Getting a taste of local ale at Upham Brewery
PUBLISHED: 09:41 07 July 2014 | UPDATED: 09:41 07 July 2014
Looking for the latest local ale? Claire Pitcher discovers the brewing success behind Bishop’s Waltham’s Upham Brewery
Driving through the stunning Hampshire countryside it’s very easy to cruise straight past Upham Brewery. It’s not surprising, as it has the façade of a beautiful country house, complete with livery and quaint outbuildings. Hiding in amongst these are a smattering of barns and farm buildings, however instead of housing sheep or horses you will find huge kettles, barrels of ale and a team of industrious brewers.
Director David Butcher and chief executive Chris Phillips bought the brewery just two years ago and since then the business has grown exponentially. You have to go a little further back in time however to discover the history of Upham Brewery. In 2009, John Macmillan, who still lives on the farm at the site, persuaded his father-in-law, Charles Good, to start a small microbrewery in the barn. John had bought the farm a few years earlier and discovered there was a brewing license for the premises. David continues the story: “They set up a three-barrel brewery and began brewing. They sold to a few pubs, but they both worked full-time too. They weren’t producing enough to sustain paying someone so it was starting to cost money.”
John and Charles met with David and Chris and over lunch they discussed how they could make it work. “Chris suggested they go back to the old family brewing model of having your own pubs and running a brewery which supplies them. Those pubs become your shop window for the brew and the brand.
“Chris then approached me and I came on board. Between us all we were able to gather some investment to start buying pubs. We’re now about to purchase our tenth, hopefully,” reveals David.
David brings with him a glowing resume filled with experience at various prestigious breweries including Gale’s in Hampshire. He was there for 10 years until it was taken over by Fuller’s and he began to look for something else. “I ran another company for a short while then Chris asked if I wanted a go at this.”
The odd tipple
David may oversee elements of the whole business, from buying the pubs to bottling the beers, but he admits he does enjoy the “odd sip” before the ale is transported to one of the Upham Group’s establishments. “You don’t get to this size without taste testing!” he laughs. “The reason why it’s so delicious is, of course, thanks to our very experienced head brewer, James Stephenson. He really knows what he is doing. He’s brought quality and consistency to everything we do, as well as a great palate. He tweaks the ales all the time – always looking to improve the quality and the brand.”
It’s the relationship between the brand, the beer and the beautiful Hampshire surroundings that’s the inspiration behind the names of the beers:
“They’re all linked to the ménage and the horse fields found around the brewery. Everything comes back to our location. We even have a well at the top of the farm where we draw all our water. Everything is about source and ingredients.
“We want to be consistent too and if we did too many varieties of beer we wouldn’t be. The quality is of the greatest importance. We would love for people, when they think of Hampshire, to think ‘ah, that’s where Punter comes from’.”
You can tell from his enthusiastic tone that David is passionate about what he does. It is consuming, but he doesn’t seem to mind: “There’s no such thing as spare time. I love what I do. If you can’t enjoy this industry there’s probably something wrong with you. I love the people I work alongside and the people are what it’s all about. Money can build you whatever you want - it’s those you surround yourself with who make it a success.”
Tipster 3.6% ABV - A really light amber beer that is great for supping in summer. It looks like a lager, but tastes much better. “Beer is crafted and loved in a brewery and lager is produced in a factory by a scientist,” says David.
Punter 4% ABV - “Fundamentally it’s the quality of this one that makes it so successful. It accounts for over half of our sales at the moment. It sits in the middle of the market.”
Stakes 4.8% ABV - This is the strongest and boldest of the Upham ales. It’s great in flavour with a good, dark colour.
There are four of these; including Sprinter (3.8% ABV) which is dry hopped and brewed for longer. Next is Winter’s T’Ale (4.5% ABV) followed by 1st Drop (4.2% ABV), which was Upham’s first ever creation in the new brewery last year. Autumn’s ale is yet to be named, but word has it there will be a Hampshire-based competition to choose one.
Where to buy it
If you want to purchase a bottle or barrel of Upham’s beer you can try it first in any of the 160 pubs in which they’re pulled. You can also buy it from the brewery itself, call 01489 861383 or pay a visit for a tour at Stakes Farm, Cross Lane, Upham SO32 1FL. It is available in some small independent shops and the Budgen’s local to the brewery.
A lesson in brewing… with Master Brewer James Stephenson
“First we take malted barley that has been milled and we mix it with hot water and put it into the mash tun vessel. It stands for between 45 and 60 minutes depending on the beer we’re producing to allow the starch to be converted into useable sugar. The skill is to control the process to get the amount of sugar we want to create the alcohol and the body and flavour of the beer.
Resembling porridge at this stage, it then goes through a sieve to filter the malt extract, or the ‘wort’. As well as filtering out the wort we wash out as much sugar as we can. More hot water is sprayed on to it at a controlled temperature so we can achieve 95 per cent of the available sugars. That’s then gently drained off the bottom before we pump it into the next vessel. It’s totally natural, there’s nothing added other than the malt, the water and maybe a few salts to achieve the desired flavour of the beer.
Next we run off the wort into the kettle. The hops, or ‘the spice’ of the beer are added at this stage to give bitterness and also at the end of the boil, which adds more hop flavour and aroma. When we’ve finished boiling we create the colour - settling out proteins and any undesirable tannins so you get a clear beer at the end of the process. It’s then fermented to create the alcohol, which involves cooling it down to the fermentation temperature of about 20C. The dried yeast is added next, as well as some oxygen, which helps the yeast to grow.
It takes three days to ferment the wort into what we call ‘green beer’. Sediments and yeast are taken out over another three or so days. That’s seven hours from mashing to fermentation - then a week to finish. We add finings to the beer at the end to take out the rest of the yeast and get a clean, clear pint. Final conditioning happens in the cask, as well as a little fermentation, adding fizziness. All that’s left then is to make sure it tastes as good as it looks!