I’m a committed beer tourist. Whenever I travel to a new city, abroad or in the UK, I’m always thinking about which breweries and bars I can visit while I’m there. My last three trips abroad have been to explore cities famed for their brewing traditions and/or modern beer culture, and when I travel around the UK for gigs or meet-ups with friends, I’ll always be looking ahead for a possible pitstop at any breweries or bars in town I’ve been meaning to check out.
Last November, Dave and I had the perfect chance to visit Hawkshead brewery on our way up to the more northerly reaches of the Lake District.
With a weekend in the Lakes planned for our annual get together with University friends, we decided that the ideal way to break up the long journey up to Loweswater would be to stop at Hawkshead Brewery to pick up some beers for the weekend and grab some lunch at their beer hall. After checking out the Hawkshead website to make sure they’d be open when we were passing, I realised that brewery tours run daily at 1pm, so I booked us in.
Arriving at the Hawkshead brewery and beer hall just before 12:30pm, we were greeted by the two tall fermenting vessels in the glass frontage of the building, with a back drop of the Cumbrian hills and a blue sky. After the three hour drive up to Staveley in my old Saxo, I was more than ready to stretch my legs and enjoy a refreshing half of Windemere pale before the tour.
At 1pm our tour group of around twelve people followed our guide, David, out of the main bar area and into a corridor overlooking the brewery offices, where Hawkshead’s many SIBA trophies take pride of place. Here David talked us through a short history of the brewery, from their beginnings in 2002, just outside the village of Hawkshead, to the 2006 move to their current home beside the River Kent, brewing at a maximum capacity of 6,700 barrels per year on a 20-barrel brewhouse. As of October 2018, Hawkshead have also launched a new 40-barrel brewhouse in Flookburgh.
After showing us a short video about the raw materials used in making beer, David talked to us in more detail about the different characteristics provided by different malts and hops. We were particularly interested to learn more about Hawkshead’s own strain of yeast and David was happy to answer our questions. Yeast is what makes the magic happen after all.
Following on from the introductory part of the tour, we made our way around the brewhouse, from the mash tuns, through to the fermenters and conditioning tanks. Having toured quite a few breweries over the last few years, I’m always fascinated to see the unique engineering innovations at each one.
With the tour complete, we headed back into Hawkshead’s beer hall. We both decided on a third of the fantastically named ‘Unfashionably Late’, a 7.1% double-dry-hopped hazy IPA, which was refreshingly juicy. The bar had got much busier during our time touring the brewhouse, so we grabbed a food menu and found a table upstairs, overlooking the tall dual-purpose fermenters that had caught our eye on arrival.
The menu was small, but carefully curated, with a selection of bar bites, main meals and sliders, all well suited to enjoying with a beer or two. I selected the Yorkshire pudding, filled with beer braised beef and horseradish sauce. My compadre opted for the Mac and Cheese. Alongside our mains, we picked the sticky BBQ ribs and sweetcorn fritters from the bar bites menu. Bearing in mind that I ate this selection of food ten month ago, I can taste each individual element. Pretty damn tasty.
As much as I love hanging out at tap rooms in industrial estates, enjoying great food from local food trucks, it was a refreshing change to visit somewhere like Hawkshead. Everything about this brewery is inviting, from the green backdrop and the friendly welcome, to the simple décor of the beer hall, taps upon taps of beer, and simple, yet delicious food offerings. There’s a real family feel here, a little like some of the taprooms I visited in Colorado last October.
Hawkshead is certainly what I’d call a destination brewery.
Once we were done with our food and Dave was finished with another beer (just a taste for me since I was designated driver), we turned our attention to filling any available space in my tiny boot with Hawkshead beers.
After a really enjoyable afternoon, we took to the road for the final hour or so of the journey. Even the fact that every road within five miles of our destination seemed to be closed couldn’t dull our spirits as we headed to meet our old friends.