Brewery Trip Report: Ross-on-Wye

Report on the recent three-day trip to Branch Trip to Ross-on-Wye – 2nd to 4th March 2007 by Vanessa Hartigan and Simon Clarke

Friday 2nd March 2007, by Vanessa

A bright, frosty morning saw us collected by the mini-bus in Dorchester. The unexpected sunshine made for a scenic drive north through the West Country to our first stop, Wickwar Brewing Co., Wickwar, Gloucester.

Arriving at 10.30am and straight in at the deep end, we sampled their ‘BOB’ (Brand Oak Bitter) at 4%, ‘Rite Flanker’ (a rugby special brew) at 4.3%, and a super, medium-dry cider, ‘Screech’, deceptively drinkable at 6%.

We watched an industry film about the more technical side of brewing and saw the heart of the increasing action in their grand new home over the road. As they put it: “Such has been the success of our brewing at the ‘Arnolds Cooperage’, it was obvious that we needed a bigger home, so it was inevitable that we would move (lock, stock and many barrels) to the original Arnold, Perrett & Co Brewery… Just across the road next to Brunel’s original broad gauge Gloucester to Bristol railway line”. A fine bit of Victorian architecture it is too, some of the party being as fascinated with the structural beam and column work as they were with the beer being brewed under the impressive roof!

From there we moved on to a simple lunch at the ‘Salutation Inn’, at Ham, near Berkeley. An interesting little brew-pub in the wilds of South Gloucestershire, serving several of their own brews including ‘Kestrel’ at 3.7%, Merlin at 3.6% and a delicious and very welcome northern-style mild, ‘Osprey Dark’, 3.9% – a very pleasant way to wash your dinner down!

On, then, to Whittingtons brewery, so named due to the local link to Dick Whittington himself, legend suggesting he was born in the nearby hamlet of Pauntley. Whittingtons is a relatively new micro-brewery venture based at the Three Choirs Vineyard estate. In complete contrast to our first visit of the day, this is a modern, purpose-built micro and the head brewer a genial chap with a degree in fine art, who discovered a love of real ale and a passion and skill for the craft of brewing only after he’d taken on the job!

We passed a pleasant hour looking out across the vine plantations, sampling their flagship brew ‘Cat’s Whiskers’, a tawny beer at 4.2%, and a smooth session ale, ‘Nine Lives’, at an easy drinking 3.6%. The winery shop held our attention still longer, with wine and champagne tastings, pickles, biscuits and handmade chocolates providing delicious distractions.

Our last stop of the day was Malvern Hills Brewery, a minor miracle of brewing taking place in what has to be one of the smallest spaces (think garden shed and outhouse!) used to produce multi-award-winning ales. We dropped in to deliver the certificate awarding them 1st place at Beerex 2007, the 19th Dorchester Beer Festival, for their ‘Black Pear’, a pale gold brew at 4.4%, which, of course, we took the opportunity to sample once again.

From here we headed off to the Royal Hotel, Ross-on-Wye for a much-needed soak in the bath, followed by dinner, bed and breakfast, in anticipation of a busy day to come.

Saturday 3rd March 2007, by Simon

Another day of brilliant sunshine dawned (earlier for some than for others, with a hardcore splinter group making an early-hours assignation to a local cider provider!) and everyone was in good spirits for a faultless trip beginning (for the rest of us) with a visit to Wye Valley Brewery, Stoke Lacy.

At the invitation of Vernon Amor (son of the founder and former Guinness brewer, Peter Amor), mid-morning once again found us sampling some superb ales and enjoying traditional pub games in the comfort of the shop and visitor centre, now based at the old Symonds Cider Factory site, moved to in April 2002 after outgrowing their previous home, and continuing outlet, The Barrels pub in Hereford.

A site tour, with enthusiastic commentary from Vernon, a true perfectionist with obvious passion for his craft, was followed by some more ‘quality control’ of the ales on offer. These included ‘Butty Bach’, (Welsh for ‘my little friend’) a dark gold ale at 4.5%, the award-winning smooth ‘H.P.A.’ (Hereford Pale Ale) at 4.0%, and current Beer of the Month, ‘Auld Sara the Hare’, a warm chestnut ale at 4.2%.

Next stop was just a short distance away at the Hereford CAMRA Country Pub of the Year 2006, the Green Dragon at Bishops Frome: A super village local with low ceilings, open fires and an ale selection offering six of the best including a special going by the name of ‘Dragon’s Brew’ at 4% provided by a (secret!) Yorkshire supplier.

The last brewery visit of the day was to the Spinning Dog Brewery based in the Victory pub in Hereford, complete with a magnificent ship-shaped bar! Seven ales and a selection of ciders were available to sample, including, from Spinning Dog’s own mash tuns, ‘Herefordshire Owd Bull’ at 3.9%, ‘Hereford Organic Bitter’ at 3.7%, ‘Mutley’s Revenge’ at 4.8% ‘H.L.A.’ (Herefordshire Light Ale) at 4.0%, and ‘Oatmeal Stout’ at 4.4%. Also available to sample was ‘Browning’s Triple Hop’ at 4% from the Brunswick brew-pub in Derby (a 12-barrel tower-style brewplant housed in what is claimed to be the first purpose-built Railwayman’s pub in the world) and ‘Bucking Fastard’, also at 4%, from Northumberland Breweries Ltd based at the Earth Balance eco-farm in Bedlington, Northumbria.

By now the pace was beginning to tell, so the final excursion was just down the road to the aforementioned Barrels pub for one last opportunity to sample the offerings from Wye Valley Brewery. Quite a day!

We headed back to the Royal Hotel for a relaxing evening sampling various cuisine in and around Ross-on-Wye, and a second comfortable night, before our departure after breakfast on Sunday morning. A busy weekend, a superb time had by all.

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