A farm brewery which has the XT factor

Gareth Xifaras (left) and Russell Taylor - picture by Alexander Wright

Gareth Xifaras (left) and Russell Taylor - picture by Alexander Wright - Credit: Archant

Everybody is brewing down on the farm these days. In recent months, I’ve reported on Tring Brewery, based on a farm just outside the town, and the new 3 Brewers going hopping mad in the potato shed at Symondshyde Farm off Coopers Green Lane.

And the XT Brewery is adding to the bucolic pleasures by mashing and boiling beers on Notley Farm just outside Long Crendon in Buckinghamshire.

XT comes from the names of the owners, Gareth Xifaras and Russell Taylor. Gareth is an accountant by trade – a useful calling when you’re dealing with the likes of the VAT man and the excise officer. He’s from Birmingham but is of Greek descent. Russell Taylor is an experienced brewer who previously worked at the Windsor & Eton Brewery.

Their beers are available in and around St Albans but you can also pick them in four-pint mini-casks and bottles from the brewery. Long Crendon, near Aylesbury and Thame, is a village of great antiquity, with thatched and half-timbered houses, a 12th-Century church and a 15th-Century court house.

The village has often formed the backdrop for episodes of Midsommer Murders, though there were no dead or dying bodies in the street when I dropped by. The attractive Waterpury Gardens and garden centre are just a few miles away, making the area a good place for a day out.

XT Brewery is in spacious buildings on a large farm. At present Gareth and Russell are using English Maris Otter barley with specialist coloured malts imported from Belgium and Germany. But they hope to grow their own barley and hops on the farm. They are keen to use as many English ingredients as possible and always use at least one English hop in their beers. Other hop varieties come from the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Slovenia and the United States.

They’ve been brewing since late 2011, using impressive brewing kit built in the famous brewing town of Burton-on-Trent. The vessels – mash tun, copper and fermenters – are strictly traditional but the brewing team use modern technology to control brewing temperatures and can even check them by mobile phone. The brewery can make 20 barrels per brew and is currently producing three to four brews a week.

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Water for brewing comes from the public supply but it’s “Burtonised”: this means such sulphates as gypsum and magnesium are added to replicate the famous waters of the Trent Valley, the best in the world for producing crisp, hoppy pale ales.

The beers are numbered from one to nine, from pale to dark. The farm background is stressed by a beer called Oink: a subsidiary called the Animal Brewing Co is producing some special four-footed beers. XT also makes a number of seasonal and special ales such as Christmas and Jubilee beers.

I sampled XT 3, 4.2 per cent, which Gareth and Russell call an “Indian Ale”. It’s based on the 19th-Century India Pale Ale style brewed mainly in Burton-on-Trent for export to the Raj stationed in the sub-continent. The XT interpretation is brewed with Maris Otter pale barley malt and a touch of darker Vienna malt. Along with an English hop, they also used Celeia from Slovenia and Cluster and Columbus varieties from the U.S. The pale bronze beer has a big citrus fruit aroma with toasted malt and spicy hops. Rich fruit – citrus and a touch of sultana from the Vienna malt – dominate the palate with powerful notes of caramel and spicy hops. The finish is long and dry, packed with toasted malt, caramel, tart fruit and bitter hops.

XT 4, also 4.2 per cent, uses malt from Belgium alongside English Maris Otter. The hops are both English and American. The bright amber/red beer has a powerful blast of caramel on the nose, with hints of chocolate and spices. Bitter hops breakthrough in the mouth, with an oatmeal biscuit maltiness, caramel and chocolate. The finish is bittersweet, with toasted malt, caramel, chocolate, spices and bitter hops.

“We’re running fast and keeping all the tanks full,” Russell says. Beers are delivered to pubs in London, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Oxfordshire and as far as Swindon. In the St Albans area, you will find them in the Blacksmiths, Hare & Hounds, Six Bells and White Hart Tap and further afield in the Plough at Tyttenhanger and the Woodman at Wild Hill.

You can pick beer up from the brewery shop on Saturdays between 9.30am and 12.30pm – XT Brewery, Notley Farm, Long Crendnon, Bucks HP18 9ER; 01844 208310; www.xtbrewing.com.

*Follow Roger on Twitter @RogerProtzBeer. He edits the CAMRA Good Beer Guide.