Leaving No Stone Unturned
Added: Thursday, December 1st 2011
Brewing has returned to Stone. The small Staffordshire market town was once famous as the home of two sizeable breweries, Bents and Joules, both taken over and closed down in the 1960s by Bass Charrington.
But now the new Lymestone Brewery is bringing both pleasure and pride back to the town. The old Joules buildings still stand and are used as shops, offices and a large supermarket. The Bents site is now the base for industrial units, including Lymestone, where Ian Bradford and Ron Makins are using water from the old brewery well to fashion their beers.
It was water that determined the course of brewing history in Stone and many other parts of Staffordshire.
The hard waters of the Trent Valley, rich in natural salts, enabled breweries - in Burton-on-Trent in particular -- to develop pale ales and IPAs in the 19th century. The importance of the local water in Stone can be measured by the fact that, when Joules closed, the water table rose so alarmingly that several houses in the vicinity were flooded.
Ian Bradford (right of picture), who previously brewed with Titanic in Stoke-on-Trent, and Ron Makins, who has a doubly useful background in both finance and science, outlined the long history of Bents. It was opened in 1790 by a brewer called Montgomery who came to Stone from Liverpool to make use of the local water or brewing liquor as it's known in the industry. The company was bought by Richard Bent a a few years later. Bent hailed from Newcastle-under-Lyme and he built a sizeable estate of 560 pubs where he sold mild ale and stout.
Severn-Trent water is the best water in the country, Ian said. The water in Stone is slightly harder than Burton's. He has a passionate belief in English raw materials and uses Maris Otter malt from Fawcetts of Castleford.
Depending on the recipe, he blends pale, chocolate, crystal, caramalt and roast malt. His hop varieties are Boadicea, Fuggles and Pilot.
250,000 of investment has gone into the new brewery. The finance comes mainly from NatWest and it's fortunate the deal was struck before the current credit crunch hit British industry.
With such a strong underpinning of cash, Lymestone is not a brewery-on-the-cheap, using recycled equipment from closed breweries or the diary industry. Its custom-built kit includes cold and hot liquor tanks, a mash tun and underback, a gas-fired copper and three 15-barrel fermenters, built by Johnson Engineering of Rochdale.
Lymestone - the name commemorates both Richard Bent's home town and the brewery's base - stands in part of the former brewery's cask storage area. The walls are two feet thick and are - naturally - built of stone. The only departure from tradition comes in the shape of plastic casks as Ian and Ron found it difficult to buy second-hand metal ones.
All the beers will feature Stone in their names. The inaugural brew is Foundation Stone, at 4.5%, a wonderfully hoppy, bitter beer with juicy malt and citrus fruit notes. It will be followed by Stone the Crows, 5.4%, which will use pale and crystal malts with a touch of wheat.
The problem that faces all small craft breweries is getting the beers to market, without having to pay the ruinous discounts demanded by the national pub companies. But Lymestone will straight away have its first beer on the bar of a pub in Stone, thanks to a brilliant new initiative from the big regional brewer, Everards of Leicester.
Everards has devised a scheme called Project William named after the 19th-century founder of the company, William Everard. Under the scheme, Everards buys either closed or failed pubs, refurbishes them to a high standard and then leases them to smaller brewers. This has happened in Stone with the Royal Exchange pub, which is now run by Titanic Brewery. Due to Titanic's links with Ian Bradford, it's been agreed that Lymestone will always have one of its beers on the bar of the Royal Exchange.
Project William so impressed the judges in the Brewing Business Awards competition run by Siba, the Society of Independent Brewers, that it gave its top prize to Everards in October. It's this type of co-operation that will enable the entire independent craft brewing sector to survive and thrive in these troubled times.