Saturday, 29 September 2012

Buxton Brewery to Sheffield: 20th September 2012

I stayed at a B&B in Buxton for a single night during my Derbyshire/Yorkshire trip and my plan for the following day was to have a quick look at where the excellent Buxton Brewery beers are made and then take the train up to Whaley Bridge in the High Peak, walk to Chinley and the award-winning Old Hall Inn for lunch and then take another train to Sheffield and visit Abbeydale Brewery - it was definitely going to be a tight schedule.

View Buxton in a larger map

Outward travel was as follows:-
  Train: Buxton to Whaley Bridge (Northern Rail)
            Chinley to Dore & Totley (Northern Rail)
  Bus: Dore to Abbeydale Road/Heely (98, First)

It's a good 30 minute walk from Buxton town centre to the large Staden Industrial Estate where Buxton Brewery is located (immediately next door is a slightly more visible Aquatic & Exotic Pets Shop!)

Formed back in 2008 by Geoff Quinn & Richard Garnett they moved into the current premises in late 2009, only about 100 metres from the Buxton water spring which they use in the brewing process, and now have the innovative James Kemp (ex-Thornbridge) as head brewer. When I walked in Geoff Quinn (literally) had hid head in the 10 bbl copper and was busy setting this up so I went upstairs to have a chat with Pete Clark, who handles the majority of Buxton's sales. He was just back from a week's holiday and a day off ill so it was really good of him to give me some time.

The first thing I noticed were a couple of the beers that were going to the De Molen Borefts Festival the next week - the Barrel Aged Tsar Special Reserve No.1, Smokey & the Band Aid (an Imperial Smoked Rye Porter) and Tsar Bomba, fermented using Brettanomyces yeast).

Pete mentioned that the Special Reserve No.1 is going to be a very rare beer indeed (only 108 bottles) and will be priced accordingly (the actual price was still being 'discussed') and also that it was he himself who has the bottles of Courage Russian Imperial Stout dating back to the 1970's and from where the brett yeast has been rescued for use in the Tsar Bomba (the 30+ year old Courage Russian Imperial Stout is also meant to still be excellent !).

Pete then took me on a quick look around of the brewery floor. They have 5 & 10 barrel mash tuns & coppers, with the smaller equipment being from the Wild Walker Brewery which Buxton bought out in 2009. There are now 4 smaller Fermenting Vessels and 2 new larger Fermenters, so their brewing issue at the moment is not the capacity of the Fermenters but getting the beer through the the mash tuns & coppers.

There's also a large cold store for the casks and the hops (I suspect this is Mr Kemp's domain)...

and a warm store for the bottled beer. They currently bottle by hand using a 4 bottle system. The beer comes from the tank or from a cask (with no finings) and they can do 1200 bottles in a day - tough work !

They are also starting to keg their beer - it is chilled to 2 degrees centigrade, CO2 is added and the beer is simply left for the protein to drop out. There is no pasteurisation or filtering of the beer (and I have no idea why I didn't take a picture of the kegger - sigh...).

In such a relatively short length of time Buxton now produce a great range of beers (not including the one off specials as above) which sell to both the local area and nationwide through various regional wholesalers, eg Craftcentric in Scotland & the N. East. It's definitely cutting-edge 'Craft Beer' and I'd have to say their Black IPA (Imperial Black) is probably the best around (perhaps with Magic Rock Magic 8 Ball) - only in my humble opinion of course!

As I left Pete 'persuaded' me to take a bottle of Dark Nights (many thanks - I left more shortbread) and I headed back into Buxton. The town itself seems a nice enough place, but I really I didn't really manage to get much of a look around it at all. Although it's still called a Spa town, the great Victorian Natural Baths building has now been converted into shops.

I then got on the train to Manchester for the fairly short journey to Whaley Bridge. From here it was a walk along the Peak Forest Canal until its terminus at Bugsworth Basin after which I followed the Black Brook along a couple of miles of public footpath until Chinley.

Immediately after a large plastics factory I came upon a sign for the Old Hall Inn (yet another thing I like about the Peak District - helpful signposts for pubs).

They were setting up for their annual Beer Festival being held over the coming weekend (which I'd missed by a day and probably just as well, I think I would have been tempted to stay there all afternoon).

It's a really nicely set-out pub (dating back to the 16th Century). A small snug area (with only 2 or 3 tables)...

a larger drinking area & a lot more tables further back into the pub and nice, friendly staff.

On the walls are lots of awards, brewery mirrors and other beer related memorabilia including a cut-out schematic of Marston's Burton-Upon-Trent brewery and this collection of Marston's Head Brewers Choice pump-clips from 1963.

On at the bar(s) were a great selection of 8 beers & 2 ciders, including Engine Vein by The Cheshire Brewhouse, a brewery which I'd never seen before (when I come cross this situation it's got to be tried) - it was certainly a decent bitter with some spicy First Gold hops at the end, nice & refreshing. After a full English Breakfast at my B&B in Buxton I decided on just a bowl of soup for lunch - white onion this time with some lovely warm bread.

From the Old Hall Inn it was only a 10 minutes walk to Chinley train station. The trains on this line are 2 hours apart outwith the rush hour so thankfully I was able to catch this with a few minutes to spare.

This connection from Manchester to Sheffield via Chinley is the Hope Valley Line and some of the stations (and scenery) I went through on my way across the northern part of the Peak District were stunning, but I couldn't stop (this time) - I had to make my appointment with Abbeydale Brewery.

I got off at Dore & Totley (the stop before Sheffield) and took the 98 bus most of the way up Abbeydale Road. The brewery is definitely not the easiest place to find, but I'd have to say it was most worthwhile. I've put my visit to Abbeydale Brewery on a separate blog here.

After the visit I walked into Sheffield city centre past the impressive Madina Mosque, built in 2006 for over £5 Million...

and also the Crucible Theatre, home to the Snooker World Championship.

I obviously visited quite a few of the fantastic pubs in Sheffield, but to-be-honest, these are reviewed in far more detail than I could possibly do (especially on a single, busy Thursday evening) in some of the local guides and blogs. I'll possibly post a few exterior pics at some point later.

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