Hope Valley Brewery at YHA Castleton Losehill Hall
PUBLISHED: 16:20 28 July 2014 | UPDATED: 16:20 28 July 2014
A visit to the country's only charity brewery at the newly refurbished Castleton Youth Hostel
Having previously visited a brewery at a Holiday Park, it shouldn’t have been a big surprise to find one located at a Youth Hostel. However, the newly refurbished Gothic mansion, cobbled mews and stunning gardens that comprise Castleton Losehill Hall YHA and its status as the country’s only charity brewery, make the Hope Valley Brewery truly unique.
Brewer Alistair Boyd is also the full-time manager of a Youth Hostel in the heart of Britain’s busiest National Park. When I arrive at 10am, there’s a wheelbarrow of spent hops outside the brewery, a brew is already in the fermenter and, with groups of children heading off for their adventures in the Peak, the hostel has been in full operation since the early hours. As we have a coffee my first question is how Alistair manages to combine both roles and fit it all in?
‘I brew to order, so if I know we’ve a big event on or there’s a festival that wants some of our beer, I put a brew through. Generally I’ll brew either once a week or once a fortnight. As the brewery is non-automated, it’s takes about ten hours from starting the mash to getting the beer into the fermenters. A lot of that time is spent literally standing around watching kettles boil, so at the same time I can pop back and forth and get on with jobs in the office and around the hostel.’
I am also intrigued about how a Youth Hostel has come to have a brewery, as well as it’s unique charity tag.
‘The beer is really a happy by-product. We set up the original brewery at the old site of the Youth Hostel as a teaching brewery. Children who were studying science at GCSE needed an onsite industrial visit but because of health and safety etc, there aren’t a lot of factories that allow children to visit. We were able to offer a residential visit, where they could both learn about and help with the process, and also attain the course credits they needed. Then we sell the beer and the money goes into the YHA’s Breaks for Kids Fund, which provides outdoor and adventurous opportunities for children from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.’
The brewing kit was inherited from the Old Edale Brewery and, fortunately for Alistair, it came complete with a brewer – Richard Grimes – as well as his experience and tried and tested recipes.
‘Richard was planning to retire to the South of France but before he did so, he helped with the set-up at the old hostel. His recipes and timings have been priceless and meant that I didn’t have to learn by my mistakes and was able to brew saleable beer right from the start. That was back in late 2008. Then when we moved to this site in early 2012, I was able to start from scratch and put in the electrics, drains and other features such as easily cleanable walls, that make brewing easier.’
Having discovered the story behind the brewery, I was intrigued to find out Alistair’s background and whether, in common with many of the brewers I’ve met, his interest had begun with a home-brew kit.
‘I’d done very little home-brewing. As a student in the 1970s in mid-Wales, I was involved in beer festivals but only really because I had a van. It was my mate who was the beer aficionado. We’d drive all around the country, pick up 20 or so barrels from various brewers, 15 would make it to the festival and five would be the foundations of some legendary parties at the farmhouse we lived in. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t complete the course but I did pick up some useful basics of biochemistry. Eventually I ended up working in the City, but I had fallen in love with climbing and packed it all in to move to Sheffield. I ran a car restoration business but was talking to a friend who worked for the YHA one day and liked the sound of what he was doing, so I applied and got a part-time job with them. That was in the late 1980s. I love the work and I’ve been at a number of different hostels and that’s how I’ve come to be where I am today. It’s a brilliant job. I run the hostel, an outdoors centre with a climbing wall, a farm and the brewery. The variety is amazing and I get to work in this wonderful location.’
With a pale ale bubbling in the fermenter, I ask Alistair about his taste in beer and the beers he brews.
‘My favourite beers are drinkable pales: fresh, hoppy, citrussy and not too strong. Those are also basically the type I brew. People do ask me occasionally to brew heavier darker beers but I’m always hesitant as I don’t think they would sell as well. I have a massive amount of admiration for experimental brewers and promise myself that one day, when I have more time, I’ll expand my range of beers, but for now I shall stick to the great, consistent recipes that I know and love.’
There is a hand-pump at the Hostel bar, so anyone is welcome to call in and sample Alistair’s brews as a non-resident at weekends and Bank Holidays, but it is always a good idea to call first to check. He also regularly supplies the Climbing Works in Sheffield and a number of local beer festivals and events.
‘I’d love to do more but simply haven’t got the time,’ he says. ‘Although if anyone has an event planned and fancies trying a barrel, they are welcome to call and I’ll see what I can do.’
Having made a sizeable dent in a barrel of Hope Springs at a friend’s 40th held at the Youth Hostel, I can definitely recommend making the effort to give it a try. Also, if you are looking for a base for a family break in the Peak District, Castleton Losehill Hall YHA is ideal and a million miles away from the youth hostels of yesteryear.