A visit to Tring Brewery is certainly an education. A Hertfordshire brewery that prides itself on its local roots and its commitment to servicing the local community, Tring Brewery is a small brewery with big ideas.
We went on one of their Saturday morning brewery tours, and for £5 this trip was terrific value – a comprehensive and entertaining guided tour around this brewery housed in some farm outbuildings in the picturesque market town of Tring. A pint was included in the price. Our guide, Ben Marston, was hugely knowledgeable about the brewery and the brewing process, and was able to field all our questions with confident and eloquent answers.
Background to the brewery
The company was founded in 1992, and the current two directors, Richard Shardlow and Andrew Jackson, both have brewing backgrounds and an obvious passion for their trade – the main area of study for Andrew’s PhD was yeast!
They are very keen to be seen as a small local brewery. They recently needed to move to larger premises, and they spent a great deal of time looking for a site locally rather than moving out of the area. They are heavily involved with the local community, and they support many local charities. They work closely with local pubs and customers, carrying out extensive local market research when planning a new beer.
Tring prides itself on producing quality ales made with the finest quality ingredients, brewed in the traditional way. They produce cask conditioned ales, with many of their more popular beers also available in a bright variety – both in bottles and larger containers – for convenience. Given its size, Tring seems to produce a remarkably wide range of beers, from the award-winning straw coloured Side Pocket for a Toad, to the dark, extra strong Death or Glory – my personal favourite!
In addition to the regular beers, they also produce five seasonal beers – from the warming deep red Brookman’s Winter Ale produced during the colder months, to the refreshing blonde Fanny Ebbs for the summer.
However, as well as these standard beers that are permanent features on the Tring menu, they also produce a range of monthly special beers – a different feature beer for each month of the year. For 2012 these beers are styled ‘Best of British’ and they each contain a single British hop variety. I was intrigued to understand the challenges of producing a regularly changing variety of beers, but with such a large range of different malts and hops, coming up with the beer itself seems to be more straightforward than it would appear. They take feedback from local pubs and customers, and take customer response into account when researching new beer styles. In fact, three recent monthly specials received such a great reception that they have now replaced three of the long standing seasonal beers – proof that they are small and nimble enough to listen and react to what their customers are telling them.
Side Pocket for a Toad is the biggest seller, followed by the more session orientated beers, Ridgeway, Jack o’ Legs, and Brock Bitter. We were told that Brock Bitter will soon be replaced by Navigator, which has a lower ABV but much more body and flavour. This has again been developed in partnership with pubs and consumers. It has been made available on brewery tour evenings and in the shop to get feedback – they had an idea of what would be popular, but taking it through this process of research with the publicans and the public helped to finalise the style of the product.
They also include the public by running a ‘name the beer’ competition, asking people to suggest names for next year’s monthly specials – 3 or 4 of the best ones win a prize (beer, surprisingly!). Entrants have to work within a set of parameters – the names must be related to local folklore, historical events, or a local person or place of note.
One beer worthy of a special mention is Death or Glory. Tring has a good solid range of beers, and Death or Glory is rather unusual – this is a beer that sits slightly outside their standard range. A dark, sweet beer, it is a whole 2% stronger than anything else they produce, and is one of the beers that has a story that is not directly linked to the locality. One of the original founders had connections with the Queen’s Royal Lancers, and the beer was originally brewed each year on October 25th, to commemorate the anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade. In the 1990s the Lancers requested that the beer be produced for them in bottles, and since then it has grown hugely in popularity – indeed it now seems to be being drunk around the world – much to the surprise of the folks at Tring, who never set out with ideas for world domination!
Tours of the brewery
Group tours take place two evenings each week, on a Wednesday and Thursday, and you currently need a group of at least 15 people to be able to book. The tour lasts about 3 ½ hours, and as well as a fascinating tour around the brewery itself, a fish and chip supper is provided and there is an opportunity to sample a selection of the beers. The cost for the evening is currently £17.50 per head – fantastic value, particularly as you are able to ‘sample’ as much beer as you like. These tours are extremely popular – indeed they are now sold out for the rest of 2012, with a waiting list for cancellations! However next year they will be changing the format slightly, and on certain evenings each month will allow individuals and small groups to come together to form one larger party, allowing those that can’t book as a large group to enjoy the tour.
Places are still available this year for Saturday morning tours – the cost is £5 for the tour and a pint, and there are no limits to group numbers. We are unable to sell these tours at the moment, but you can book by calling the brewery direct – for all the info you need, go to their website at www.tringbrewery.co.uk