A brewery’s home is its Castle

A familiar name around Nottingham


Castle Rock has been a household name in Nottingham for a lot longer than it’s been a brewery. Founder Chris Holmes, an ex-CAMRA chairman, opened The Old Kings Arms in Newark in 1977, and in doing so also founded parent company Tynemill, which would be rebranded as Castle Rock in 2007. Since The Old Kings Arms opened its doors, almost 47 years ago now, Castle Rock has amassed an impressive portfolio of 18 pubs, 12 of which had been opened by the time Castle Rock Brewery was commissioned in 1998. Just over a decade later and the popularity of Castle Rock’s beer was such that a bigger brewery was needed, and operations were upgraded to a 360 barrel system in 2010. Yet for all the brewery was born with 12 silver spoons, Castle Rock Brewery has also inherited an interesting legacy, and a unique relationship with drinkers of its beer. 

Jessica, for one, says she fell in love with Castle Rock beer in Castle Rock pubs, an experience I daresay is common to many drinkers, but which I can only imagine was a minefield for the brewery to navigate when it first started out. An immediate route to market, and insight into trends at the pubs didn’t negate the fact that, in 2010, Castle Rock Brewery was the new kid in its own pubs. It still had to win over drinkers, and find its own audience, a dynamic that Jessica says has actually been integral to the relationship between the brewery and Castle Rock Pubs. She says that because a diversity of drinking options has always been of foundational importance to Castle Rock, the team saw to it that brewing operations didn’t compromise the volume or variety of independent breweries sold at its pubs.

Jessica says that before opening The Old King’s Arms, Chris—as he famously tells it—could order the same beer from the same pub every day, and every time the pint he’d get would be different. “Sometimes it would be clear, sometimes it would be cloudy, and that’s if they were serving cask at all,” she says. “There was also a monopoly of big breweries around at that time—Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Bass Charrington, Allied Breweries, Courage Imperial and Watneys were referred to as ‘the big six’—meaning that there wasn’t a whole load of choice for drinkers and smaller local breweries had quite a hard time getting on bars. This, and a keen interest in cellarmanship, is really what Chris was trying to combat and promote when he opened The Old Kings Arms.”

She continues to say that Chris’s ethos was all about creating pubs where people felt welcome, and serving beer that people wanted to drink. Castle Rock took that into its own hands when it opened the brewery but, as Jessica puts it, “none of our pubs have ever been tied to our own brand, choice is still really important, and we still showcase local breweries as well as breweries from further afield”. Jessica is also keen to point out that Nottingham isn’t short of brilliant independent breweries. “I think we're an underrated city in that regard,” she says. “There’s a lot of fantastic small breweries around that are doing really well as well, so I’d definitely encourage anyone to think of Nottingham as a beer destination.”

Jessica says there’s a really vibrant beer scene around the city, and while it can be seen in its fullest force at the Nottingham Craft Beer Festival and the Robin Hood Beer and Cider Festival, there are also lots of smaller groups that meet up year around too. “For example, we did an International Women’s Day beer collaboration with a local women’s beer group called No Half Measures,” says Jessica. “It’s only been around for a couple of years but it's slowly growing, and meets up so the group can talk and learn about beer together. It’s made up of publicans, brewers, Cicerones, beer educators, and people who aren’t involved in the industry at all, and just love beer. We were really honoured to work with them to brew Order + Disorder and raise money together for Nottingham Women’s Centre and be able to raise awareness of the group.”

She also says that Nottingham’s beer community really rallied around the brewery during lockdown, when Castle Rock began operating contactless drive throughs in the brewery yard, an initiative which earned it an award for “Services Provided to Drinkers” from Nottingham’s CAMRA branch. “You’d pull up and our team would just pop the boot and fill it with whatever was ordered, so people could still experience a little bit of the pub at home,” Jessica says. “We hadn’t had an online shop for very long at all, at that point, and in hindsight we were just so lucky to have gotten it up and running when we did because people really rallied to support us.”

Not only did lockdown strengthen Castle Rock’s relationship with its local community, but it required a lot of Midlands-based breweries to close ranks, and lean on each other for support. With these relationships being formed of such strong, supportive bonds, it’s not surprising that many of them outlived the pandemic. “It was a total coincidence that just before lockdown, some of the Castle Rock team ran into the guys from Attic down the pub, and from that interaction a really great relationship with them began,” says Jessica. “We didn’t have our own canning machine when COVID hit, and so we started working really closely with Attic, brewing and canning new beers with them on their kit, and from that we just learned a lot about that side of brewing. We ended up coming out with this really exciting range of beers, and by working on Attic’s kit, we could give them a bit of a boost too. So that worked really well and we still work with them really closely now.” 

As for the future, Jessica says Castle Rock Brewery has no plans to expand, as it’s still far from working at capacity and is enjoying focusing on quality. Community is still the brewery’s bread and butter, and Jessica says the whole team is looking forward to Castle Rock’s annual yard party in June of this year. With a superb lineup of beers, street food and music the event is well worth organising your next trip to Nottingham around.

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