Enjoying an afternoon’s stroll around the peaks and plains of Cheshire often puts one in good mind of a refreshing cup of tea. But there is a different brew on offer in the tiny hamlet of Wincle where any keen rambler can enjoy the pleasant aroma of freshly-brewed hops and barley and the unmistakable odour of fermenting yeast.Giles Meadows
This is the home of Wincle Beer Company, tucked into a small valley where the only neighbours are sheep and the occasional farmer. Thomas Castle discovered head brewer and owner Giles Meadows amongst the barrels casting his eye over the amber nectar.
The morning at the brewery opened my eyes about the amount of hard work and passion that goes into creating one of the local real ale market’s most prized assets. Welcoming me at the door to an old milking house, now the brewing room, was Brew the dog, trustily guarding the premises.
Taking care not to get too much in the way of the barrels rolling towards me I chatted with Giles about how he came to set up in Wincle.
“It all adds to the character of the brewery. Plus the farm next door is still a full working farm which helps to create a traditional English country environment.”
Giles’ idea to start brewing was not a spur of the moment thought. It has taken years of development. Having always worked within the catering and hospitality industry, managing pubs up and down the country, Giles settled again back in his beloved Wincle. He is enjoying a booming trade during a time when real ale is experiencing considerable growth.
“People these days are taking more notice than ever on what they are consuming”, Giles explains. “They want to know where products come from and often are more interested if they can tell a story about them – that’s one of the reasons I decided to open the brewery here to visitors. In my experience it is good beer as well as good branding which make it successful and by tapping into this theory that people want to understand and talk about product specifics, I decided to let them come here and have a go at brewing themselves.”
After working with various breweries and pub chains up and down the country Giles also managed a bar in Zimbabwe.
“I always wanted to travel and a friend suggested Zimbabwe where his family owned a bar, it must have changed a lot now as this was twenty years ago, but the experience I gained there was considerable.
I bought The Ship up the road from here in 2002 and sold it to JW Lees in 2008 as I wanted to start brewing. I enrolled on a three month brewing course soon after and then myself and a business partner, who I bought out 18 months later, set up here.
We originally had a five barrel plant when we started, but two years ago I decided the time had come to expand. This is now a fifteen barrel plant which means I can brew much more. We are getting busier each week brewing various ales and delivering as far asCumbriaas demand increased. I did not plan the business to be this successful but people enjoy our beer so I needed to brew more. “
Having been in the catering and licensee trade for most of his working life Giles understands the concept of creating and maintaining a consistent pint.
“It’s the water supply which is the most important to get right. A lot of the major breweries have their own labs to ensure the correct chemical balance is maintained, we do not have that facility here though. I knew when I came to Wincle as landlord of The Ship that the water was good here for brewing, we have our own borehole at the Brewery so we can source it direct. The quality is always consistent; it has the correct balance of minerals which work when we add the hops and other ingredients. It is vital to maintain consistency and that is another reason I wanted to set up in Wincle, that and the picturesque setting.”
Giles talks about the ‘hop factor’ which he says is critical to his beer.
“We use hops fromWorcesterandHereford, I always thought these were the best for brewing with and they certainly make a difference to the taste in my opinion. My view is that the beer is there to get drunk so it must be drinkable. That is my philosophy.
We spend a great deal of time focusing on maintaining the clarity, for example the fermentation, mash, tan and in ensuring the correct balance of chemical component and water is constant. I always had an interest in drinking real ale and I know how difficult it can be to maintain these factors.”
Giles devised the branding of his ales from the regulars and characters he knew as a landlord. So ‘eccentric English ales’ were born.
“Ideas for naming the beer come from the characters I used to serve at The Ship, for instance Waller, Rambler and Undertaker all have their own stories and are named after people around here. We were once commissioned to make a brew for the local vicar, he was having a meeting with several other vicars in the area, I remember them all sitting on the wall outside with a pint. It would have made a great photo. It’s not just the beer that’s eccentric; it’s the drinkers of it. One guy arrives on a beach buggy pulling a trailer to take it away.”
Giles has been fortunate enough recently to add an ex-Olympian to his team at Wincle.
“Mark Holton, who was a 400 metre hurdler in the 1980-84 Olympics has just started with us, we can see another aptly named brew coming from his introduction.”