Published on October 16th, 2014 | by Alastair Gilmour


Bless them small

You don’t have to be big to make an impression, writes Alastair Gilmour

The microbrewing and mini-microbrewing sector is showing little sign of slowing up – with the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra) reporting that Britain is now the world leader in terms of breweries per head of population.

Brewpubs have also emerged – the likes of Newcastle’s Bridge Tavern is now well established and Leazes Lane at the Trent House getting into its stride, while the Hop & Cleaver is also equipped with a mini-micro. Now Darlington, already a terrific town for enjoying good beer, has joined the party.

Number Twenty 2 Traditional Ale House & Canteen has installed a one-barrel (36 gallons) plant in what used to be the pub’s kitchen. Initially, local brewing personalities have been invited to turn up and mash in and see what comes out the other end.

It’s believed the legendary John Constable – formerly of Butterknowle Brewery – will do a shift with recipe book in hand, which might or might not include the sorely-missed Conciliation Ale. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Ralph Wilkinson, Number Twenty 2’s owner, says: “John Braithwaite, formerly of Hop & Grape, Darlington, has been doing all the pipework and making a few modifications. We’ll make the beers under our Village Brewer banner.”

The Village Brewer’s star turn is White Boar Bitter, a 3.8% abv stunner with flavours that develop through biscuit malt and windfall fruit then back again. The All-Parliamentary Beer Group once ordered four, nine-gallon casks for the House of Commons which apparently sold out in a single day.

Number Twenty 2 is a theatre of beer – 11 handpulls in operation at weekends, backed up by five pilsners, a selection of fruit beers and ciders, and a 20-strong list of wines by the glass. The pub’s high ceilings, stained glass partitions, timber flooring, well-weathered counter and exposed brickwork are simply an invitation to dawdle.

“I’ve been thinking about the microbrewery for ages – a few years,” says Ralph. “The only space we had to develop anything is the kitchen but we had a really good young girl who ran it well and we got a reputation for our food. She’s now gone off doing her own thing, so I decided to invest in the one-barrel kit.

“It’s never going to be commercial, but it’ll be nice to play with and create an interest in the pub. It’s all about being a talking point and increasing choice.

“We’ll be concentrating on session beers using English hops. There won’t be any commercial pressure so we’ll brew perhaps once a week or every fortnight, whatever seems right. Nick Stafford at Hambledon Brewery is considering using it as a pilot plant to see how a new recipe might work, rather than going straight into 20-barrel production.”

There’s more to come from the Number Twenty 2 operation – 20 years old come March – but walking before you can run is the Ralph Wilkinson way.

He says: “We’re still harbouring ambitions to distill gin and vodka on the premises. That’s a bit of a dream at the moment but the idea would be to see how it went on a very small scale then transfer production to a bigger unit if it goes well.”

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Alastair Gilmour

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