Henry arrives at nine, as I’m just chewing the last bite of my bacon butty. He’s becoming scarily reliable. Maybe having his own business is having an effect.
It shouldn’t take too long to get to Wisbech. Though the roads aren’t that great and quite busy.
“This looks just like home.” I remark of the flat landscape of the fens laid out around us. I’ve never been to this particular bit of Lincolnshire before.
“I’m really poorly travelled in Britain. I’ve never been to Sleaford, for example.”
“You haven’t missed much.” Henry replies drily.
‘Or Retford. Only been to Mansfield once, with David to see Sunderland play.”
“Retford is a dump. Mansfield is a shithole.”
“You don’t seem to like anywhere around here, Henry.”
“Lincoln is OK.”
“No, that’s crap, too.”
As we enter the brewery yard, I say: “I recognise that smell. The one there used to be at school: boiling wort.”
We’ve an appointment with Alan Pateman, the head brewer.
As he leads us to the visitor centre, I remark: “I can smell that you’re brewing.”
“Yes, we usually brew on Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Alan leaves us alone with the books. One of which has been retrieved from a display case. Open on the page showing the brewery moving into the ownership of the Elgood family.
Having Henry along makes my life so much easier. With the two of us snapping away it’s literally half the time and half the work for me. We’re done in an hour.
We go to Alan’s office and he takes us around the brewery. It’s beautiful and unspoilt, filled with rugged old kit. Exactly my sort of brewery.
We start off at the boiler, a massive, chunky affair that used to be coal fired. Alan leads us up some stairs to the mash tun, a very solid-looking cast iron. The hopper above it looks like it’s made out of iron, too. It bears the date 1910. It’s a 14-quarter tun according to Alan.
“Do you have a Steele’s masher?” I’m bizarrely interested in this sort of thing.
“Yes. There’s the old screw, which is totally worn out. We had a replacement made from stainless steel.” Alan tells me. They certainly don’t throw anything away without good reason here.
While we’re looking at the mash tun the brewery cat sidles up. It doesn’t look up to catching many mice. Well-fed, is how I’d describe it. The cat follows us to the malt store next door. It’s piled with sacks of Crisp and French & Jupp malt. The cat tries to jump on a pile and only just makes it to the top. Not the most agile cat I’ve ever come across.
Moving along, we come to the copper with a, er, copper dome. Again, a very substantial-looking piece of equipment.
There’s one bit of kit that will get the geeks excited: the open cooler. Or rather, coolers. There’s a set of two at slightly different heights. Call them coolships if you like. I used to be pretty anal about that word. Until Derek Prentice mentioned that they had something called a coolship at the old Truman’s brewery.
Some substantial chunks of oak are attached above the coolers.
“They come from a big, old oak tree that had to come down. They counted the rings when they felled it: over 200 years old.” Alan explains. The wood is there to retain microflora.
We come across a second, smaller mash tun. It’s part of their small brew house, which they use for shorter run beers.
In the fermenting room, there are vessels of various shapes and sizes, mostly square.
“The fermenters are lined with plastic. They used to be raw wood. You can imagine the problems that caused.”
In one fermenter yesterday’s brew is bubbling away nicely. It has a very healthy looking head.
At one time they used Hole’s yeast. The brewery I worked in back in 1975. Obviously they can’t get hold of that anymore. Now they have a Yorkshire square yeast.
“I noticed that you have fishtails. Do you rouse it?”
“Yes, twice a day.”
Most of the fermenters are sealed. “It’s safer that way,” Alan says, “because of the CO2.” Co2 has been one of the biggest killers in breweries over the years. I keep finding reports of asphyxiated brewery workers in the newspaper archive.
The racking area is basic, to say the least: a tank, two hoses and a little ramp.
A large cool room is where the casks go after racking. It’s also home to the hops. There are varieties you’d expect in a traditional English brewery, like Fuggles, Bramling Cross and Northdown, but also US hops like Cascade. Though thinking about it, US hops were extensively used in British brewing.
Dotted around the brewery are various tanks, which are used for their sour and fruit beers. Some are typical modern stainless tanks, but others are strange old green things. They never seem to have thrown anything away and these have been repurposed after years of disuse. There are also the obligatory oak wine casks. Everyone has at least a few of those nowadays.
Tour over, we retire to the nearest Elgood pub, the Red Lion. Where Alan buys us a sandwich and a pint. I’m delighted to see that they have Black Dog, their Dark Mild, on cask. It’s a lovely beer, when on form. Which this pint is. What looks more lovely than a freshly-pulled pint of Mild?
Alan tells us a little about his career. It started off at Paines, where his father was head brewer before him. Later he joined Hardy & Hanson. He tells me that they added a gallon of primings per barrel to their Mild. No wonder it was so sweet.
Sadly we can’t hang around long. Henry has an appointment in Newark.
“Did you see the bloke fiddling with No. 2 invert?” Henry asks as we’re bumping through the fens.
“No, I missed that. Damn.”
Henry drops me on Balderton Gate and arranges to meet me later in the Woolpack. Sorry, the Prince Rupert. At least the new name does have a Newark connection. The prince having hung out in the town during the Civil War.
I notice that the Zoo has reopened under the name of Belam’s Bar & Bistro. It’s one of the few Newark pubs I’ve never been in. Just too damn dangerous. It doesn’t look any more tempting than in previous incarnations.
I can’t resist a quick pint in the Fox and Crown. I have to walk almost past it. Magic Rock Inhaler. A beer, I’ve heard of, but never tried. It’s fair enough, in a fruity hoppy way. But I don’t see what all the fuss is about. Maybe my trips to the US have spoilt me.
As I stroll through Newark town centre, it’s eerily quiet. Hardly anyone is around, either on the street of in the shops. There only seem to be two staff in WH Smiths. I can’t find Viz and have to ask for help. Both look, one after the other and eventually uncover it, mostly hidden by other magazines. I can never find it in this place.
It’s a bit depressing that there are so few people around Newark used to be much busier.
One place I do want to be quiet is the pub. The Prince Rupert doesn’t disappoint. There are only a couple of other punters. I get myself a pint of The Raven Milk Stout and settle into a seat. Making sure I get a good view of some of the wonderful old signs.
Henry rolls up after a while and I have another pint or two in his company, before he drives me back to my brother Dave’s.
I’ve timed it well. The chippie has just opened.
“Just order a kid’s portion of chips.” Dave advises. Which I do. It’s still a full plateful. More than I can eat. I wonder what single pensioners do?
Luckily, there’s still plenty of Home Brewed left. Which Dave and I get stuck into as we watch some more cricket.
I’m in bed quite early again. I want to be fresh for a final lunchtime sesh with Henry.
Elgood & Sons
72 N Brink,
Wisbech PE13 1LW.
Tel: +44 1945 583160
The Red Lion
32 N Brink,
Wisbech PE13 1JR.
Tel: +44 1945 582022
Fox & Crown
4-6, Appleton Gate,
Newark NG24 1JY.
Tel: +44 1636 605820
The Prince Rupert
46 Stodman Street,
Newark NG24 1AW.
Tel: +44 1636 918121
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