Moor Beer

What's Brewing, 1996

By Adrian Tierney-Jones

You'd expect dairy farmer Arthur Frampton to be crying into his beer given the confusion that surrounds the current BSE crisis. However, he's been brewing his own beer instead and early signs suggest that the success of Moor Beer Company in Somerset is set to wipe away those BSE blues.

'As a small farmer it was getting to the stage of a joke,' says Arthur, who's been a member of CAMRA for a couple of years, 'luckily we started brewing as the BSE thing broke and it became a real incentive. BSE has knocked things for six and I am glad we did things when we did. First bit of luck we've had for ages.'

Set in rolling fields around the village of Ashcott, which sits on the Polden Hills above the Somerset Levels, his farm has been worked on by four generations of Framptons. Two sheepdogs welcome visitors in the cluttered yard and keep trying to sneak into the disused cow shed that is now home to a collection of wooden-sided brewing vessels. Arthur's wife Annette has to keep shooing them away. Moor Beer is a family operation with Annette also helping out on the admin, design and brewing side while Arthur's father, Mr Frampton senior, does most of the deliveries.

Moor Beer's debut ale is the excellent Withy Cutter, 3.8 per cent, a pale brown beer, slightly malty with a moderate bitter finish and very tasty and refreshing - the name, by the way, refers to the Somerset Levels' withy-beds which are the raw stuff of wicker baskets and furniture.

'I had always liked my pint,' says Arthur. 'I'd had a few naff ones and thought I could do as well if not better. I'd never done home brewing and went straight into the deep end. Got the equipment from Total Brewing in Worcester, did a couple of courses on brewing and the first brew was on February 29 this year.' (Which was just in time for local CAMRA members to make their acquaintance with the brew at the branch's Taunton beer festival in March.)

Additional aid came from friends John Ditchfield and Keith Darke. Even Sedgemoor District Council were surprisingly helpful, passing the application for change of use of building within a month. Arthur thought it would take at least six.

Moor Beer Company is a five-barrel brewery and has three five-barrel and one ten-barrel vessels for fermenting. Four brews a week are carried out, with most of the malt - mainly pale, crystal plus a bit of chocolate - coming from Beestons of Nottingham. Lager malt comes from Tuckers of Newton Abbot. Hops are English: target, fuggles, gouldings and the liquor is good plain Somerset water. As for the yeast it's a dried strain from Total Brewing, though there are plans to skim their own. But, says Arthur, they are trying to get the beer side of things straight before doing anything so adventurous. An added bonus of being based on a farm is that used malt goes straight to the pigs. Devoted Archers fans might to be interested to know that the porkers are Gloucester Old Spots.

Moor Beer's success has far outweighed Arthur Frampton's initial expectations with local drinkers taking to heart the company's slogan - Drink Moor Beer! After all, they had only meant to do two brews a week but that has already doubled to four. The main problem they've encountered - and fellow micro-brewers might nod their heads in agreement - is the slow return of casks from pubs outside the area.

'Certain distributors have an horrendous cask turnaround with eight weeks being the norm,' says Arthur. 'I have 130/140 casks and it's a lot of money to invest to buy more. We deal with Little Ale Cart who take five or six casks a month to Sheffield, while Lock Stock and Barrel take it down to Devon and Brighton.

'We try and keep casks local because I can go and collect them. If I know roughly how long something is going to last then I can be outside the back door to take it away and fill it up again.'

Withy Cutter may be the company's flagship beer and going down a bomb in the local area, but it has been joined by Chandos Gold, which Arthur brewed for the 50th anniversary of the arts centre of nearby Bridgwater. It's a light flavoured, golden coloured, refreshing premium ale, 5 per cent, with a marvellous hoppy back of the throat finish. Visitors to Bridgwater can find it at the arts centre and selected other outlets until November - so it's well worth developing an interest in the arts to track it down.

As for the future, Arthur says it all comes down to the casks. 'Awards would be nice,' he says, 'but again that would generate too much interest and you would get people wanting more and it's back to the casks. Casks coming back empty is as good a reward. You feel you're probably doing something right.'

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Adrian Tierney-Jones