High Peak Brewery - a pioneering microbrewery in Chapel-en-le-Frith
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 July 2016
Derbyshire Life visits High Peak Brewing Company at Chapel-en-le-Frith
At the end of last year my wife and I made the massive move over the hill from Chinley to Chapel-en-le-Frith. We love our new home and are especially enjoying Chapel’s thriving high street and its independent shops, such as Handpicked by Henrietta, Reading Matters and Itsy Bitsy. The town seems to be bucking the unfortunate nationwide trend of homogeneous high streets, dominated by chains and charity shops. Imagine my excitement then to find that along with great shops and cafés, there was a microbrewery, too.
Ben Millner discovered home brewing when he was 18 and now, seven years later, he’s started his own brewery. With a background in catering and hospitality, he worked at the Castleton YHA and, having become involved with their brewery, the seed was planted for founding his own. The idea first came into his head four years ago but getting married and having two children delayed his first brew at the High Peak Brew Co. until September last year. Now he’s fully up and running and although his current kit is fairly small – producing 600 litres at a time – he’s already got plans to increase that capacity and has set up the brewery to accommodate expansion easily.
Running a microbrewery is incredibly labour intensive but somehow Ben is managing to combine it successfully with having a young family and another job.
‘I work as a guide at Treak Cliff Cavern from three to five days a week and then juggle family life and brewing around that. It depends on the week how many days I brew but the kit I’ve got allows me to do a 14-hour double brew day. At the moment I’m brewing every week or every other week.
‘If I’m doing a double brew day I can be here at five in the morning. I’ll have the grain weighed out so can have the first mashing done by 6am. While that’s happening, I can get on with cleaning, to kill two birds with one stone. Then it’s a waiting game while it ferments, and I can do that around my work at the cavern. I check the brew in the morning and at night and put the chillers on if I have to. Cask cleaning, if I haven’t got it done, I’ll do at seven in the morning before I head to work and then I can fill them afterwards. I let the beer condition in the casks before bottling, so I get a week’s break. Bottling can take from a few hours to a full day depending on the quantity.’
Ben’s passion for brewing is obvious and this is highlighted by his decision to make his beers vegetarian. Many readers won’t realise that most beer is made using a product from the swim bladders of fish but Ben believes this product to be unnecessary and that, although requiring more skill from the brewer, beer can be better without it.
‘Our un-fined beers do not contain isinglass cask finings; which are an acidified aqueous suspension of collagen derived from the swim bladder of certain fish, along with sodium metabisulphite. This doesn’t sound like something you want adding to your beer. What the finings do is flocculate the live yeast and other particles in the beer into a jelly-like mass, which settles to the bottom of the cask, aiding clarity. Finings have a positive charge which attracts negatively charged particles, mostly yeast, causing them to clump together and fall to the bottom of the cask.
‘It is a misconception, however, that a beer has to be clear. The mindset comes from a time when clear beer equalled good beer and a hazy pint resulted in an upset stomach. The haze is associated with a bottom of the barrel pint. The upset stomach, however, is a result of the isinglass finings that have been put in the cask by the brewery.
‘Un-fined brewers don’t hide behind chemicals for clarity. We use the best things available plus time, temperature and skill. The only problem is that we are working with a living natural product with ingredients which vary from year to year. Meaning sometimes our beer may be a bit hazy, but I can tell you it most certainly tastes really good!
‘This doesn’t mean fined beer is bad, myself and other brewers just feel that leaving the beer un-fined is best for the beer and for you.
‘I stick to the six point star principal of brewing. I use all natural ingredients, if something doesn’t add to the flavour of the beer then it doesn’t go in. The six points on the star are malts, hops, yeast, grain, water and the sixth one is the brewer. Beer is a living product, it should remain a living product and the brewer is the custodian.’
Listening to Ben speak on this topic, it’s obvious that the vegetarian aspect of his brewing is much more than a sales gimmick. He is fighting an uphill battle with both landlords and drinkers though, who have been conditioned to believe that a beer has to be crystal clear to be good. He makes the valid point that a lot of beers on the continent, such as German wheat beers, have a natural haze or cloudiness that’s an integral part of the beer and that the necessity for absolute clarity is very much a British obsession.
He’s convinced that fining, along with introducing unnecessary products into the brewing process, has a detrimental effect on the beer, stripping it of flavoursome proteins, hop oils and yeast. He’s not alone, though, with the Somerset-based Moor Brewery leading the un-fined natural beer movement. Moor Brewery recently submitted 20 beers, in both fined and un-fined forms, to a blind tasting by top beer sommeliers and the un-fined beers came out on top unanimously.
Ben’s beers certainly seem to be going down well but it does require an enlightened landlord and an educated drinker.
‘The Royal in Hayfield is very happy with my beers, the landlord knows how to treat beers well and gives it time to settle. One of the first pubs to take on my beers was the Yorkshire Bridge in Bamford, they promoted it on their menu as a vegetarian beer and it does really well.’
Looking into the future, as well as expansion and some interesting projects, Ben is keen to keep pushing the boundaries.
‘I want to get the brewery established so I can do it full-time. I’ve got some more flexible styles of beer in the pipeline for the local market, a pale ale series that sticks to the same malt recipe, but using different hops every month. I also want to do a Twisted Range, experimenting, ageing the beer, using different yeast strains and adding some unusual ingredients.
‘I’m going to do a beer for the cycling company Pannier. It’ll be a simple easy-drinking beer, probably a blonde ale with the yeast a key part of it, similar to German wheat beers. There’s a really strong link between cycling and craft beers, I think it’s a social thing. You could get to the end of a ride and have a bland generic pint but it’s more interesting to have something a bit different and be able to discuss it and the ride you’ve just done with your mates.
‘I want to make a beer with the water from Treak Cliff and then age it in the cave, although I am not so keen on carrying the barrels up and down. I’ve also got an idea actually to brew a beer down there.
‘I’ll be starting a tap house here at the brewery. Beginning with one night a month and building from there. I have some musician friends who are also keen to get involved.’
It is so exciting to talk to a young and enthusiastic brewer like Ben and, although I’m sure he’s going to ruffle a few feathers in the brewing establishment, that is what craft and micro brewing should be about. Keep an eye out for his beers, don’t fear the haze and you’ll be in for a very pleasant surprise.
To find out where High Peak Brew Co. beers are available go to www.highpeakbrewco.com, Facebook or Twitter @HighPeakBrewCo