Ash Vine Brewery
Somerset Magazine 1998
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
Last November East Somerset brewery Ash Vine celebrated
ten years in the real ale business. They've come a long
way since they first started brewing beer at the site of
the old Bishop's Brewery in Wellington - and they're about
to go further. Ash Vine have just left their home since
1989, the White Hart in the picturesque village of Trudoxhill,
for a brand new, state-of-the-art plant in nearby Frome.
Space at the White Hart had become rather cramped. 'We
haven't got enough room for anything. Everything is at full
stretch,' sales director Chris Clarke said before the move.
He was talking in a portakabin so small you couldn't swing
a firkin in it. Memories were still fresh about the time
they had to knock part of a wall down just to install a
vital part of brewing equipment, a new copper.
Ash Vine was set up by managing director Rob Viney when
he was running The White Hart, a delightful old farmhouse-style
pub, which is well worth a visit in itself. One of the beers
he sold came from Bishops Brewery, set up by Cotleigh founder
Ted Bishop (now in charge of Wellington-based Juwards).
When Bishops stopped brewing in 1987 Rob bought the equipment
and Ash Vine started up on the site of Bishops Brewery.
Eighteen months later the business moved to Trudoxhill where
the old stables and blacksmith's behind the pub were knocked
about a bit and a spanking new micro-brewery emerged. Hence
the use of a hammer and anvil on Ash Vine's pump clips.
Like a lot of micro-breweries in those days it started
small. Now, it's one of Somerset's busiest breweries sending
beer all over the county and across the country. It doesn't
end there either. Further afield the company recently announced
that their beers had been exported to Sweden and gone down
very well. There were also plans to introduce American drinkers
to the taste of East Somerset with a licensing deal which
would allow Ash Vine's beers to be brewed across the Atlantic
using yeast sent over from Frome.
Ash Vine has long been at the forefront of real ale production
in Somerset. Their portfolio includes Bitter; Challenger,
a refreshing reddish-brown beer with an inviting hoppy nose,
a real challenge to the palate; Black Bess Porter and Hop
& Glory, a blockbusting premium ale with well-balanced
malt and hops followed by a satisfying bitterish finish.
They also produce a different beer every month, usually
with a daft name.
Last year's theme was 'pub nightmares' with individual
beers christened the likes of Kill Or Cure and Trouble &
Strife. Special events are also commemorated such as Euro
96 and Wimbledon while the 10th birthday celebrations were
marked by the brewing of a beer called X-Traordinary. Despite
this excursion into the world of special beers, Ash Vine
are however keeping a happy balance between caution and
overkill. It's all very well making special beers but a
brewery's bread and butter lies in the regular ales which
drinkers know they can get every time they go out.
'We offer a fantastic variety of different beers,' says
Clarke. 'Any interesting event that takes our fancy we can
have a bit of fun with. And the flippant answer to why we
do it is that it is the hardest thing to make beers taste
the same but making it taste different is easy.'
As for the raw materials: hop pellets are used with Goldings,
Fuggles, Challenger and a bit of Target favoured; Styrian
Gold occasionally makes an appearance as well. Malt comes
from two sources and includes pale, maris otter, crystal,
black and chocolate. The yeast is an original strain from
Buckley's in Wales and they have had it for eight years.
Water comes from the mains. 'If we had a spring it would
be nice,' admits Clarke, 'but at least with mains water
you know it is reasonably consistent. With a spring you
have to do a lot of water analysis to make sure nothing
has seeped in.'
Ash Vine is first and foremost a business, but Chris Clarke
is equally firm in the company's support of good quality
beer. 'We are committed to real ale,' says Clarke, 'but
having said that we're not going to brew stuff as it was
done a couple of centuries ago. If we fancy adding fruit
or herbs we will. For instance, we add liquorice roots to
some of the beers. Just mash the roots or chop them up and
boil them with the hops, it adds a smoky flavour.'
Another area in which they have excelled is in bottle-conditioned
beers. Last year bottled Hop & Glory won a silver medal
at the International Food Exhibition. Beer connoisseurs
should also try and taste the much rarer Penguin Porter,
so-called because the label gives info on nearby Marwell
Zoo, which has a penguin sanctuary.
In a world in which everything comes packaged and pasteurised
for convenience it's good to see Ash Vine's commitment to
quality. No wonder some wags suggest that East Somerset
is the land of Hop and Glory.