Lock down in Berkhamsted

Haresfoot Brewery

Haresfoot Brewery - Credit: Archant

The Magnificent Seven have restored brewing pride to Berkhamsted. When the Haresfoot Brewery was officially opened by the town’s mayor on April 24 it ended the 100 year beer drought since the last Berkhamsted brewery closed.

Haresfoot is the love child of seven directors who formed a social network group in the town to pool their resources and further their interests. Most of them were either semi-retired or worked as business consultants. When one of them – Scott Carter – said he was a keen home brewer and dreamt of running his own small craft brewery, the proverbial light bulb clicked on.

The seven formed a consortium that raised the money to buy and install brewing equipment. Scott Carter had worked in the oil industry and other directors knew about fermentation as former bio-chemists. One even has a Masters degree in the science of fermentation. Another key member of the group, Nick Heath, is a chartered surveyor and used his experience to identify possible sites for the brewery.

They looked at space on a farm called Haresfoot. That didn’t work out but they kept the name when they finally moved to their home on the River Park Estate alongside the Grand Union Canal. The building is a former print works with 4,500 square feet of space. As Scott says, there’s plenty of room for expansion.

The first beer from Haresfoot is a bright copper-coloured bitter called Lock Keeper’s Launch Ale.

The name pays homage to the Grand Union and its locks but also recalls the name of Berkhamsted’s last brewery, Locke & Smith. It was bought by the Watford brewery, Benskins – the biggest brewery in Hertfordshire – which closed Locke & Smith 100 years ago. Benskins in turn was bought and closed by the national brewer Ind Coope in 1957.

One of Ind Coope’s breweries was based in Burton-on-Trent and there’s a further nod in the direction of brewing history with Lock Keeper’s, as Scott Carter says it’s a Burton-style beer. The colour is right but it has a more southern hop bite than most beers from the Midlands.

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The raw materials are all English. Scott and his partners are keen to use local ingredients. The main malted barley has the decidedly beery name of Tipple and is grown in Suffolk. Darker crystal, caramalt and chocolate malts are added for colour and flavour while two English hop varieties, Challenger and Goldings, add deep bitterness. Local water is hard and Scott doesn’t treat it in any way in order to give the beer a true Berkhamsted character.

At present Lock Keeper’s is the only beer but more are planned. It’s a distinctive beer with a rich malt aroma with a hint of chocolate from the darker grain and booming hop notes. Raisin fruit appears on the palate alongside malt and tart hops, with a long, dry, fruity and hoppy finish.

A golden ale is in the pipe line and may be made with imported American hops to give it the citrus fruit character that’s popular with younger drinkers. As Berkhamsted is the birthplace of Graham Greene, Scott and his partners are also considering a beer that pays homage to the great novelist. That would be yet another beer-and-history twist, for Greene was a member of the family behind the Greene King brewing dynasty in Bury St Edmunds.

As well as brew house, fermenting and conditioning rooms, and malt store, the site has a large area on the ground floor that’s being developed into a bar and tasting area. Upstairs more space will be turned into a meeting room and conference area. The brewery shop is open Thursday to Saturday for customers to take away polypins of beer.

Brewed alongside the Grand Union, it’s fair to say the beer has gone down well in the Boot, Six Bells and White Hart Tap in St Albans and will appear later this year at the St Albans beer festival. “Berko” is back in brewing.

n Haresfoot Brewery, 2 River Park, Billet Lane, Berkhamsted HP3 1HL; 01442 862878; www.haresfoot.com.

Roger Protz edits the Good Beer Guide. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerProtzBeer.