Drone Valley Beers

Date August 13, 2018

In the mid seventies my parents’ jobs were relocated from London to Sheffield, about 160 miles north, and they bought a house in ‘Dronfield’ – a small town midway between Sheffield and Chesterfield, named from the River Drone that runs through it.

I was reminded of the River Drone when a good friend recently presented me with a selection of brews from the ‘Drone Valley Brewery’. The brewery was founded in 2015 as a ‘community benefit society’ which sets out to return its profits to the community. As such it’s unique as a brewery, the only independent Community Brewery in the UK.

The brewery was built by local people and all their beers are brewed by volunteers.

Its brews, served in 500ml bottles, are named from local features, which I’ll cover individually.

They’re also all bottle conditioned (if they appear cloudy in the photographs) and short dated – so presumably unpasteurised. They also carry a ‘not suitable for vegetarians’ warning, presumably because of the finings used.

So, to the beers.

Dronny Bottom Bitter 3.7% ABV

The main road between Chesterfield and Sheffield runs through the bottom of the Drone Valley, and is known to all residents, affectionately, as ‘Dronfield or Dronny Bottom’.

The brewery describes this as “a malty taste with caramel hints give a less bitter finish“.

It pours a dark copper colour, with a rich, tight off-white head.

The nose is crisp but malty.

It’s flavour is perhaps less malty than was promised, but overall it has a good balance, achieves what it sets out to, which according to our beer rating system merits four Brewclub stars.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Gosforth Gold 4% ABV

It was to the Gosforth Valley that my parents actually moved in 1975, the valley was being developed as a new estate and termed “Dronfield Woodhouse”, they lived there for about twenty years.
The brewery describe Gosforth Gold as a “classic golden session pale” brewed using Brewer’s Gold, Muttlefruh and Cascade hops to “give a citrus aroma and grassy mouthfeel.

It pours, as one might expect, a pale gold, with a crisp, generous head that’s slow to fade.The nose is slightly creamy, more than citrus, that’ll be the exotic  Muttlefruh hops.

The flavour is dry, crisp, almost metallic, but not in an unpleasant way, I’m not sure what a “grassy mouthfeel” actually is, it doesn’t sound particularly appealing, but on a hot summer’s day it’s a very refreshing brew, and at just 4% it’s not too dangerous to reach for a second or third. .

Again, achieving what it set out to.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Fanshawe Blonde 4.8% ABV

Fanshawe Blonde is named for the Town’s ‘Henry Fanshawe’ school, founded by founded in 1578 by Thomas Fanshawe, by the will of his uncle Henry Fanshawe. Both served as ‘Remembrancer of the Exchequer’ in the 16th Century, it being an ancient judicial post in the legal system of England and Wales. Fanshawes were connected with the role from 1533 to 1716.

‘Fanshawe Blonde’ may refer to the colour of the beer, it being a strong golden pale ale, or possibly to students of the school – I’m sure my younger brother dated several ‘Fanshawe Blondes’ in his time.

The brewery describe the beer as being “well balanced using Cardinal, Mittlefruh and cascade hop varieties give citrus notes and a wholesome mouthfeel.

Again, we’re treated to a pale gold, with a crisp, generous white head.

The nose is a bit more exotic than Gosforth Gold, a bit more citrus showing through.

The flavour is again, dry and hoppy, crisp, but without the metallic notes. It might be the extra potency, but this tastes fuller, more balanced, but again, very refreshing.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Drone Valley IPA 5.2% ABV

Finally, I turn my attention to the strongest of the four brews I was given, and perhaps the hardest to get right. There are so many different interpretations of IPA these days, it’s a very broad church.

That said, they’ve brewed it using ‘Brewers Gold, Challenger and Cascade hops’ a mix of old school and new world hops that they claim ‘give floral notes and a pleasant citrus feel’.

So, it pours a familiar pale gold, but the nose is disappointing, I was beginning to get concerned.

No matter, there’s a good hop bite in there, not a ‘hop bomb’ by any means, but a good, crisp, dry, hoppy IPA.

Rating: ★★★★☆

In Conclusion

The Drone Valley Brewery boasts that it’s Britain’s only independent Community Brewery with profits invested in the local community.

They brew good beers, particularly (or not surprisingly) for a brewery run by volunteers.

I spotted another of their brews in the Coach & Horses, a Thornbridge pub in Stubley Hollow, Dronfield, so hopefully they have the backing of the community.

Back in the day, Dronfield was best known for a pub that served a well kept pint of Teley Bitter and a local in the Gosforth Valley that served Shipstones ales.

All strength to the Drone Valley Brewery, I’ll look their brews out next time I’m in the area.

Their website can be found here and, in the interests of accuracy, I’ve tagged these as ‘Yorkshire Beers’, Dronfield actually lies about three miles over the border into Derbyshire. 

Innis & Gunn IPA – 5.6% ABV

Date August 6, 2018

Innis & Gunn were founded by Dougal Gunn Sharp in 2003, a sort of  ‘gypsy brewery’ (brewing using their own equipment in other breweries’ buildings) and have been brewing and ageing beers in whisky barrels since then, they’re well known for ales aged in Bourbon and Rum Barrels – using their proprietary ‘Oakerator’® maturation vessels, produsing heady flavoursome brews.

In 2015 Innis & Gunn decided that they needed their own brewery and launched their own ‘BeerBond’ to raise funds. The ‘BeerBonds’ offered an annual return of 7.25% (gross) in cash, or 9% (gross) in vouchers to spend with the brewery. They managed to raise over £3 million and subsequently acquired the Inveralmond Brewery, in Perth, about 45 miles north of Edinburgh.

The Inveralmond team, who’d been brewing since 1997 continue to operate from the premises.

In 2013 Innis & Gunn started brewing Lagers and an IPA, and recently a friend gave me a bottle of of their IPA to try.

Innis And Gunn IPA @ The Brewclub

It pours a peach/apricot colour, with a loose white head that fades slowly, leaving a healthy laving down the glass.

The nose is dry and spicy with hints of citrus.

The flavour is a fine sweet and dry blend, earthy caramel and toffee underpinning citrus top notes.

All in all it’s a fine IPA, not quite a classic while, at 5.6%, it’s a tad too potent for a session IPA.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Tynt Meadow Trappist Ale 7.4% ABV

Date July 18, 2018

What can I say? Except to be your indulgence and tolerance. Changes in my life over the last couple of years have meant that it takes something really special to motivate me to sit down and analyse/review a beer – rather than simply sit and enjoy it.

And then I learned about a British brew that’s been accredited as a Trappist brew – as ‘something special’ goes, that’s as good as it gets.

Trappist beer – you might recall – is brewed by Trappist monks to raise funds to enable them to continue their good works, rather than ‘Abbey’ brews that are ‘monastic’ in style but simply brewed (possibly) within driving distance of a Trappist monastery.

Mount St Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire is only the twelfth Abbey that is allowed to call its beer ‘Trappist’, the other eleven comprise six in Belgium, two in the Netherlands, and one each in Austria, Italy and the USA.  

Examples of Trappist brews include WestmalleChimay, Orval and La Trappe, while Abbey brews include L’AffligemLeffe and Corsendonk.

Tynt Meadow takes its name from the plot of land on which the Abbey was founded in Leicestershire in September 1835, although Cistercian Monks had been worshipping in England after they were dispossessed from their properties in France.

The monks decided to start brewing when their monastery fam became unprofitable, and they needed to raise funds to maintain their Abbey. It’s been a five year project, but the beer was formally launched a month or so ago, and is only now becoming available through specialist brewmongers.

At 7.4% it should be considered alongside ‘Dubbel’ brews, but the Abbey has stated that their objective was to brew a beer that is English in character, rather than try to emulate Belgian brews.

Tynt Meadow Trappist Ale @ Thebrewclub.com

It pours a very dark brown, with a mocha coloured head that fades slowly, lacing down the – rather nice Tynt Meadow ‘chalice’.

There’s not too much nose to speak of, but the flavour is rich and warming. There are hints of pepper, dark chocolate, liquorice and dark fruit cake.

It’s a very special brew, essentially Trappist but quintessentially English, I really like it.

Rating: ★★★★½

Wilderness Brewing – update

Date April 17, 2018

I love being able to help people follow their dreams, many years ago I met James Watt and Martin Dickie at a beer expo. They were nice guys and I liked their beers, they were just setting up Brewdog.

So when, a year or so later, they launched an ‘Equity For Punks’ round of fundraising, I invested a couple of hundred pounds. Brewdog has gone from strength to strength and my initial investment has grown substantially.

Brewdog Card @ The Brewclub

Similarly, when Mike and Nate launched a crowdfunding appeal on Kickstarter, to found the Wilderness Brewery, I invested some money to help them follow their dream.

Wilderness Brewing

I received a T Shirt and bartenders’ ‘key’ bottle opener; being based in Blighty I wasn’t expecting samples of beers or invites to any openings. I also received a few updates as the guys sought to set up their brewery.

Then it went quiet. I presumed my money was gone, but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Until last week, when I received an email from Mike and Nat. The email said that “after several years of holding onto the hope that the brewery would materialize… we have come to terms with the fact that this project will not be possible in the foreseeable future.”

It’s a disappointment but, here in Blghty at least, there are signs that micro-breweries are being thinned out. The good ones are going from strength to strength, and some – like Meantime and Camden are being snapped up by the ‘big boys, but around twenty microbreweries are closing in Britain each year.

Mike and Nate added : “We want to give back the money you donated to the campaign…at least as much as possible… our goal is to, at a minimum, reconcile any ill will that this venture has caused among those who might be upset with Wilderness.”

Fair play to them, it’s sad that they weren’t able to realise their dream, but at least they didn’t ride off into the sunset with all of our money.

I wish them well, maybe next time guys.

Thornbridge – Mr Smith Gose to Washington 4% ABV

Date April 4, 2018

Did you see what he did there?

And ‘he’ in this case is Josh Smith, a digital designer and amateur brewer from Stoke Newington in North London. ‘Mr Smith’ was brewed by Josh and won the 2017 Great British Homebrew Challenge – a competition run by Thornbridge ant British Supermarket ‘Waitrose’.

2017 was the fourth year of the competition, previous winners ‘Raindrops on Roses’ (reviewed here), ‘Rhubarb Saison’ (reviewed here) and ‘Vienna IPA’ (reviewed here) have all been fascinating. And while I’m late in reviewing this one, I’m looking forward to it.

This is actually my first Gose beer, the style originates from the small mining town of Goslar, Germany. It’s a sour beer  that traditionally should be tart, fruity, and refreshing. The primary ingredients in gose beers are wheat, barley, coriander, and salt. The brew predates the reinheitsgebot ( dating back to somewhere between 1181 and 1470 and so was exempt from the purity law’s restrictions.

Josh explains ‘The beer was inspired by a watermelon, feta and mint salad recipe I really like. Watermelon works so well with salty flavours and I naturally made the connection to Gose –  a sour and salty beer… This beer can be made into Mexican inspired cocktails too, like Michelada, and is also delicious mixed with tequila and lime.

I’ve not tried a Michelado (I will) but I am partial to a Lagerita.

Mr Smith Gose To Washinton 45 ABV @ The Brewclub

It pours a rich peachy colour, but with a lot of sediment that clouds the brew. There are distinct notes of watermelon in the nose, that’s something I never thought I’d be writing!

The flavour is indeed tart, but less so than Thornbridge’s other ‘tart’ brew (reviewed here), there is a gentle sourness and a hint of salt. This is all balanced by that watermelon, producing a beer that’s both refreshing and intriguing. It would go down a storm on a summer evening.

Sarah Hammond, Waitrose beer buyer, says: ‘I always look forward to judging on this panel, as the beers created in this country by people in their kitchens and sheds are always so innovative and fun. This beer is no exception and is the first watermelon beer we’ve launched.’

Rating: ★★★★½

And anyway, going back to the name of this brew, anybody who quotes Frank Capra is alright by me. Anyone for “It’s a Wonderful Lite”?