Life is sweeter at the source

Sarah Sinclair meets the breweries selling their customers an escape that goes far beyond the beer in their glass

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We all need an escape from time-to-time. And, with reality being as it is just now, that need has hardly been more pressing. Fortunately, for the discerning and adventurous beer lover, there are now breweries up and down the country that offer more than just a pint and a pizza in the taproom, before turfing you out at closing time. Breweries whose Instagram posts can transport you out of weariness and give you a warm, sunny hug. Breweries who said city life is not for us and the countryside is where they want to be. Breweries you can physically escape to and experience.

Mick Richardson is the tenant on a farm just outside Manchester who, alongside his friend Ben Stubbs, co-founded Rivington Brewing Co on the site. “We started homebrewing together, then gradually made the move to putting a commercial brewery in,” says Ben. “We are very fortunate to have a brewery where we are.”

It was a similar tale for Little Earth Project in East Anglia, whose founding family have been involved in running the Sudbury pub since 2005, where they brewed (under the name Mill Green) until Little Earth opened in 2015. 

Dani Mountain, who works for the brewery, says: “We built the Little Earth Project to be the perfect brewery for this location. We don’t have a large population nearby, but we do have fields of barley, space to grow hops, hedges to forage and orchards to collect wild yeast.

“We do not want to be a brewery of mass production or a city brewery that is constantly looking for the latest trend. We are a brewery that is about making the best beer with what is close at hand, one that is more agricultural than industrial and really represents the area we are based.”

PHOTO: Little Earth Project

At the other end of the country, in the highlands of Scotland, Black Isle Brewery. David Gladwin, director, says: “It’s home, we could not imagine doing this anywhere else. I had experience in wilderness-based businesses in the Highlands prior to setting up the brewery here, and it instilled in me the importance of nature as is it. A perfect cycle, that when left to its own devices will provide us with more than enough of the things that we need.”

David says that digging through the archives at Inverness Library turned up an early ‘Statistical Account’ from 1790, which states that the barley grown at Allangrange farm (where Black Isle is based) was “of superior quality for the brewer and distiller”. This is a perfect pairing for what has become a favourite destination craft brewery in Scotland, and one that has always focused so keenly on organic brewing and sustainability.

David says: “Ten years after we started, we bought 130 acres around the brewery and converted it to organic farming… It was never an option for us; organics was always at the core of what we wanted to do, so having the brewery on the farm just made sense. Everything we do here, from growing vegetables to rearing livestock, is done using sympathetic organic farming methods. We try and live and work with the land, rather than on it and against it.”

Little Earth Project has also strived to go organic where it can, constantly working in tandem with its location, which provides an abundance of ingredients to add to its mixed fermentation beers. Dani continues: “We try to source as much of our ingredients as locally as possible…We grow our own barley and hops and have started working with local organic farmers. We forage ingredients, sometimes within sight of the pub and we use local fruit producers; the raspberries and gooseberries we use are grown on a farm just a couple of miles away. Even our yeast comes from a local orchard.”

PHOTO: Rivington Brewing Co

For Rivington Brewing Co, its location has provided it with yet another draw for customers: space for its campsite. Ben Stubbs, co-founder says: “We are based on the side of a reservoir in Rivington, on a working farm. The brewery is in a building that was originally used to store horse carriages, while the taproom is in a barn that used to house cattle, and more recently were stables for horses. For a while, I looked at setting up the brewery tap in a town. However, Mick said to wait, and that it would be worth it to set up the taproom on the farm as he was looking to diversify it.

“In the last couple of years, we have added bell tents to the campsite, allowing people to really experience where we are, in all seasons. Especially with the view over Rivington, you get to see the changing seasons, the weather roll in and out, and to experience some peace and quiet.”

The campsite is a real plus in a rural location, as it means no one is worrying about getting a taxi or train home, allowing everyone to enjoy its range of beers fresh at the source. The brewery doesn’t run a webshop, preferring to get people out to visit, where they can have the full experience. This includes the chance to chat with the staff about life on and around the farm, and hear local recommendations; it’s an experience that has developed slowly and organically. Ben says: “We would not want to create a big, noisy campsite, we want to keep it small and intimate. The taproom and the campsite complement each other quite well as they are.”

Little Earth Project also argues its beer is best enjoyed at the source, preferably by staying at the pub, in their holiday chalets or adjacent campsite. Dani says: “I always think if you go somewhere new, trying the local food and drink is something that makes the trip special, and you can’t get more local than on-site. If that beer was made with fruit and barley in the local hedgerows and fields it gives something even more special.

PHOTO: Black Isle Brewing Co

“We try to incorporate this ethos in our small food offering at the pub, as well. Really delicious local cheeses and charcuterie, and fruit and veg pickled in our own cider vinegar. It seems these days, people are really looking for experiences when they travel.” 

This area of South Suffolk was also a hub for hop growing, with records showing there were hop plantations in many of its villages, peaking in the 1830s. Fruit trees and distinct varieties of apples grow well here too.

Dani says: “Next year we hope to have some brewery open days and even a sour beer festival. It has been very important over this first summer. We are blessed with a lot of outdoor space, so we had a really good summer as people were weary of being inside. We hope that people go home happy, share our story and the experience they had and that the guests continue to come for the years to come.”

You can also stay the night and experience Black Isle Brewery at the source. David Gladwin, director, says: “I wake up to a deafening dawn chorus; this spring the song thrushes were heart-stoppingly beautiful, and there were a colony of rare hawfinches who came to stay. It’s beautiful, peaceful, surrounded by wildlife."

Rather than just maximising return on every last inch of space, at the expense of the environment, these successful rural businesses give their customers an opportunity to relax and recharge their batteries somewhere beautiful. All three breweries are looking at growing their escape offerings, but intend to do so slowly, organically and naturally. Fingers crossed the seeds sown from the pandemic – shopping small and supporting local and independent – continue to bloom in 2023 and beyond, so breweries like these can offer us the city escapes we need when weary and their passionate businesses thrive.

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