Spire Brewery, Chesterfield, Derbyshire
PUBLISHED: 00:16 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:18 20 February 2013
On the second stop of his Derbyshire Brewery tour, Nik Cook visits the Spire Brewery in Chesterfield
An industrial unit in Staveley on the outskirts of Chesterfield is a far cry from the more salubrious and picturesque breweries Id visited so far. While the Spire Brewery may not have the rural estate setting of Peak Ales or the tie to an ancient Hall like Thornbridge, the passion for brewing and quality of produce remains the same.
Head brewer, 54-year-old David McClaren, founded the Spire Brewery in April 2006. His career in brewing began at an amateur level as a passionate and successful home brewer while still a student at St Andrews University in the early 1970s. After graduating, David joined the regimental band of Her Majestys Scots Guards with whom he served and toured for nine years. Brewing remained a significant part in his life but was definitely still a hobby and no thoughts of making it his profession had crossed his mind. A number of musical appointments followed culminating in becoming Head of Music at a Sheffield Secondary School. With increasing pressure, Government targets and less time spent actually teaching music he felt he needed a complete change in direction and turned to the other great passion in his life. Thirty five years of home brewing had armed him with the necessary skills, knowledge and instincts, but it was a chance meeting with a business advisor at a beer festival that really set the ball rolling and convinced him to take the plunge.
Since that day four and a half years ago, the brewery has gone from strength to strength and has expanded to fill three units on the industrial estate. David still manages to stick to his musical roots with his beers names but brewing is now his life rather than his hobby.
The brewery typically produces three to four eight barrel brews per week but David is well aware that demand is outstripping supply and is in the process of looking for larger premises. As well as casks going to pubs, between a quarter and half of the output is hand bottled. Despite being incredibly labour intensive, David fiercely believes in bottle conditioning and bottling on site. To send the beer off to be bottled would not only increase his overheads but, more importantly, would involve the pasteurisation and filtration of his precious brew, losing the subtleties of flavour hes worked so hard to incorporate. Passion and a no compromise attitude to quality are consistent themes in all the brewers Ive met and, asking David about what makes a great beer, its obvious hes no exception, You have to begin with first class ingredients, a skill in blending and, above all, a passion for what you do. Without passion or drive, youll never brew well and never be happy. It should never just be a robotic or mechanical process, it should always be interesting and exciting.
Somewhat bizarrely, despite only having a population of 11,000, Staveley has three micro-breweries. This unusually high concentration of brewing activity is reflected throughout the county with Derbyshire having 34 micro breweries. With this in mind, two years ago, David formed the Derbyshire Brewers Collective. Its essentially a support group for sharing resources and information and we currently have 20 members. We can share cask collections, resulting in less theft. Industry guest speakers are much more willing to come to a meeting attended by a number of brewers and we can approach beer festivals as a group. Rather than each brewery sending their beer to a festival in say Scotland individually, we can pool our beers together in one van load.
The current economic climate has seen many pubs close and a perceived demise of the brewing industry but David believes that a small, local and high quality approach is the recipe for survival, There are approximately 650 micros in the UK. Although they only account for 5 per cent of total beer sales, they are a growing force. Whether its food or drink, more and more people are demanding local produce with a clear identity. With their beers, Spire are definitely fulfilling that demand and in 2007 they opened their own pub, The Britannia in New Tupton, With many of the former big brewery tied pubs going under, theres an ideal opportunity for small brewers to acquire pubs and find an outlet for their beers. The Britannia had always struggled and has had 15 landlords in as many years. Now we have our own beers on sale there along with at least two guest beers that we rotate on a reciprocal basis with other small breweries. With Davids chief taster and accomplice from his University home-brew days, Barry Dobson, taking on the landlords mantle you can be sure of great beer and a warm welcome.
As well as on tap at the Britannia and a number of local pubs, Spire Beers are available at a number of small independent off-licences in the Chesterfield area and at a number of Farmers Markets. David is also planning to sell directly online soon. For more information go to www.spirebrewery.co.uk.
Three to Try
Land of Hop and Glory ABV 4.5%
A wonderfully light and refreshing award-winning golden ale with a biscuity malt taste and long, but not excessively bitter, citrus hop finish. It makes an ideal accompaniment for curries and other spicy food. So much more interesting than a bland generic curry house lager.
Britannia Cream Pale Ale ABV 6.4%
Watch out for this one as the hoppy twist and marmalade flavour make for a dangerously quaffable brew. Use it to steam mussels in and then reduce down before combining with cream for a delicious sauce or drink it alongside creamy pasta dishes.
Prince Igor Imperial Russian Stout ABV 8.5%
One for the Christmas stocking of the beer connoisseur in your family. Wonderfully complex and smooth despite its strength, it combines the dark flavours of chocolate, coffee, espresso and liquorice. Sip from a wine glass with a beef and ale pie or savour on its own in front of a roaring fire.
The Brewing Industry International Awards 2011 will be held at the National Brewery Centre in Burton-on-Trent from 9th to 11th February, followed by a new Festival of Beer. Entries to the competition can be made on the Brewing Awards website www.brewingawards.org and should be submitted before the end of December.