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Peak Ales - A Traditional Derbyshire Brew!

Posted Friday, July 6, 2007

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Peak Ales – A Traditional Beer Brewed in Derbyshire:

Beer has been brewed in Derbyshire for millenia and is arguably the counties oldest traditional social enterprise.

`Derbyshire - the Real Ale Capital of Britain!'

The Celts were brewing beer here long before the Romans attempted to usurp the ancient tribal brewmasters with their imported amphoras of wine two thousand years ago. They failed, and now in 2006 with both winter and summer beer festivals taking place throughout the county Derbyshire County Council have paid tribute to our beer brewing traditions by heralding Derbyshire as `the Real Ale Capital of Britain’.

Of course, Derbyshire is renowned for it’s high quality locally produced food and drink including it’s traditionally brewed beer, and this has been highlighted recently by the burgeoning success of the highly popular farmer’s markets throughout the Peak, especially around the market towns of Chesterfield, Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and Ashbourne.

The high reputation of such traditional Peak products as Bakewell puddings, Hartington Stilton & Dovedale Blue cheese, Ashbourne gingerbread men, Derbyshire oatcakes and the bottled natural springwaters of both Buxton & Ashbourne has recently been enhanced by the addition of our very own locally brewed cask-conditioned ale - `Bakewell Best Bitter’ – which is brewed to a traditional recipe on the historic Chatsworth Estate!

Connoisseur’s of real ale have been raising a glass (or three) to Peak Ales of the Barn Brewery Chatsworth, and to brewmaster Robert Evans and wife Debra who recently celebrated the first anniversary of their successfully bold venture at Cunnery Barn, a previously derelict agricultural building which is now home to their craft micro-brewery on the Chatsworth Estate.

Indeed, Peak Ales is exactly what it says on the bottle – the product of a dream; Rob’s dream of `establishing a craft brewery in the heart of the Peak National Park; sourcing quality natural ingredients, traditional brewing tools and time-honoured recipes; then crafting fine ales of a style and depth that perfectly reflect the glorious surroundings in which they are created’.

Rob and Debra who currently live in Bakewell came here three years ago from Worcestershire, where Chesterfield-born Rob, who trained at Leeds Carnegie College and specialised in exercise physiology, worked in the cardiac rehabilitation unit for Dudley Health Authority, and Debra worked as a dance teacher. Rob learned the brewer’s art at Cannon – Royall in Worcester and on skills courses at Sunderland University and York Brewery, and he and Deborah are ably assisted in the family brewing business by Mr. Evans senior who shares his son’s passion for real ale, and brewing consultant David Smith.

Says Deborah, “Rob’s always been a huge beer enthusiast and for years had dreamed about owning his own brewery, but it was never financially viable. Then in 2002 the progressive beer duty and tax levied on micro- breweries was reduced, and so we decided to go for it and follow the dream.”

Rob takes up the story: “We did some market research which suggested that the Peak District would provide a good area of opportunity for free trade outlets, and with so many annual visitors to the National Park the sales of a traditional quality product were almost guaranteed; coupled with my local knowledge of the area, the decision was easy - provided of course that we could raise the money - and find suitable premises”. They came north to Derbyshire in January 2003, and a week later, whilst having lunch with brewing consultant David Smith in the Devonshire Arms at Beeley, Rob began chatting with the landlord John Grosvenor, who suggested he enquire at Chatsworth.

“I wrote a letter to Nick Wood, the deputy agent for the Chatsworth Trustees and delivered it by hand to the estate office; fortuitously Nick was there and agreed to see me, and suggested I take a look at Cunnery Barn on the Baslow to Chatsworth Road, and I immediately recognised it’s potential”.

The old barn and outbuildings were virtually derelict and had neither drainage nor electricity - and of course, they needed planning permission!

Rob & Debra gave up their jobs and sold their house in order to pursue their dream, which was held up for three months when a family of Barn Owls was discovered nesting in the old barn! But aided by a DEFRA grant and lots of hard work, two years later in February 2005, Rob’s dream of owning his own brewery had become a reality. The old barn had been transformed into a specially designed, purpose-built micro-brewery, fully equipped with a new German brew-plant with a capacity of 30 to 40 barrels a week - and Peak Ales was born!

Rob proudly showed me around the immaculately kept barn and enthusiastically explained the brewing process which begins with the mashing of the malted barley to allow the enzymes to turn the starch to sugars.

Next the wort is transferred into the copper for boiling and the addition of the hops, then via the heat exhanger the temperature is reduced from 98 degrees to 17 degrees fahrenheit in the fermentation vessel where the yeast is then added and the fermentation process begins; then up to one week of conditioning in the tank at 10 degrees before the ale is put into casks and ready to go to trade.

Peak Ales first brew was named Bakewell Best Bitter, a 4.2% cask conditioned ale brewed to a classic recipe using the best Marris Otter and Crystal malt and Fuggles traditional English hops - the final `special’ unique ingredient being the local Derbyshire water!

“It was well received” says Rob rather modestly.

In fact, it was so well received that revered real ale connoisseur, the Derby Evening Telegraph’s Beerhunter called it `a simply magnificent pint’ - and Haddon Hall ordered six barrels for Lord Edward Manner’s wedding celebrations. Indeed, the Bakewell Best Bitter went down so well that in December 2005 it was put into bottles by Hambleton’s of North Yorkshire, but proved so popular that when I called recently it was `sold out’ – although I was lucky enough to get the last two remaining bottles and can fully understand why……and I’m (not quite strictly) teetotal!

The weekly brewing sessions later produced a 3.8% bitter using classic Goldings hops called Swift Nick, named after the infamous 17th century highwayman, John Nevison, whom it was reputed never used violence and once returned a bag of money to a hard-up Bakewell farmer.

Stories of Swift Nick are legend and he is believed to have ridden from the scene of a crime in London to York in just one day, a feat generally attributed to fellow highwayman Dick Turpin. Rob & Deborah chose the name Swift Nick because of the Local Bakewell connection and also because, says Deborah, “It’s perfect for a swift pint!”

A stronger 5% Christmas special called Noggin Filler also proved popular, along with Dalesman bitter at 4%, and the latest expertly brewed traditional ale called Wills Glory, a strong classic real ale of 5% was launched in March 2006 to celebrate a successful first year for the Peak Ales Brewery.

“We’ve had tremendous support from local landlords, and we’ve signed up to the direct delivery scheme run by SIBA (Society for Independent Brewers) and Enterprise Inns, said Rob, `and this will enable us to be found in more local Derbyshire pubs!”

Peak Ales is already available at many outlets including the Peacock Hotel at Rowsley; Maynard Arms, Grindleford; Red Lion, Matlock Green; George Inn at Youlgreave; Bulls Head at Foolow; Devonshire Arms at Beeley, Devonshire Arms at Pilsley, Cavendish Hotel at Baslow, Riber Hall Hotel and numerous others throughout the Peak District, also at Farmer’s Markets, Ibbotson’s of Ashford, and on the Chatsworth Estate at both the Chatsworth Club and the Chatsworth Farm Shop.

The undoubted success of Peak Ales is driven by Rob’s brewing expertise and passion for real ale, and by his informed historical knowledge of the subject, coupled with a long nurtured desire to `regenerate traditional British brewing against a rising tide of mass produced lager’ which like most real ale supporters he regards as `bland and innocuous’; a pale imitation of the real thing.

Until 1960 lager accounted for less than 1% of the British beer market, and was only available on draught from 1963, but now it accounts for about 50% of the market, and as Rob says with passion and conviction:

“It’s time for traditional cask conditioned real ales to make a comeback – especially here in the `Real Ale Capital of Britain’ - in the heart of the Peak District where Peak Ales brew the quintessential English pint!”

Cheers, Rob. I’ll drink to that!

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