Reviews

New River Brewery – Riverbank beers that flow gently to the glass

Written by Les Middlewood

The New River Brewery may have been around for only two years but the quality and consistency of their beers has impressed local drinkers and suggest a bright future for the brewery. How has their success been achieved in such a short period of time? In October South Herts Branch visited the Hoddesdon-based brewery to find out.

The New River Brewery may have been around for only two years but the quality and consistency of their beers has impressed local drinkers and suggest a bright future for the brewery. How has their success been achieved in such a short period of time? In October South Herts Branch visited the Hoddesdon-based brewery to find out.

Jeremy Alter and John Bourdeaux

Friends John Bourdeaux and Jeremy Alter, City workers harboured a love of real ale and decided to follow their passion and set up a local brewery. A home was sought and a unit warehouse near the banks of the New River on the Pindar Estate in Hoddesdon was acquired. John saw a comparison with real ale in the 1970’s and the plight of the New River. Real ale was struggling as the big brewers tried to kill it off with their tasteless keg beers, the future of a cask-conditioned in the hands of a small number of traditional brewers and the burgeoning success of the nascent Campaign for Real Ale. The New River an early 17th century man-made conduit for clean water to London with wells at Amwell and Chadwell Spring, close to Hoddesdon, was also under threat – there were even plans to concrete it over. The Thames Water Action Group persuaded Thames Water to invest £12m to save the river which today still provides 10% of London’s drinking water – the river more recently further invested in to provide a pleasant footpath along most of its surviving route from Chadwell into Islington. New River became the obvious choice for the name of the new brewing company.

A new brewery for the New River

With banks spurning opportunities to invest in the brewery John and Jeremy needed to look to their own ends to find much of the necessary funding and they were keen to set up a working brewery which would, right from the outset, allow for any increased demand, thus avoiding the disruption of future moves and the constant upgrade of equipment. The Small Brewers Relief of 2002 – starting at 50% – had, they felt, made brewing a viable proposition. All brand-new stainless-steel brewing equipment was bought, floors were realigned to allow drainage run-off and the new impressive 12-barrel plant began production. A short video of the brewery’s construction can be found on the company website.

John and Jeremy learned the brewing process at Brewlab and by additionally volunteering at the Black Horse brew-pub in High Barnet. They decided that they wanted to brew a range of beers between an ABV band of approximately 3.8% and 5% and their initial beers – London Tap, a thirst-quenching modern Pale Ale (ABV 3.8%), Riverbed Red, a full-flavoured Amber Ale (ABV 4.2%) and Five-Inch Drop, inspired by the New River’s gentle gradient into London from Hertfordshire, an IPA with citric notes from American and New Zealand hops (ABV 4.6%), became the back-bone and flagship beers of the company’s initial production.

New River’s recognisable company and pump-clip logos feature drawings of features and fauna and flora found along or nearby the river. The main company logo features the Gauge House on the River Lea, near Hertford which allows the New River to be supplemented with water from the Lea.

As the beers began to find favour and flow in nearby Free Houses and clubs, extra beers were added – the brewery able to make 2 brews per week. An additional fermenter was added as demand took hold. The company have developed a wet yeast culture and placed orders with local maltsters and hop growers in the UK and America, New Zealand and Germany.

Finding the outlets

The need to seek and retain outlets for the beer demands constant effort. As New River’s beers have gained a reputation for their quality and consistency, the company has been able to secure some supply deals with pub companies. Their beer portfolio has increased – additional beers have included Cold Bean an expresso stout, Blind Poet a smoked porter and Pumped Up! an unlikely sounding Giant Pumpkin bitter. John admitted that the choice of what to brew is sometimes a leap of faith initially developed on a small trial brewery. He feels the secret to these “specials” is in using the right balance of adjuncts – hints of coffee or pumpkin rather that an overbearing full flavour.

New River’s water supply is “Burtonised” by adding minerals and acids. At the brewery the fermentation process is the key to good beer and it is typically possible to cask after seven days of brewing. With casks a major investment, the company can store 300 at any one time in the cold store on site whilst others are out in circulation. A recent development has been bottling. Five Inch Drop and Twin Spring are now popular bottle-conditioned beers bottled on site and available in local shops and farm outlets. Blind Poet is soon to follow.

Sampling the beers

Today New River’s beers can be found in Hertfordshire, Essex and London and there are moves to expand into Bedfordshire. But on the day of our visit we did not need to travel very far! Twin Spring, London Tap, Riverbed Red, Five Inch Drop and Blind Poet were tapped and spiled in the cold store and ready for consumption. South Herts branch, I can assure you, eagerly did their duty (it’s a hard job, but somebody…)

It’s great to see New River putting its faith into cask-conditioned beer – their beers are a very welcome addition to Hertfordshire’s brewing scene and now a pleasant find in many a local pub.

Their recent winning of the Silver Award in this year’s Hertfordshire Beer of the Year award, with their excellent Twin Spring, demonstrates how far the company has come in such a short time. We look forward to the new brews that will undoubtedly materialise in 2018

We would like to thank John and Jeremy for their hospitality and an engaging and informative visit. If you haven’t tried New River’s beers, we wholeheartedly recommend that you give them a try.

Visit the New River website at www.newriverbrewery.co.uk.

Leave a Comment