I'd taken advantage of a great offer from Virgin Trains to purchase some tickets down the West Coast Main Line and hoped to go down to Lancaster and visit Lancaster Brewery and their Brewhouse & Tap. However when I contacted them this week I'd found out that they'd been 'invaded' by an all-day function on Saturday so instead I decided to head to Workington on the Cumbria coast. There I could visit Mitchell Krause Brewing who had just recently installed their own shiny new brewkit to brew their interesting continental-style beers.
View Workington in a larger map
Outward transport was as follows :-
Train: Glasgow Central to Carlisle (08:40, 09:40 and others, Virgin Trains)
Train: Carlisle to Workington (~40 on the hour during the day, Northern Trains)
The morning started out glorious but threatened to turn increasingly thundery the further south I got. After a quick detour to one of the Wetherspoons in Carlisle to watch the end of the New Zealand-England rugby match I got onto the slow train to Workington, about 30 miles away on the Cumbria coast. It had just started to pour down as I stepped out of the train station but thankfully owner/brewer Graeme Mitchell had offered to pick me up (many, many thanks for this as I would have been a drowned rat if I had tried to walk up the brewery). The brewery is located on the outskirts of Workington on Graeme's parents' farm (and where he & his family now live as well) and is officially named 'The Tractor Shed' as the premises - well - used to house tractors!
Graeme's been in the beer industry for quite a while ('forever') and spent time at Whitbred (which then divested most of its brewing assets to Interbrew) & Carlsberg amongst others, helping to launch products such as Starporamen in the UK and Boddingtons in the US. After moving back to Cumbria he decided to found Mitchell Krause Brewing and launch a number of his own Continental/US/'non-Real Ale' beers in 2009 on his own brewery. However the global Credit Crunch put paid to the finance for his own brewery at that particular time and he was forced to cuckoo-brew at a number of breweries including Hepworths, Bitter End & Hardknott. However since early 2013 he has managed to renovate and refit the aforementioned Tractor Shed, install a custom 12BBL brew-kit fabricated in Burton (there's a great time lapse video of all of this) and finally has been brewing his own beers since April 2013.
At the front of the brewery there's also a small modern bar/brewery tap where all the Mitchell Krause beers are available on draught and also in bottled form. He currently brews 3 of his own beers here, a Czech-style Pilsner(#1), an American Pale Ale(#2) and a Bavarian Hefe Weiss(#3), all of which draw on his travel & experience in the beer industry, and which are brewed with authentic regional malt & hops & completely different yeast strains - it's deliberately a bit different to the 'typical' real-ale microbrewery or brewpub in Cumbria of which there are ~35 as of 2014. Today the pilsner and the hefe weiss were available on shiny keg fonts (served at ~6C) with the American Pale Ale on hand-pull which seems to be the norm for all 3 beers. The tap is normally only open after brewery tours but he's also going to open it for some of the World Cup games - a few tasty hefeweissen during some of the matches would be great!
Graeme then led me around the brewkit at the far end of the shed. Interestingly the malt gets wetted initially at floor level from the Hot Liquor Tank before being pumped into mash tun where it's further hydrated for an hour and sparged. It's then transferred into the copper where 3x 18KW heating elements are used to bring it to the boil. It's a fair amount of electricity and Graeme would like to do something with either solar or biomass power in the near future as well as possibly installing a reed-based liquid recycling system.
The pilsner is fermented at a temperature of 10-12C for a couple of couple of weeks and then racked out into these 2 large plastic tanks to be sent to Lakeland Breweries in Cockermouth for lagering at -1C for a couple of more weeks before being kegged or bottled. Graeme let me have a taste of this out of the fermenting vessel as it was close to being racked and although it was definitely cloudy, it tasted great with a more bready, earthy flavour coming through than I would have thought. It'd be great to sell this unfiltered (as WEST Beer in Glasgow do with Wild WEST) but although it's (fairly) easy to educate people about a cloudy lager in a brewpub it's far more difficult in a remote country pub (there would probably be a lot of returns). The hefe weiss was also fermenting away today, is made with 55% wheat and so is naturally cloudy, and is both fermented and kegged in-house (bottling is still done in Cockermouth). I managed a taste of this out of the fermenter as well and it was fantastic - loads of cloves & lemon in the aroma and a lovely body with great texture. The bottled version of the hefe weiss is effectively bottle conditioned and (much to Graeme's surprise) recently won a local CAMRA bottled ale prize!
When Graeme runs brewery tours he tries to explain the wide range of beers that are possible, his beers in particular and how they are all inter-related using one of the great Pop Chart Lab prints - in this case 'The Very Many Varieties of Beer' - every brewery should have one of these!
As well as his 3 core beers Graeme plans to brew a darker beer for the winter, probably as authentic as possible an Irish Dry Stout and he also produced this experimental beer to try - a chilli infused beer. It had a really nice chilli kick in the finish but I'd have to say I definitely prefer chilli in darker beers.
Graeme also mentioned that a change of name is being seriously mooted. Mitchell Krause Brewing (the Krause is his mother's maiden name) does sound quite formal and perhaps old fashioned (though I do actually like it) and instead the new name is likely to be Tractor Shed Brewing - it'll be interesting to see how any re-branding plans pan out in the next 6 months or so.
Graeme is rightly really proud to have brought brewing back to Workington. The last brewery in the town was Workington Brewery on Ladies Walk, a very distinctive green building with a huge chimney tower (which is visible from Graeme's parents' farm and can also be made out in the external brewery photo above). After being taken over by S&N it was closed only a few years later in 1988 with remarks made in Parliament that S&N had 'deceived the people of Workington in an unparalleled manner'. Graeme was kind enough to drop me off in the centre of Workington and I went in search of this. It's a lovely collection of buildings, previously a brewery, maltings and lots of warehouses which have now been turned into flats, but I guess at least it's something that the name survives outside.
Also in the centre of Workington is an interesting piece of public art masquerading as a fully working clock, Lookout. The hours are on a ring above the sphere and the minutes set on the floor, so the correct time at this point is ~12:45pm.
The clock was definitely telling me it was time to look for somewhere to shelter from the rain and so I headed into the old part of Workington. I'd hoped the Green Dragon Hotel would be open for a beer & lunch, but it was definitely closed, so I headed around the corner to the Commercial Inn.
It's a Jennings pub with only their range of beers available (+ Martsons, Wychwood etc...), so I took a pint of Sneck Lifter (more intensely malty & spicy than I remembered, quite good on a dreich day) and sat down at the front of the single roomed pub. There's a lot of dark wood panelling & dark red carpets here, but it's brightened up by quite a few interesting mirrors and some sparkly floor-to-ceiling support pillars. And it's definitely a horse-racing hot-bed, booking slips were available and the TVs (including a huge one up on the mezzanine level) were all tuned into to the preview of today's Derby at Epsom Downs.
I didn't think I had enough time to drop into another pub for food so I purchased a selection of sliders from M&S, managed a quick 1/2 of the latest US collab beer (Adnams/Societe The Publican) in The Henry Bessemer Wetherspoons (a nice conversion of an old cinema) and headed back to the train station. My plan was either to get the train straight to Maryport and wander around for a bit or get off at the stop before (Flimby) and walk to Maryport. It was still raining pretty heavily but I think my brain sub-consciously decided that it was easing off so I decided on the walk. About 10 minutes after getting off at Flimby I concluded that was probably a bad/wet idea but I soldiered on in the incessant rain. The path to Maryport follows the coast and on a good day there are meant to be great views over to Scotland, but today I was just happy when Maryport marina and harbour came into view.
There seemed to be a fair number of pubs & restaurants to choose from both at the harbour and up into Shipping Brow towards the town centre and it was there that I was rescued by the Lifeboat Inn.
Inside there were a few other people drying off and enjoying the special of fresh cod-and-chips (great for £4.95) but I was happy to head to the bright bar and take in the 3 beers that were on from the 4 hand-pulls - Cumbrian Legendary Loweswater Gold, Jennings Bitter and Derwent Carlisle State Bitter. I had high hopes of the Carlisle State Bitter since it was meant to be brewed to a old Carlisle State Management Brewery recipe but although it was a decently balanced golden bitter there was a slight astringent finish which led me to believe it was just about on the turn - the perils of real ale.
It's a nice, cosy pub with a fair amount of seats in a couple of side sections off from the main bar and a beer garden out the back (only in use by the fishes today). The walls & shelves are full of old nautical bric-a-brac, photographs of streets, trams & castles and also newspaper clippings regarding the Titanic - the founders of the White Star Line which owned & built the Titanic started off life in Maryport and there was still a lot of pride in the company at the time of the Titanic's demise. Also on the wall was a mirror from yet another old Cumbrian brewery, this time Maryport Brewery; there really were a lot of breweries around the Cumbrian ports in years gone by (as there were around most port cities).
Having dried out somewhat I went in search of cake (found at Kemps of Maryport) and beer (found at a Polish/Lithuanian food shop, Little World Foods, although the Švyturys Gintarinis was a fairly bland pilsner, nothing like the one from Mitchell Krause). However I had better luck when back in Carlisle - I simply googled 'Off License near Carlisle Station', discounted all the usual suspects, followed the train line for a bit and, hey-presto, under a railway arch I eventually found Corkscrew Wines (and a sign for Local Beers, always promising).
Unsurprisingly given the name of the place there's an impressive selection of wine but true to their sign there was a display of beers setup on a wine barrel in the centre of the shop. And with bottles from Geltsdale & Derwent breweries available I chose 2 of each and went happily, if still a bit damp, dishevelled & wrinkled, on my way back to Glasgow.
Train: Maryport to Carlisle (15:33, but normally ~25/30 on the hour)
Train: Carlisle to Glasgow Central (frequent)