Sommerset Newsletter, Summer 1999
By Adrian Tierney-Jones
Saturday September 26 was a very wet day. It rained. And
rained. But at least 14 members of the Somerset CAMRA branch
were dry and snug in a coach as we headed east to Wiltshire
and a visit to the brewery formerly known as Bunces. Since
the summer, the Netheravon brewery has been called Stonehenge.
Bunces began trading in 1984, but since 1993 has been run
by Danish Master Brewer Stig Anker Andersen, when he became
'fed up with brewing cheap lager for the supermarkets' and
fancied a change. He saw Bunces for sale in the Brewers
Guardian and that was that.
As we arrived at the brewery, hidden away behind an estate
of redbrick houses, he was saying goodbye to a local farmer
who was taking the spent grains of malt for his pigs. Stig
is keen on recycling: used hops go to a gardener.
We dashed in out of the rain and Stig told us the history
of the brewery which is situated in a former electrical
power plant. It had been built in 1914 to supply power to
a nearby airstrip using the water power of the River Avon,
which could be seen flowing past the loo window! After this
the building went through a variety of uses including a
venue for boxing matches, a plastics factory and during
World War II the MOD used it to build scale models of the
German cities the RAF were pounding. Nowadays though it
is used to produce some exceptional real ales.
Stonehenge Brewery produces 50 barrels a week. It has five
fermenters and when we visited Stig had been busy due to
demand from Wetherspoons for their autumn beer festival.
'It has been a good year for us,' he smiled before inviting
us to see the brewery. Following the sure-footed brewer
we climbed up ladders through three levels, grateful that
we hadn't yet started drinking.
This height allows Stonehenge to operate in the style of
a tower brewery. Malt is hoisted to the top where it is
milled with an old farm mill before being tumbled down into
the mash tun below. On the ground at the bottom end of this
chain the coppers are heated by direct gas fired burners.
Malts used include pale ale, crystal, torrified wheat and
black malt; as for hops: Goldings, Cascade, First Gold and
Brambling Cross, while the yeast comes from an original
Then it was time for sampling as Stig led us to three handpumps.
First of all we tried the Best Bitter (4.1%), which has
a delicious aroma leading to a malty and bitter taste with
a hint of fruit. The aftertaste was satisfyingly bitter.
Then there was Heel Stone (4.3%), which had the honour of
being the first new beer since Bunces became Stonehenge.
This was equally excellent.
Finally we got stuck into Stig Swig (5%), which is brewed
with the herb sweet gale (the brewery has special permission
to gather it from the New Forest). This herb was apparently
used by the Vikings to add flavour to and preserve ale as
hops were not present in the frozen north of Scandinavia.
It had a deliciously fruity nose which some thought reminiscent
of blackcurrant; on the palate fruitiness was followed by
hop bitterness and dryness. There was a long dry finish
at the back of the palate. It was very drinkable so many
went back for seconds and thirds! Soon though it was time
to leave Stig, who lives with his family in a flat over
the brewery, to enjoy the rest of his Saturday.
Outside it was still raining and we joined the Saturday
afternoon traffic going into Salisbury, our destination
the Hop Back Brewery pub the Wyndham Arms, which is where
the creators of Summer Lightning first started. Here drinkers
began on GFH (3.5%), before ascending through a delicious
range of beers which included Summer Lightning (5%), Crop
Circle (4.2%), Thunderstorm (5%) and Powerhouse (5%). John
Gilbert, the founder of the brewery, was in enjoying a pint
and promised to look into a trip to his brewery next year
(see diary for details).
The afternoon passed fairly fast with the rain continuing
and once more it was time to get on the coach. The day's
drinking had not ended though for we were soon at the excellent
Queen's Arms in Corton Denham, not far from Cadbury Castle,
where the landlord kindly opened up early for us. Bowls
of roast potatoes were handed round and Archer's BB and
Golden, Hook Norton's Old Hooky and Cotleigh's Tawny and
their ever excellent Harvest were all available in splendid
condition. As we left at 7.30pm the landlord could be seen
in the gathering gloom doing a very non-PC impersonation
of Basil Fawlty in the 'Germans' episode. Tired and well-watered
we arrived back in Taunton just before 9pm. It was still
Thanks to Stig and Robert and Cindy at the Queen's Arms
for their kind hospitality and to Tom for organising the