A Day at Pitfield Brewery

In these days of micro and nano-breweries popping up every day, it’s easy to forget the first wave of smaller breweries who set the foundation for what we have now. Pitfield Brewery was founded way back in 1982, in the cellar of The Beer Shop on Pitfield Street, London N1 – a shop I popped into a couple of times way back in the day. You can find more detail about the history of the Pitfield Brewery here.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the move in 2008 to Moreton in Essex, and the role of brewer Andy Skene, who has been with the company for many years, and who started in the brewing business in the mid 1980s. He’s brewed in some interesting places, including high up some Ecuadorian mountains. It being a small world, he opened up the Queen Street Brewhouse in Colchester in 2015, and lives about 10 doors down from where we used to live in Colchester (which it transpires is just four doors down from where a stalwart Colchester CAMRA member now lives).

DominionBrewery (21)Bumping into Andy in Waltham Abbey of all places, I invited myself along to a future day’s brewing at the brewery, out of which he brews both the Pitfield ales (vegan and organic), and his own Dominion Brewery beers. The invite from Andy came quickly, it was an early start (6am!!) but that meant a quick run down the A12 and along the A414 to Moreton. The usual Transit Van cabin detritus was in place, but for something just that little extra – a container with a pair of false eyelashes, left by a burlesque artiste who had used the back of the van to change in before entertaining at a variety night at the Queen Street Brewhouse a couple of nights earlier. Who says the life of a publican isn’t a glamorous one…

The A414 is a bit of a brewery alley in Essex now, with both the Pitfield Brewery, The Essex Brewing Company, joined by The Broxbourne Brewery/Fallen Angel Brewery who have just relocated to Writtle.

The Pitfield Brewery is tucked away on a country lane, and is housed in a b-i-g farm barn, with the actual brewing and fermenting kit taking up just a small space. Not a place for someone with a compulsive cleaning issue. The brewery has character (pics below). Character in spades. What it doesn’t have is spotless tiled floors, gleaming copper and stainless steel vessels.

The brewing vessels are probably older than the majority of the current wave of brewers – over 30 years old, although, to be honest, the boiler looked like something you could have seen an early photograph of Isambard Kingdom Brunel standing proudly beside.

Brewers’ mate Neil was already on site, adding to his extensive home brewing credentials. The boiling vessel was being heated by both gas and the internal elements, and a complex and ever-changing arrangement with hosepipes, using a pump, transported brewing liquid, wort, and sparging water between the boiling vessel, the mash tun, and the liquor tank, which was up on a mezzanine level (alongside a fully made up sauna, along with some sauna kits – don’t ask…)

It’s one thing reading about the brewing process on a larger scale, but having done several home brews, I was surprised at how the brew we were doing was identical to the home brew process. OK lots more water, and bigger kit, but otherwise the same. Big sacks of grain were dumped into the water once it was in the mash tun, and stirred (there’s a knack in heaving a sack onto your shoulder to pour into the mash tun from shoulder height).

Waiting for the mash enabled Andy and I to do a bit of spring cleaning and to put up a set of previously loved IKEA shelves, so my many years experience of flat-pack furniture proved fruitful. A malt delivery arrived, necessitating swearing at the forklift and recharging the battery. A fermentation vessel (one of several) needed cleaning out and a quick trip to The Range to get a new broom. A rather compact heat exchanger, only the size of a small radiator, cooled the wort down en route to the fermentation vessel.

Magic Words were spoken when it was realised that kit to cool the FVs had frozen over and the pump had died. Fortunately there were other pumps available (there were spare bits of kit everywhere!). But by 4pm it was all done and dusted. The boiler’s front plate had been removed and the interior scrubbed vigorously. Mash tun cleaned. Everything hosed down.