Good Brewing at Bad Ram - the micro-brewery at Callow Top Holiday Park
PUBLISHED: 14:52 06 May 2014
Nik Cook continues his tour of the county's micro-breweries at Callow Top Holiday Park on the outskirts of Ashbourne
From urban industrial estates to the grounds of stately homes, the locations of the breweries I’ve visited in Derbyshire have certainly been eclectic but I never expected to find one on a popular and award-winning holiday park.
With hosts of daffodils blooming alongside the A515, spring was definitely in the air when I paid my visit to the Bad Ram Brewery at Callow Top Holiday Park. It was only two weeks until the site opened for the season and site owner Alan Palmer and has team of staff were busy making sure everything was ship shape and ready for the campers and caravanners. The on-site Bad Ram Brewery needed no spring clean though as, since December, it had been revamped and relocated to new purpose-built premises with state-of-the-art brewing equipment. With the old stock barn brewery across the way now in retirement, I was intrigued to discover how Alan had arrived at his current position.
‘I come from a building background but the brewing seeds were sewn in the late 1960s when I started home brewing and then, in 1975, we purchased Callow Top Farm and started the holiday park. With an onsite pub, the Callow Inne, opening in 1982, on the site of an original Drovers Inn, the idea of a micro-brewery really caught my imagination but there just wasn’t the space. However, Haywood Farm next door came on the market, giving us a wonderful home and, in the stock barn, the site for our original Bad Ram Brewery. I read up on micro-breweries and made a point of talking to brewers. I found them all to be really decent people, even inviting me to attend and help when they were brewing. Amongst those I visited were Titanic Brewery, Bridge Brewery, Leek Brewery and the Bass Museum Brewery. At the latter I met our good friend and possibly the best brewer in the UK, Steve Wellington. As well as coming up with the recipe for our Gold Medal winning ‘Dr Johnson’ off the top of his head, he’s also designed the state-of-the-art upgrade of controls to help us maintain consistently high quality ales.’
The new brewery is certainly an impressive set-up and will ensure that quality and consistency is guaranteed. It also means that Alan is able to offer guests at the Holiday Park brewery tours. So, as part of your holiday, you can see how the beer is brewed and then sample it while relaxing in the pub or outside your caravan or tent, still within sight of the brewery. As we drive around the site, including seeing the ancient burial mound in the camping field which has stunning views of Thorpe Cloud, Alan explains where the Bad Ram name comes from.
‘Obviously there’s the ram association with Derbyshire but it’s also because of my time with the TA Royal Artillery. I was loading a shell, didn’t quite get it right and had the Sergeant Major screaming “Bad Ram!” in my ear and tearing strips off me. We were left with the dilemma of taking the whole gun to bits or risking firing it and the whole thing exploding. Fortunately it fired fine and hit its target but the lads never let me forget it and it’s stuck with me ever since.’
On site, as well as at the Callow Inne, you can sample the Bad Ram’s brews at Arnold’s Café bar or from the impressive array of bottles at the site shop, but I was also keen to find out from Alan where else you can buy it.
‘From Bargain Booze, the Old Cheese Shop in Hartington and a few local pubs. The core business has been the Holiday Park and our own two pubs on site but, with the new brewery we need to push out a bit more. At the moment we’re a four barrel line but, because of the way we’ve set it out, adding capacity would be a relatively simple plumbing job.’
All around the site, we keep bumping into members of Alan’s family and it’s obvious that the holiday park is a genuine family business. On the brewing front, his son Robert has taken over the reins.
‘He was a joiner by trade but was having to travel so much, got a bit fed up, wanted a change and came on board with me here. He’s now been here for eight years and is really the hands-on brewer.’
Increasing the local provenance, when Alan bought Haywood Farm in 1994 he inherited a Georgian well which has been classified as Spring Well Water by the Environmental Agency and has an estimated flow of 5,500 gallons per 24 hours. As well as wanting to start brewing with the water as soon as he can, Alan also plans to bottle it.
Talking to Alan you can tell that he’s deeply passionate about brewing. He describes it as being almost a spiritual occupation and would encourage anyone to give it a go but I’m always intrigued as to whether brewers brew to their own tastes or the taste of their target audience.
‘Personally, my tastes vary massively depending on how I feel and what I’m eating but, in general, give me decent beer and I can handle it! When we were setting out, I spoke to Steve Wellington and he asked me where the campers typically came from. My answer of “everywhere” didn’t really help and in the end we went for a beer that was neither too strong, nor too hoppy or malty but wasn’t bland either. We hoped it would please everyone and, as it turned into our award-winning Dr Samuel Johnson, we must have done all right. We then went for a much hoppier and stronger IPA style beer with the Callow Top and a lower strength session beer with the Bad Ram.’
As with many of the breweries I’ve visited for this series, it’s so heartening to see such passion for the craft of brewing and such thriving entrepreneurial spirit that has triumphed during the prolonged financial downturn. Poorly run pubs may be closing but good ones, especially those that have embraced the upsurge in craft brewing and know how to treat beer, are going from strength to strength. Real ale drinkers have never had it so good. With more flavours, complexity and variety than even the best wines, there’s genuinely a beer for all palates. I’m certainly looking forward to visiting more breweries, meeting more brewers and sampling more beer but I do wonder if I’ll find a more unlikely setting for a brewery than a holiday camp. n
For details go to www.callowtop.co.uk
3.8% ABV. - A refreshing straw coloured ale brewed using a combination of two malted barleys. The unique balance of Goldings and Cascade hops achieves a most satisfying taste and a crisp bite along with spicy and flowery notes.
Dr Samuel Johnson
4.5% ABV. - Maris Otter Pale Ale and Crystal malts combined with Challenger hops produce a well balanced hop, malt and bitter quality. A slightly fruity and refined spicy flavour make this our most popular ale.
Callow Top Imperial IPA
5.2% ABV. - A full bodied rich ale using a combination of Pale Ale and Crystal malted barleys. Generously hopped with Challenger for buttering and Cascade for taste and aroma, producing a fruity and slightly citrussy aftertaste.