Monday, 1 April 2019

Cellar Head Brewing Company

On Saturday I attended a tour of Harvey’s Brewery, in Lewes, East Sussex, along with around 40 other local CAMRA members and supporters. The tour was a “thank-you” from West Kent CAMRA for the volunteers who helped at last year’s Spa Valley Railway Beer Festival.

As you might expect, the tour was interesting, informative and enjoyable. I am in the process of writing a full article, detailing our visit, but for the time being here is a short post about Cellar Head Brewing Company, a local brewery whose premises we visited on the return journey from Lewes.

You might think that two brewery visits in one day was a bit much, but that depends on your point of view, as with proper pacing of one’s drinking, and just the right amount of self-discipline, it was perfectly possible to combine the two and manage to feel alright the following day.

Cellar Head Brewing Company was founded by Chris and Julia McKenzie in 2017. They were joined by Dave Berry, whose previous brewing experience included stints at both Old Dairy Brewery and Tonbridge Brewery. Joining Cellar Head gave Dave the opportunity to become Head Brewer along with the chance to brew beers to his own recipes for local drinkers to enjoy!

Cellar Head's cask beers are un-fined, which means they carry a natural haze and are also vegan-friendly. In addition they do not filter or pasteurise their bottled beers and neither do they artificially carbonate them. Instead they undergo a natural secondary fermentation in the bottle which, they claim, results in a gentle, light fizz which gives a more refined texture and mouth-feel.

The weekend saw Cellar Head celebrating their 2nd birthday, and to mark this milestone the brewery held a birthday bash at their new brewery and taproom, which is just off the A21 at Flimwell. As the West Kent CAMRA coach would be passing close by, on our way back from Harvey’s, it seemed rude not to stop of and join in the fun.

We arrived shortly before 5pm, having stopped off briefly at the Cooper’s Arms, Crowborough – more about the Cooper’s in another post. Cellar Head’s premises are situated down a rather narrow lane, and with all the parked cars belonging to other visitors, our driver found it rather difficult to squeeze the coach past and find a suitable parking place, but all credit due, he managed it.

The party was in full swing when we arrived, with plenty of thirsty punters, as well as quite a few families, sat at picnic-benches both inside and out. The brewery itself is housed in a small industrial-type unit and obviously a complete contrast to Harvey’s. The bar was housed directly opposite the entrance, with the brewing plant and fermenting vessels off to the right.

There were three beers on hand-pump, plus a couple of keg ones. In view of the fine weather, I opted for the 4.0% Spring Ale, a zesty, light pale ale, with plenty of citrus notes. The 4.3%  Festival Pale also looked interesting, but in view of the amount of beer I’d consumed earlier, I thought it wise to pace myself. Instead, I went in search of something to eat.

There was a food truck parked outside, with the usual fast-food offerings popular at outdoor events. The prices seemed on the high side, with the burgers selling at £8.00 a throw! I am always a little suspicious when I see the word “gourmet” as to me the term often means over-priced and over-rated, but perhaps I am a little out of touch with the going rate at such events.

Despite my mis-givings, hunger got the better of me and I gave in to the temptation of pulled pork in a bun for a pound less. It was tasty enough,  but if I hadn't been hungry, I wouldn't  have splashed out like that. The truck didn’t seem overly busy, which made me think that with lots of people there with their kids, eight pound a pop was on the dear side for a "family-friendly" event.

Now I don’t wish to sound like a moany old git, but I’ve another gripe relating to the toilet facilities – or perhaps the lack of them! The single WC, which served for both sexes, inevitably meant long queues. Anyone who has completed the Bermondsey Beer Mile will know what I mean, so my question is, that whilst such facilities are obviously adequate for the day to day running of the brewery, when a function involving large numbers of members of the public takes place, why not hire a few Porta-Loos?

These issues aside, the Cellar Head birthday bash seemed a fun event with everyone having a good time. The whole brewery-taproom set-up, along with the al fresco drinking, reminded me of the Vanish Woods Brewery in Leesburg, VA, which I visited whilst attending the Beer Bloggers & Writer’s Conference in the United Sates, last August. 

With its stunning rural setting with views over the local country side – this time across to Bewl Water, and the families there with their children, enjoying a few beers, I could have been back in rural Virginia. There was even a duo blasting out country and western music in the bar!

Having eaten, and queued for the “facilities”, I was in the mood for one final beer, but this idea was scuppered by the announcement that our coach would be departing shortly. Somewhat reluctantly we rounded ourselves up and boarded the coach.

All things considered it had been a good bash, with a chance to enjoy some fine and fresh Cellar Head beers on their own turf. It was also a  good way to round off  our trip into deepest Sussex.


retiredmartin said...

You, and I, seem to be visiting quite a few of these microbrewery Tap rooms. Must be a dozen new to the current GBG this year alone.

But do you think it's a viable longterm business model for micros that can't run pubs or get their beers more widely available?

Paul Bailey said...

Martin, I’m sure that tap rooms are a valuable adjunct to any micro-brewery, but I don’t think they are viable as a stand alone addition. Any micro, worthy of the name, needs to get its products out in the market place, rather than relying solely on customers coming to them, and the presence of their beers on a pub bar helps bring variety and choice to the licensed trade.

The problem comes, of course, when a pub stocks too many different beers. I also see a problem with tap rooms finding their way into the GBG; particularly when their opening hours are limited – as most of them seem to be!