Column: Chips off the old block at Potato Shed

The Potato Shed brewery

The Potato Shed brewery - Credit: Archant

THE Potato Shed isn’t the most romantic address for a new brewery but they really are making beer there, not moonshine vodka. The Three Brewers, St Albans’ latest brewing venture, enjoys a superb setting on Symondshyde Farm off Coopers Green Lane.

Horses crop the grass in fields alongside, the farmer lives in some style in a palatial house while Symondshyde Great Wood offers excellent facilities for walkers.

And the Potato Shed is not a pokey lock-up. It has two storeys and plenty of space for expansion. The three Brewers involved – Mark Fanner and the brothers Pete and Nick Zivkovic – may need to expand as their first beer, Classic English Ale, is flying out of the pumps in several of the city’s pubs.

This is a brewery with serious intent. It’s been planned with meticulous care since August of last year and several test brews were made before a commercial beer was launched. Mark Fanner worked for both Whitbread and Guinness on the marketing side and he knows the pub trade well.

“Brewing is in my blood,” he says. “I decided after years in marketing that I wanted to make beer, not just sell it. When I sat down with Pete and Nick to draw up a business plan, we came to a simple decision: let’s do it!”

The three were inspired by the fact that St Albans, with more pubs per square mile than any other town or city in the country, offers great opportunities for local brewers.

Pete and Nick Zivkovic, despite that imposing surname, hail from Pinner in Middlesex but their father came to this country from Serbia following World War Two. Pete worked in building design and has put his skills to good use in turning a shed used for storing spuds and more recently a print works into one suitable for making beer.

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His younger brother Nick learnt the brewing skills at Digfield Ales, a craft brewery in Barnwell, Northamptonshire, which is also based on a farm. The brewing kit, which can produce eight barrels of beer at a time, comes from the Crondall Brewery in Hampshire.

Even the strongest beer is made of 93 per cent water and the Three Brewers are fortunate in having a constant supply of first-rate water from a borehole on the farm, just 40 yards from the brewery. It can supply five million gallons of water a year, more than enough to satisfy the Three Brewers’ needs.

Mark and Nick said the water is hard. They gave me a taste – shock, horror: beer writer drinks water in a brewery – and I found it sharp, flinty and delicious. The brewers add calcium to ensure their beer has the ideal aroma and flavour for a traditional English bitter.

Mark, wearing his marketing hat, says he wanted to avoid any of the bizarre and sometimes silly names given to modern beers. He settled on Classic English Ale and the beer lives up to the name. It’s brewed with all English ingredients: pale barley malt, darker crystal malt and a touch of wheat, with Challenger, Fuggles and Goldings hops.

The Three Brewers are not going down the route of extreme, American-style beers with massive hop bitterness. Classic English Ale, 4 per cent, has, Pete says, “broad appeal. We don’t want a niche beer. We want to brew what we like to drink.”

The beer has a bright copper colour and a rich aroma of “fresh bread” malt, tart fruit from fermentation and a peppery and spicy hop note. There’s a pleasing hint of sultana fruit in the mouth from the crystal malt and a fine balance of malt and hops. The finish is lingering and ends with a superb juicy malt and spicy hop note.

The Three Brewers are working on plans for a summer ale and hope to have three or four regular beers available by the end of the year. At present Classic English Ale is on sale – if supplies have not run out – in the Blacksmiths Arms, Boot, Lower Red Lion and White Lion in St Albans, the Brocket Arms in Ayot St Lawrence and the Horse and Groom in Old Hatfield.

Cellar Door Wines on the Verulam Industrial Estate plans to sell Classic English Ale in “carry kegs” for home consumption and will add bigger 36-pint polypins when they become available. The Three Brewers also plan to bottle their beers in the future.

Beer is buzzing down on the farm – and there’s not a potato in sight.

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