Real Ale and Atmosphere - Torrside Brewery at New Mills
PUBLISHED: 00:00 23 November 2016
Despite being a town with a rich industrial heritage, New Mills has always lacked its own brewery. In August 2015 three keen local home brewers, Pete Sidwell, Chris Clough and Nick Rothko-Wright, set about changing that fact and established Torrside Brewing
Quite a lot of the micro-breweries I’ve visited for this series of articles have been either in remote rural locations or on anonymous industrial estates, with the brewer ploughing a lonely furrow with only their hops, malt and sometimes a brewery cat or dog for company. Torrside, especially on the day I visited, couldn’t be further from this. The brewery was open to the public, the atmosphere buzzing and the three gregarious brewers were serving pints and talking passionately about their beer. I managed to drag one of the brewers, Pete Sidwell, away from the pumps to find out about his and his fellow brewers’ backgrounds.
‘We were all keen home brewers, having all been brewing for about five years. Chris is a translator, Nick works in IT as a programmer and I’m an accountant. We all definitely find brewing more interesting! I’ve known Nick for years, he’s now my brother-in-law and we met Chris about three or four years ago through the home brewing scene in Manchester. Nick and I had already made the decision to try and find premises for a brewery in New Mills and Chris was looking too. So, rather than make life difficult, we decided to combine forces. We’re all still doing our day jobs full-time so brewing takes place at weekends and packaging, tidying and cleaning happens in the evenings. It’d be great eventually to be brewing full-time.’
Obviously great beer is the key to a successful brewery but you’ve got to let people know about it and sell it. I’m always curious to find out how new brewers take to the sales and promotions side of the business.
‘It’s been interesting, none of us are salesmen. We’ve been talking to pubs, taking in samples and just trying to spread the word. We’ve been visiting towns such as Nottingham and Sheffield and we already had some contacts in Manchester from our home brewing days. This included a number of the craft beer pubs and the guys at Beermoth, an independent beer specialist and café. If you can get a few good outlets taking your beer, then word gets round. We’ve also had a lot of support from Goyt Wines in Whaley Bridge and, from that, got our beers into the other stores in the Portland Wine group. We also try to be active on social media and have brewed a few niche beers that have gone down well with bloggers.
‘Another aspect of our beers that makes them stand out is the artwork on the bottles. My wife Emma is an artist and we asked her to design a logo. Since then she’s done more work specifically for us and we’ve used details from some of her other pieces. It works really well and if someone picks a bottle off the shelf to look at the artwork, they’re already halfway to buying it!’
Torrside has already gained a reputation for some brave and unusual beers. Rather than launching with a safe and easy-to-sell IPA, they chose to go with a smoked stout. This breaking with convention does make sense though, when you think about it. Why do what everyone else is doing and try to compete in an already crowded marketplace? Their beers are definitely being well received by specialist retailers and in pubs with enlightened drinkers. Having already produced 14 different beers, is their wide range reflected in their own tastes?
‘Personally, I’m a big fan of dark beers, especially smoked ones. I love a big strong Imperial stout. Nick is all about pale and hoppy, such as IPAs and you can guarantee, if we’re brewing one of those, it’s his recipe. Chris probably sits in between us. Although, we all have our favourites, we’re all involved in the development of all of our beers.’
Two of their more unusual beers include Rauchwine, a smoked barley wine that weighs in at a mighty 11% ABV, and Sto Lat, a Grodziskie, which is a traditional Polish oak-smoked wheat beer.
‘Barley wine is essentially a strong pale beer. It’s not standard for a British brewery to do a barley wine these days because it takes time and, because it’s so strong, is not very efficient. You need a lot of sugar from the grain to achieve the strength so you can only brew in small batches. When we wash out our grain to get the sugar out, we’ll use the first and strongest solution to make a small batch of barley wine and then the weaker subsequent solutions can be used for more regular strength beers. This is actually a very traditional way of brewing and in the past most breweries would use this method to produce brews of diminishing strength.
‘There’s a long tradition of smoked beers on the continent, the Schlenkerla brewery in Bavaria has been going for over 500 years. In order to make a beer smoked, you smoke the barley by drying it over flavoursome wood and that flavour ends up in the beer. Sto Lat is a very weak, 2.8% ABV, beer which is brewed using oak smoked wheat. It’s very pale and well hopped. For such a weak beer, it really delivers on taste. Drinkers in the UK are more familiar with smoked flavours in stouts and other dark beers but hopefully we’ll prove there’s far more scope to smoked beers. We’re eyeing up some more aggressive smokes and have done some experimental brews. One is using peat smoked barley to give an Islay whisky type flavour. It’s tricky to find the right hops to balance the smoke and I reckon it’ll be a crowd divider but watch this space.’
As the trestle tables filled up with customers, it was obvious that Torrside has already developed a strong following. What then are the future ambitions for the brewery?
‘We haven’t really planned too far ahead. We just want to keep on brewing the interesting beers we like and enjoying it. Growth will be steady, slow and organic rather than forced. As an accountant I do worry about overextending ourselves but I’m confident that if a beer is good enough, it’ll sell. We’ll continue to spread the word and get into new pubs and retailers. Along with the Portland Wine group, we’re in the Sycamore in Birch Vale and brew an exclusive house beer, Mam Tor, for Dutsons in Hayfield. We’ll have more brewery tap weekends and are planning the next one for around Christmas time.’
It was then all hands to the pumps as another band of thirsty drinkers arrived and I made my way to the bar and perused the menu of beers on offer. There was a wonderful range of types, strengths and flavours and I felt like a child in a sweet shop. It was so refreshing to find a brewery and three brewers who are doing things a bit differently and looking to expand our beer horizons. I ordered a pint of a wonderful looking black IPA and settled down for a very enjoyable afternoon.