with a tasting of two halves of beer.
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