Cheshire Brewhouse: Engineering A More British Pint
A few weeks back, I was invited along to Saltaire Brewery to judge the annual NCB competition. I haven’t done any judging for a while but I jumped at this one, as I’ve been an advocate of homebrewing for a while now. The link between the grass-roots community and the ‘pros’ is plain to see; not only that, but my interest was piqued by the sheer range and quality of the entries. With homebrew being judged and supplemented by even more homebrewed beer being served from cask and keg in the bars, this was a mini-beer festival with a difference – one for the conference leagues, so to speak.
Throughout the throng of brewers and entrants stood one man; Shane Swindells, brewer at Cheshire Brewhouse. Despite being ably hosted by Saltaire Brewery, Shane was the man in charge, corralling the 10-strong judging team through the day and onto the awards. Having been impressed by his incredibly balanced, easy-drinking beers, I had a chat with Shane to get the lowdown on Cheshire Brewhouse. He’s a man of many talents.
‘In a previous life, I was the son of a Pub Landlord, so I’ve been around beer since I was six years old. But when I left school I did an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering’. he says. ‘I didn’t like it very much though – so tried several other jobs, after leaving including selling novelty items in Blackpool tower, working the pubs and clubs as a semi-professional singer and running a motorcycle salvage company, amongst other things. I fell back into engineering though after a number of years and retrained in electrical engineering.’
In 2005, Shane joined Molson Coors at Burton Brewery as a multi-skilled Engineer. It was here that his interest in beer resurfaced. ‘I ended up building a one-barrel brewery at home purely so I could learn how yeast and fermentation worked… so I could be a better engineer at Burton. I learned a great deal, as well as finding that I could also brew pretty good beer to boot! ‘
He then joined the Northern Craft Brewers. ‘(Joining) The NCB was very important as I could take my experimental brews to people who had brewed for many years & were very knowledgeable and take their advice. I was also able to develop my palate by trying the many different styles entered into the many competitions they organised. I was subjected to possibly every beer fault possible through helping to judge the smaller competitions we ran. Our ex Chairman Bill Lowe has been a “National Guild of Wine and Beer Judges” Judge for many years and tasting beers with him and many of the other members enabled me to learn a lot about appreciating beer better – and brewing better – in a relatively short period of time.’
Although he doesn’t brew at home any more, Shane finds time to come back to the group and offer his knowledge to the masses; which brings us right up to date.
Cheshire Brewhouse was born in 2012, built of home-engineered kit and recycled parts – as much a matter of necessity rather than anything else. ‘I decided that as I had next to no money – and because I worked as a multi-skilled engineer on and off for 23 years – that I would source and fabricate the brewery myself. My copper came from a trout farm in Abergavenny, and I have (re-used) dairy tanks from Cornwall, Huddersfield & Scotland. I’ve chopped and changed things over the last 18 months to improve the process as I go along. The only things I haven’t had a hand in are the pumps and heat exchanger – pretty much everything else is my own work. My T.I.G welding skills have improved no end as a result!’ he laughs.
All very romantic and quintessentially Heath-Robinson, but the beer that Shane makes is testament to his focus and commitment to doing things his way. Cheshire Brewhouse has a small but perfectly-formed core range with an English streak a mile wide.
‘I think there are far too many blonde, hop forward, citrussy beers brewed with foreign hops in the marketplace!’ he says, almost surprisingly in the age we live in. ‘I also found it increasingly difficult to find balanced cask beers – so that’s where I started.’
‘My light Pale ale – Cheshire Gap (3.7% abv) – is hopped with plenty of floral Bodecia & East Kent Goldings. Engine Vein is a 4.2% abv copper-hued best bitter hopped with a decent late charge of First Gold and balanced with biscuit malt. Draft Burton Ale – or DBA (4.6% abv) – is a Burton-style strong bitter hopped with Target & Styrian Goldings. Finally, my stout, Lindow (4.5% abv) is lightly hopped with Target hops & balanced with a hint of vine fruit from the malts.’
Despite the fact that Shane cites Ken Grossman as a major inspiration (Those guys are just amazing…. what Ken Grossman has built up – from his eco-friendly values to his exceptionally high quality beers – is amazing…), another tenet to Cheshire Brewhouse is Shane’s effort to be part of his local community in terms of reach and sourcing ingredients.
‘I source the hops and malts for my 4 core brews from companies in England, with malt and hops grown & malted in east Anglia & Worcestershire. At least 80% of my current production is sold direct to independent pubs and bottle shops within 35 miles of the brewery. Even my my bottles, packaging and label stock from within 20 miles of the brewery. I am also part of a Cheshire Brewers Co-operative where we try to help each other out with shared deliveries, collecting each others’ casks – that sort of thing. Small is good.’ he laughs.
He’s also working on an interesting-sounding, home-smoked porter as we speak. ‘The malt is being smoked for me at The Cheshire Smokehouse, and I’ll also be using some more unusual fruit sugars as an adjunct to add to the background complexity.’
In short, if you want to try Shane’s cask ales, you may have to go direct to the source – which isn’t a bad thing, if you ask me. From his first beer going on sale at The Lord Mountbatten in Congleton, you can find Cheshire Brewhouse regularly at The Young Pretender, The Lion & Swan; and a little further out in The Beer Emporium in Sandbach or Beer Dock In Crewe.