As an aspiring runner, Saturday mornings in January usually mean one thing - a long run, building up distance to train for a Spring marathon. This year it's Brighton, which is great because I can rehydrate post race with fantastic beer at the Evening Star. That adventure's for another day though and many training miles away.
These long runs often take me to the rolling hills and footpaths of nearby Crondall and Ewshot and this morning's run went along Dora's Green Lane and past Crondall Brewery, which is my local brewery. Passing by some 6 miles into my run was great, because it diverted my mind away from my tired legs and on to beer (it doesn't take much, let's be honest). Returning home and catching up on twitter over a warm cuppa, I saw this tweet from Jeff Rosenmeier of Lovibonds:
Having never visited Crondall Brewery before and having no plans other than to rest my weary legs, I thought 'why not?' and off we went. On arrival, we were greeted by one of the brewery's three lovely border collies - Ben, Bob and Moss:
Keeping a watchful eye on the beer
The brewery is run solely by husband and wife team David and Chrissy Taraszek and as we walked in, Chrissy was discussing their Christmas seasonal brew, Crafty Santa (a 5.7% dark spicy brew) with a couple of regular customers - "I'd prefer it with more spice", said one. "No, maybe a bit sweeter", the other countered. Beer is all about opinions and this particular couple had come back to buy more before it ran out, presumably to continue their debate at home.
We enjoyed a long chat with Chrissy and David over some tasters and they were more than happy to share their experiences and talk about their passion for all things beer. They founded the brewery in 2004, with the first brew, a beer for their upcoming wedding (named Mr T’s Wedding Ale, which reappears as Mr T's Anniversary Ale) hitting the mash tun on a cold spring morning in May 2005. Having had successful careers outside of beer, they took advantage of the timing being right for them to fulfil David's boyhood dream of owning and running a brewery. David took a brewing course, coincidentally also attended by Jeff Rosenmeier (they're still friends) and the couple acquired an old granary barn to convert into a brewery.
The brewery relies almost exclusively on direct sales to consumers and has built up a strong local following in the seven years they've been brewing, with regulars returning week after week to satisfy their thirst for good beer. You can very occasionally find the beers on in local pubs and they also supply beer to local festivals including Reading, where in 2011 they showcased five different beers:
Crondall is very much a local brewery. There are currently no plans afoot to achieve global domination or establish a nationwide demand requiring round the clock brewing. The brewery exists to serve the local community, and does so very well. In the hour or so we were there, around ten people came, bought beer, chatted and went, being a mixture of regulars and new customers who will almost certainly be back soon. As well as selling direct from the brewery, they deliver locally in their shiny van and have built up a nice trade supplying bars for local parties and events. Their beers are never bottled but they do ship 9 pint mini barrels via their online shop and by this means, their beers have reached as far afield as the USA.
The Brewery - Virtual Tour
The brewery is located on a working farm, sat back from the road off Dora's Green Lane. It's small but perfectly formed as you can see below:
Their shiny van outside the brewery
The tasting and bar area
Looking back, past the fermentation room and store
Where the magic happens
Empty casks waiting to be washed and filled
The couple renovated the former granary barn and installed the brewing equipment themselves and maintaining it is something of a labour of love for David, who was busy sorting a problem in the roof space when we arrived. This of course means they know it inside out and upside down and are well equipped to overcome the problems which crop up in the busy life of a brewer. Recent 'challenges' include the three heating elements in the kettle giving up one after the other, mid brew, and having to figure out a way to adjust the rotation rate of the sparge arm for a part brew. The brewery has some nice design touches, such as the mash tun being sat on a pivot, so it can be tilted on its side for digging out post mash.
We were able to sample the brewery's three regular beers during our visit, those being Crondall's Best, Sober as a Judge and Mitchell's Dream. Below are the pump clip images along with some notes I took:
A refreshing light golden ale. Some initial subtle hop bitterness with a lovely clean finish. I could quaff pints of this sat in a beer garden in the Summer sun.
Slightly darker than the best (a light copper colour) with a lovely grassy hop aroma. Nice rasping bitterness which carries through to the finish. Very refreshing. I took a growler fill away! (£4.10 for two pints)
An amber red coloured beer brewed with Sovereign hops. Initial malt in the taste is balanced by the hops to create a beer with a richer body than the other two beers.
Crondall also turn out a number of seasonal brews covering a wide range of styles, from golden hoppy numbers for Spring through to full on stouts for Winter. I'll have to visit again to sample those.
I'm really pleased we took time out to visit Crondall Brewery and we'll certainly be going back soon. Chrissy and David's passion for what they do is apparent from the minute you meet them and this has enabled them to build up a great local trade and a business they can be proud of. If you're local to the area and haven't yet visited, you should.
In the coming weeks I'll be visiting and blogging about our other local breweries, Hogs Back, Andwell and hopefully Ascot Ales in Camberley. As Jeff says, get out and meet a local brewer! Karma will reward you.