When I was last in the Cotswolds with my wife and in-laws, we visited the Hook Norton brewery for a tour. We had a packed schedule so we opted for the 9:30am tour, I think. It was early anyway, on a crisp, cold morning that we pulled into the car park and looked at the beautiful, tall and somewhat ramshackle building that is the home of Hooky beers, surrounded by beautiful rolling Cotswold hills.
Since it was early, we were the only ones on the tour. We were taken through the brewing process and shown all the original machinery that was used when the brewery was originally built – lots of red-painted iron wheels, gears and drive shafts. It’s an old brewery that works on gravity, so the water is stored in a tank at the top of the building and is allowed to flow down through the stages under it’s own weight. The same with the grain, hoisted up top and then is guided to where it’s needed.
A very interesting thing is that they have 2 mash tuns and 2 hop backs – one old and one new so you can see the brewing process. In new breweries its all sealed stainless steel, self-cleaning vats. The old mash tun has a perforated copper floor made up of numbered pieces so it can be removed for cleaning and put back. And the cleaning is done by hand, which we saw. The brewery worker didn’t look like he was having the best time, but being knee deep in hot spent grain in a copper tun doesn’t sound like the most pleasant thing in the world. And the older hop back was, if my memory serves me correctly, quite open with a chimney over the top so you could see the wort boiling with the hops. Very enlightening.
They use modern cooling now, but still have the large copper pans at the very top of the building that were used to cool the wort before the yeast is added. The slatted walls offer beautiful views of the fields and hills that surround the brewery.
We then ventured briefly into the fermentaion room, smelling that wonderful sweet, yeasty aroma, and seeing the sticky foam on top of the vats.
Then, off to the tasting room! Unfortunately, I was driving. And also, it was just before 12pm. But still, we tried everything they had to offer! Great tutored tasting of their range: all the standards, plus a seasonal or two. Lovely beers, simple but very tasty and wonderfully easy to drink.
Definitely a tour to try, good mix of the old and the new to really show you the brewing process. The tours are around the £10 mark, but for us that included tasters, a “Hook Norton Champion Drinker” badge, and a pint glass. An absolute bargain, if you ask me.
There is a small brewing museum above the shop that is free, and the shop is very nice and worth a visit even if you don’t do the tour. But do do the tour. It’s excellent.