Touring the Banburyshire pubs on a bike: Hook Norton Brewery

In support of village pubs around the area after the pandemic Miles Doughty is touring them by bike. Here is his latest column.

MIles Doughty and company at the Hook Norton Brewery.
MIles Doughty and company at the Hook Norton Brewery.

Pub pedals 21 – Hook Norton Brewery

By Miles Doughty

It’s still lockdown 2 (at the time of writing) and I have managed to cycle to a couple of pubs for takeaway and to find out how they were surviving the pandemic, but my bike has clearly had enough. The pedals were spinning but not turning the wheels, so it was off to Broadribbs Bikes to sort it out. Fortunately they’ve been open and in fact very busy throughout the pandemic.

This gives me the opportunity to report on a recent visit to Hook Norton Brewery in September. The brewery owns five of the pubs I have visited, and I had arranged a tour for my Dad. I cycled out through Adderbury, Milton and Milcombe passing the intriguing dovecote which apparently has an egg collecting ladder mechanism. Fortunately my engineering interest would be satisfied at the brewery and we arrived with time to sample their excellent food from the Malthouse restaurant. My sausage roll was really with perfect pastry and coleslaw, and was washed down nicely with a classic Hooky and left me in anticipation of more.

We soon learnt from tour guide Andrew that the brewery was started in 1849 by Scottish maltster and farmer John Harris, but it was in the 1890’s that nephew Alban Clarke built the historic tower brewery. This format allows flow between stages by gravity after the water is pumped to the top by a beautiful steam engine, which still functions today. Malt is also lifted to the storeroom then up to the grist mill for crushing. Soaking the malt in hot water produces wort which is then cooled before fermenting. We visited the beautiful open copper pan in the eves of the tower where this used to happen. Fermentation vessels then allow batches of up to 17,000 litres to be brewed using Hooky’s unique yeast before racking. We also met Nelson, Commander and Lucas - the brewery horses - that still pull the dray delivering beer to the Pear Tree and Sun pubs in the village and l enjoy a pint of beer a day. Finally it was our turn to swirl, sniff and sup some beers. My favourite was the Award-winning Red Rye, with a rich, fruity taste balanced with citrus. As I cycled home through Sibford Ferris, Shutford, North Newington and the Saltway in Banbury, I wondered which pubs might be serving Red Rye. I hope to find out once they reopen and my bike is working again.