The Bury area, totally under my radar, has become a mini brewery mecca. The area is home to Brightside (recently relocated to Radcliffe), Deeply Vale, First Chop (soon to commence brewing in their own premises in Salford), Irwell Works, Leyden (at The Lord Raglan in Nangreaves), Outstanding and (since December 2011) Ramsbottom Craft Brewery.
As is becoming a bit of a theme now, I stumbled upon a Twitter ‘exchange’ between Tyson The Beerhound and Matt Holmes, the owner and brewer at Ramsbottom Craft. At the end of this exchange, tentative arrangements were made to pop round at an indeterminate date when Matt may be brewing. One evening I saw a tweet addressed to myself and Tyson, along the lines of “brewing tomorrow, fancy popping round…..? Well. You know me and temptation!
Unfortunately that fine Beerhound couldn’t make it due to work commitments. However, I was on holiday so, one sunny afternoon, I find myself lost in Ramsbottom!
Having driven onto the street listed on the website, it was all residential! Confused. I was utterly convinced I was looking for an industrial unit! A quick exchange with Tyson corrected that impression, so I headed back and knocked at the front door of a house I had recently passed. The door was opened and I was met by a genial young man (Matt) and the delicious unmistakable smells of an operating brewery!
(The Mash Tun)
Not long after finishing our initial introductions (we had never previously met!), it was obvious that something was slightly wrong! At that point Matt was ‘sparging’ (a bit like rinsing the malt to get all available sugars from the grains) and the transfer of the ‘wort’ (the extracted sugars that form the basis of the finished beer) wasn’t going smoothly! There appeared to be a blockage, so, stirring implement in hand, Matt dived in (not literally!) to the Tun and got it sorted, freed the blockage and the process went smoothly! This issue was not unconnected with the large amount of grain in the Tun, the aim being for a wort to produce a finished beer of around 6% abv. These are indeed ‘Hand Crafted’ ales! (I – sort of – mucked in with a bit of ‘re-circulation’ of the wort, good fun!)
Having never gone the ‘tinned wort’ route as a home brewer, Matt dived straight in with full grain brewing, using only whole leaf hops. Sourcing his stainless steel ware from Germany, he built his own brewery doing all the plumbing, cladding and wiring himself. He registered with HMRC (boo!) in December 2011 and commenced brewing pretty much from that date.
The Hot Liquor Tank (HLT), Mash Tun, Copper and his various fermenting vessels (6) and his bottles and casks are all stored and housed within his converted garage, and he produces quite a variety of beer in this 2 1/4 Bbl kit! Beers flavoured with Chilli and Lemongrass, Ginger, Cocoa nibs……
A native Midlander transported “oop north”, Matt is truly a one-man outfit doing the brewing, sales & distribution all himself, though, by his own admission, brewing is to the fore at the moment. Brew it, phone calls, then move it appears to be the way. Impressively, he fits this all around his day job as an Estate Agent too!
(A bit of sparging)
Matt’s beers are either cask or bottle conditioned and I noted a number of filled 9 gallon firkins, 2 of which had his Chilligrass Wheat Beer ready for a local Ramsbottom Bar/Restaurant The Hearth of The Ram and a number of bottles ready for packaging / orders. The bottles can be purchased either direct from Matt or from Summerseat Garden Centre
Matt’s Cask Conditioned offerings can be occasionally located at the (aforementioned) Hearth of The Ram and The Major pub in Ramsbottom, The Coach & Horses in Edenfield (nr Ramsbottom), The Masons Arms in Rawtenstall, The Magnet in Stockport, The Angel in Manchester, Trackside in Bury and others in the Blackburn area.
I sensed that Matt was a busy chap this afternoon, but he graciously let me have a taste of one of his mainstays (and I think he needed a refresher after his travails!), Rammy Ale, a nice copper coloured bitter with a good balance and dry lightly hoppy finish. With driving, I couldn’t sample any more beer, so having not had any of his beers before today, I picked up a few bottles for later tasting and said my farewells to let Matt get on with the brew.
It really is amazing quite what you can fit into a small space, and there is a little room for expansion, but, as things take off further, Matt may need to consider larger premises. Check the website at http://ramsbottombrewery.com/. Matt runs a “Beer Club” where – within a certain radius – for £30 a quarter, he’ll deliver a mixed case of RCB beers.
Later that week, I tried a bottle of the Chilligrass Wheat Beer. Extremely pale (well, it is an all wheat beer!) at 4.4% abv there was some lemony citrus and spice on the nose. In the mouth, I got the refreshing characteristics of the wheat with a sharp peppery chilli kick! It certainly lives up to its name and definitely woke up my sleepy taste buds!
A nice bloke Matt. Cares passionately about what he brews, is obviously a dab had with the DIY and plumbing and indulges in some experimentation with his beers (Can’t wait to try the Thai Wit!), both beers I tried were full of flavour with my personal preference being the lip licking fiery Chilligrass. I’ll certainly be looking out for his beers on draught at The Angel.
On that note….’til next time!