Thames brewery on a rock and a roll
Added: Sunday, February 26th 2023
Andy Hayward has turned the famous lines from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner on their head: in his case, it’s “Water, water everywhere and many a drop to drink.”
His Thames Side Brewery is based in Staines-on-Thames in Surrey and it’s alongside not the mighty Old Father but the smaller River Wraysbury. He doesn’t use river water to brew -- which is a relief, given the amount of sewage being pumped into our waterways -- but the public supply.
He nevertheless celebrates his proximity to the rivers by naming his core beers after wild fowl, including herons and cormorants.
He’s been an active member of CAMRA since 1976 when he was just 19 years old and he became chairman of the Kingston and Leatherhead branch.
In those days pubs and brewing were dominated by six giant national brewers who were hell bent on foisting terrible keg beer and laughable lager on the drinking public. With real ale in short supply, Andy started to brew at home in order to drink the kind of beer he enjoyed.
He had a successful career in the insurance industry until his company was taken over and his job became unsustainable. With the backing of his wife Michele, he decided to launch a new career as a commercial brewer.
“I read the Microbrewers’ Handbook five times,” he laughs. “Then I went on a Brewlab course in Sunderland on how to start up a brewery.”
In 2015 Andy found premises at Tim’s Boatyard on the banks of the Thames in Staines. It was big enough for him to install a four-barrel brewing kit with three fermenters. He started brewing in October 2015 with eight traditional ales named after wildfowl found on the river:
Mallard Mild, 3.5%
Harrier Bitter, 3.4%
Heron Ale, 3.7%
Cormorant Stout, 4.2%
White Swan Pale Ale, 4.2%
Black Swan Porter, 4.6%
Egyptian Goose IPA, 4.8%
Wryneck Rye IPA, 5.6%
“After four years we were selling firkins [nine-gallon casks] to local pubs and clubs but we found we were only covering our costs,” Andy says. “As a result we looked for a bigger site with space for a taproom so we could sell direct to the public.”
He found a former Sea Cadets building on the banks of the Thames and opened his brewery and tap in August 2019. He added a one-barrel piece of kit so he could produce short-run and experimental beers with new styles and recipes.
“They reflected my love of rock music and I called them the White Label range,” he says. “They proved so popular I had to move them to the main plant.”
The beers include Brewhemian Rhapsody, Smoke in the Porter and Whiter Shade of Ale. Procol Harem hasn’t complained about the last named number. Andy uses Maris Otter as his main grain. Water is treated to suit particular recipes.
The lease on the building ran out in 2022 and Andy and Michele were on the move again to a new site on the banks of the Wraysbury and next to a Travelodge that’s convenient for people visiting Staines and the brewery and for groups performing on the stage in the spacious new premises. There’s also a bar and taproom with the brewing vessels in full site of customers and visitors.
As well as brewing and retailing with the support of Michele – she describes herself as “sales, marketing and chief bottle washer” – Andy is fully committed to supporting the small brewing movement. He’s a member of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, and the London Brewers’ Alliance as well as the North Surrey branch of CAMRA.
His latest beer with a musical theme is Don’t Fear the Neipa, recalling Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. The 5% New England IPA is a collaborative brew with Pete Harkins of Back Beat Brewery in Beverly, Massachusetts.
Pete came to Thames Side to brew the beer with Andy. It’s a complex brew made with Pilsner malt, naked malted oats, torrefied flaked oats and a small amount of carapils. The all-American hops are Citra, Columbus and Mosaic. Unusually, hops are added to the mash, followed by Columbus in the copper boil and Columbus and Mosaic used as dry hops in the finished beer.
There’s a lot happening at the Thames Side Tap – brewing, pouring pints and staging rock music events.
“It’s more rewarding than insurance!” Andy says contentedly.