Never ones to turn down a decent pint of local beer, when Paul Williamson invited us to the Hillside Brewery to experience a brewing day, it would be fair to say that we were pretty keen.
Whilst whetting my whistle later that day on their website, I was surprised to recognise their address. Holly Bush Farm, near Longhope. A quick trip round to my grandparent’s later and I had the answer… You see, Hillside brew their amber nectar on the exact same farm where my grandad spent several childhood years with his grandparents. Rummaging through battered biscuit tins piled high with curled and faded memories, we happened across these beauties:
Early memories of Hillside Brewery
My grandad isn’t normally one for words. But with a bit of gentle probing, I unearthed a treasure trove of formative childhood memories; crying when his grandparents woke up early and picked mushrooms without him, his grandfather making dozens of chicken coops and painting them all Siren Red (you can see one in the background of the photo above), and watching the horse going round and round to make cider in the barn. Needless to say, this kicked my excitement about the brewing day up up several notches!
We arrived at Hillside Brewery on a rather damp and dreary February day – thanks Storm Doris! But stepping inside the reception/shop, we received a warm welcome and a steaming mug of tea to start the day off on the right foot. We joined Paul, Will the master brewer and Rob, owner of the brilliant looking ‘Beer Revolution‘ shop in Hay-on-Wye. Rob recently won Hillside’s home brew competition with his entry “Don’t Stop” and so were to spend the day brewing to his recipe (for those visitors wishing to brew their own special occasion beer but without the technical knowledge, Will can use his expertise to help you craft the perfect beer for your tastes).
We began by weighing out the specially chosen barley to the correct ratio, tasting the different varieties that would make up the beer as we went along. It was really interesting tasting the barley throughout the process to see how the flavours and sweetness changed. After adding the barley to the mash tun along with hot water, fresh from their borehole (they have it regularly checked to ensure they can consistently produce well-balanced beer), we let the complex starches convert to simple sugars that are more easily fermented. For any home brewers reading, Will is a fountain of knowledge and keen to impart tips on improving your brew. It is amazing how many small but critical steps go into elevating good beer into excellent beer.
Later on, after plentiful bacon sandwiches and coffee, we weighed out the specially chosen hops, rubbing them between our hands to smell the different essential oil aromas; I got a powerful hit of lavender from one and citrus from the other. The alpha acids in the hops add bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malted barley, aroma and as an added bonus, act as an additional preservative. These were stirred into the beer in stages and left to boil. After that, yeast was added before the beer goes into the fermenter for at least 48 hours which allows the unwanted elements to drop to the bottom. The beer can then be pumped out and left to condition until it is ready to drink. Rob’s brew will be ready in a month or so and we can’t wait to go back and try it!
Fear not if you were thinking that we hadn’t got to try any beer. We used the waiting time to sample the full range of Hillside’s beers, comparing tasting notes as we went. Needless to say, despite the wide variety, we thoroughly enjoyed all of them; this is despite Sarah not even really being a beer drinker. (Sarah: I have to say, I really enjoyed sampling the Countryman table beer, which would be a perfect addition to a wedding reception table thanks to it’s full flavour and low alcohol content. My absolute favourite, however, was Legless Cow – how apt, those of you who know me may think…)
We also took the time to check out some of the new facilities on site. Work is nearly complete on a new events barn which looks fantastic with a vintage industrial feel. Think old factory lights, scaffolding bars and electricity drum tables. They have already planned several events including a beer festival in May and a pop-up opera event; we can’t wait to come back and see everything finished!
Hillside have the sort of ethos that make craft producers so important to the region. They champion recycling (their leftover grain feeds local cattle whose milk makes Hillbrook’s Hillside Brewery ice cream – everyone’s a winner!), and they use solar energy, and air and heat pumps to produce enough electricity to meet the brewery’s needs and still sell some back to the National Grid. I think there are lessons here for other local producers that would really enhance Gloucestershire’s reputation as a regional producer.
Hillside Brewery offer a variety of experiences; ranging from a £15 brewery tour to combination days of brewing with whatever takes your fancy. Fun options include Indian cooking, laser tag, blacksmithing and loads more. Whatever you fancy, they’ve probably got it covered and you’ll definitely enjoy it!