Along with some of the beer industry’s top bigwigs, North West Beer’s Katie Taylor (that’s me) was invited to join Hawkshead Brewery to celebrate the opening of their new plant in Flookburgh, Cumbria. Here’s what she – ahem, I – thought about it.
Arriving at Hawkshead Brewery‘s tap room and “new” brewery in Staveley (it’s still known as new to a lot of people), we climbed onto a waiting coach school-trip-like, and headed down country lanes to Flookburgh. What a shame, I thought, that so many people unfamiliar with Cumbria are being dragged through it in the torrential downpour of Storm Callum. The fields were soggy and the tall roadside hedges were wind-torn, and despite our warm dampness, there was a slight chill in the air, as though the people around me weren’t convinced they were incredibly lucky to have been invited to spend time in the Greatest Place On Earth. As we reached Grange-Over-Sands the muddy brown water of Morecambe Bay rippled with frosty peaks like a cappuccino meringue, and as it splashed treacherously close to the post-war villas beside it, I have to admit, my own blind adoration for the Lake District was beginning to lose a bit of rose-tintedness. I started to worry if our hotel would still be upright when we returned to Kendal.
Bravely our coach driver lurched on, and we arrived in Flookburgh safe, sound and only a little bit shaken. On the outside, Hawkshead Brewery’s new brewing unit is a warehouse, badged with their logo, green like the hills nearby, but revealing none of the shiny new secrets that were hidden inside. Walking in, I squinted into the staff room window – nosy journalist’s prerogative – and made my way into the huge open space of the storage area.
It was quite amazing to see such a huge space being used to brew beer in the South Lakes. The kit itself is actually one of the smallest Krones on the market, but that still makes it a behemoth of a thing. Towering over the party in fresh, gleaming stainless steel, we took turns to tour the space, climbing high on metal walkways and peering into giant, state-of-the-art vessels. We were told that Hawkshead Brewery actually specced specialist equipment so they can continue to use whole hops rather than pellets – a fact Krones were mildly baffled by, but Hawkshead were unmovable on. It’s important to them, so they’ve made sure they stick to their guns.
Another example of how the brewery is doing everything they can to maintain the exact recipes as they’ve always used in their Staveley brewery is how they’re treating the water they use. Despite only being a 30 minute drive away, the new brewery’s water is pumped from a borehole on-site (to keep it “Lakeland water” – a selling point I’d never considered before) and by using an osmosis machine and then adding minerals, they can make it exactly the same profile as back home in Staveley. It’s this idea of “repeatability” they’re keen to stress – the fact that their core beers will be made in Flookburgh should absolutely not affect the flavour in the slightest. From the beers we were offered, there were certainly no complaints.
Staveley won’t be left though. It’s still an important central part of the brewery, with its equipment now focusing on small-batch and barrel-age projects. Of course, the tap room is also here, and it will continue to serve the whole range of Hawkshead beers as well as beers from all over the country. We headed back here after seeing the new brewery in all its glory and despite the weather getting very much worse, we arrived back safe and ready to try as many beers as possible. The Hawkshead Brwery Solar Sour went down particularly well – their take on a traditional Berliner Weisse, as well as the always excellent Tiramisu Stout, and a 8.5% ABV Export version of Brodie’s Prime Stout.
It’s exciting to see what was once a small Cumbrian brewery become an international brand. It was also really interesting (to me) to think about how location could be a unique selling point, and something that might see Hawkshead succeed where others may not find the means to do so. They’re going global, and they’re taking the Lake District with them. It’s quite a romantic notion really, that in amongst the projected business plans and brand new stainless steel; the painstakingly tried and tested recipes and the exciting collaborations, the soft water that fell on the green peaks of our most beautiful national park (a biased view, sorry) is at the heart of this business. A tiny drop of the lakes in every bottle.