In the years immediately preceding Mr Fueled by Beer’s departure for the colonies and his saving of Mrs Fueled by Beer along the banks of the Scioto River (it’s a long story), there were very few signs to suggest the sad state of affairs in Britain’s beer and pub industry would soon be upset. Least of all in the sleepy Berkshire village of Yattendon…
Back in those pre-Beer Orders days, which after all were a dark time for Mr Fueled by Beer in so many ways, no way could he have foreseen the craft brewing revolution that would gather steam shortly after his departure.
First the 1989 beer orders, by uncoupling the breweries from their tied pubs, created a more open marketplace for new microbreweries. Then, perhaps even more significantly, the 2003 reduction in beer duty for brewers producing up to 5000 HL per year accelerated the growing movement even more.
From a handful of trailblazers numbering fewer than 100, this movement has grown over the past 30 years to more than 1000 breweries. Among the upstarts was the West Berkshire Brewery which got its start in a dilapidated shed behind the Pot Kiln pub at Frilsham near Yattendon in 1995.
Since those humble beginnings the brewery has grown to become one of the largest in Berkshire. They moved to their current location in Yattendon, where they built a 50 BBL brewhouse and now, according to HMRC excise tax definitions, are no longer considered ‘micro’ – meaning the brewery is now producing something in excess of 5000 hectoliters per year (4,260 US BBL).
It’s not hard to find West Berks’ beers in Reading’s real ale pubs – so we’ve sampled them several times – however when we heard about the brewery’s open house last weekend the chance to visit was too good to miss.
The brewery is housed in a gorgeous old barn complex on the edge of Yattendon. There are other businesses there, including a winery, but the brewery takes up the vast majority of the space.
One old barn holds the brewhouse and the very nicely appointed brewery shop. This is where beer may be purchased during shop opening hours along with all manner of other artisanal merchandise. Brewery tours are offered (book ahead) during which beer may be tasted. Unfortunately no tour spaces were available during the open house event however we returned in April 2014 to take the tour. Read our review.
Across from the brewhouse, in an adjacent barn, is where the fermentation tanks are housed. While brewhouse capacity (amount of each batch and time each batch takes to brew) has some impact on how much beer can be pushed out the door, it is fermentation capacity that ultimately determines the total volume per year. This is why perhaps as much as 80% of a brewery’s physical space is used for fermenters.
West Berkshire Brewery’s open day was a lot of fun. It was well attended; in fact several visitors, judging by the amount of beer being consumed, had come as part of a tour group and decided to make a day of it. Fortunately food was being served in the form of freshly baked wood fired pizza, and entertainment was provided by the Icknield Way Morris Men, as well as by the tour group.
Three cask ales were on offer for open day: widely available Mr Chubb’s Lunchtime Bitter; Mr Fueled by Beer’s favorite, Good Old Boy ESB; and Mrs Fueled by Beer’s favorite, the July special Jethro’s Wheat Aeld, brewed with locally picked Elderflowers. We tasted all three and Mr Fueled by Beer had additional pints of Good Old Boy – it’s a really nice brew – and he wasn’t driving.
With or without the brewery, Yattendon is a beautiful village to visit and for some great Michelin-rated food and excellent real ale while you’re there, or even an overnight stay, it’s worth stopping in at the historic Royal Oak.
West Berkshire Brewery: Recommended 🙂