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
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