Friday, 28 September 2012

A tour of Abbeydale Brewery in Sheffield: 20th September 2012

I had tried quite a few of Abbeydale Brewery's pale'n'hoppy beers before at various Beer Festivals and had been very impressed with them - great aromas & nice New-World hoppiness. As I'd decided to spend a night in Sheffield during my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip I thought I'd contact them to see if a look around the brewery was possible, even though it seemed as if they didn't have a shop, a visitor centre or perform any official tours - you can but try. Thankfully (somewhat to my surprise) Dan Baxter from Abbeydale did e-mail me back and since I had come from a fair distance away, was happy to see me for a short time on Thursday afternoon - beer people are great!

View Abbeydale in a larger map

I got off the Manchester-Sheffield train at Dore & Totley, the stop before Sheffield, and took the bus most of the way up Abbeydale Road - I decided that this was easier than try to find my way through the Sheffield city centre crowds. Turning into Aizlewood Road, the address given for Abbeydale Brewery, it was not (at all) obvious that there was a brewery almost on top of me.

I went under(!) an office block towards what I though was a used car centre, but then spied the Abbeydale Brewery sign and some of the tell-tale trappings of a micro-brewery - phew!

One of the guys pointed me upstairs towards the offices & there I met Dan Baxter, Abbeydale's Sales Manager, occasional brewer and who also oversees the brewery's Social Media interaction (and hence fellow blogger!).

They'd just had a Health and Safety inspection that morning (and passed with flying colours), and as mentioned, don't have any facilities for the 'public' at all, but Dan was good enough to spend a ridiculous amount of time with me - many thanks for this.

We started with the malt (you can see the bag of this in the previous pic). This is milled on the ground and then pumped/funnelled on high into the Mash Tun - unusual to say the least - it just seems to be the way it's always been done at Abbeydale.

Their brew length is now close to 30 bbl and they brew up to 7 days a week and sometimes twice a day.

And here after the copper is another Hop Back, physically different to the one that I saw at Thornbridge, but it performs the same function - to maximise surface contact between the hot wort from the copper & the hops and so extract as much of the fragile hop oils as possible for the final taste & aroma. Dan let me get get my nose into (at at least close to) this and the smell was amazing - seriously hoppy!

All that brewing means that there are a lot of Fermenting Vessels, 5x 10 bbl vessels & 2x 30 bbl vessels - a lot of stainless steel. When Sheffield CAMRA went through a survey of all/most of the real ale pubs in Sheffield on a single day, Abbeydale Moonshine was the most popular beer - that's a pretty impressive accolade in a beer city such as Sheffield, so it's not surprising that Moonshine fills the larger fermenters more often than not.

Which means there are also a lot of Conditioning Tanks - the large 30 bbl ones are used for Moonshine & Deception.

The Cold Store was fairly empty - since it was a Thursday afternoon most of the casks were now sitting in the cellars of the pubs for the weekend.

The cold store also held all the hops - there were lots of New World & more traditional hops in there.

One (almost) unique system they are trialling at Abbeydale is the in-house treatment of the effluent from the brewery. Normally this 'just' goes down the drain and the brewery gets hit with a sizeable tax bill from the local council for this. Instead they're trying to perform a similar function to the local treatment centre and so pay less tax - this could be a great system if it all works out as Dan hopes it will.

Dan was then good enough to get me a couple of samples from the Conditioning Tanks. As I hadn't tried any of their darker beers before I tried a Black Mass (lots of dark chocolate & coffee, it doesn't seem 6.66% at all) and a Dr Morton's Clown Poison (full of lovely spicy galena hops). All the pump-clip artwork for Abbeydale's beers are impressive but the Dr Morton's ones especially so - Dan just lets artist Ivan Bradley completely let his imagination run riot on these! Unfortunately Abbeydale have discontinued their Last Rites 11% abv pale barley wine which was lagered for more 100 days - it's just become too expensive because of the increased duty on beers over 7.5%. Supposedly the final casks of this were going for silly amounts of money last Christmas.

Abbeydale don't bottle any of their beers, they focus purely on cask beer which is somewhat unusual (at least up Scotland way) and just shows the number of pubs in South Yorkshire which take real ale. For Quality Control purposes Abbeydale have to keep samples of their beer and Dan was incredibly kind enough to give me a bottle of Deception - there are not many of these about (outwith the brewery anyway)!

Dan's now a Director of Abbeydale and has plans for a possible visitor centre & bar and I hope this all comes about. Abbeydale has definitely grown a lot more organically than Thornbridge mostly I guess because they've stayed at the same location, but they are certainly both producing lots of interesting, innovative and tasty beers.

And as a neat book-end to the visit, I saw this pump-clip for Fargate S-1 (an area of Sheffield) in one of the local pubs - I like the sci-fi sense of humour in this!

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