Published on June 5, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


Lending a hand

The distractions in reviewing pubs and breweries are fairly obvious. Beer, beer and more beer; it’s a wonder any work gets done. Seriously though, you have to be unbelievably strict on yourself or you’d never produce a magazine like Cheers.

But, when editor Alastair Gilmour and photographer Peter Skelton set out to visit The Three Horseshoes in Leamside, near Durham, they ended up reviewing the brewery behind the pub instead. This was down to two things – the attractiveness of the 2.5-barrel capacity brewhouse itself, and its engagingly talkative head brewer Matthew Franklin.

The Working Hand Brewery started life in 2012 as Leamside Brewery, named after the small County Durham village, and operated happily for several years under the ownership of pub operator Darryl Frankland. Then, one time when Darryl came back from holiday, he found that his son Matthew had changed the name of the brewery, had dropped the old favourite beers and had devised new recipes. He had been helping out in the brewhouse and was obviously champing at the bit – something of a coded message that said: “I can do this if only you’d let me”.

Matthew says: “After not talking to me for a couple of hours I heard him telling someone about the changes, so I guessed it was all OK.

“We brew four core beers and a few specials, brewing four times a week. I get a hand from Ross Bainbridge getting eight casks out of each brew – any more than that and I’d probably be not too happy with the quality. You have to feel comfortable with what goes into the fermenter and when you’re selling beer to somebody you have to give them a chance; mistakes can be expensive.

“We let people come in and brew for the day – doing everything under supervision. It’s very hands-on and simply watching would be very boring. Brewing is a simple process made difficult.”

There’s a story behind every Working Hand beer – for example More Choke Jackie comes from an oft-told tale about teaching someone to drive who hadn’t even got a licence. Then there’s Dr Kelly’s Sick Note, a blonde session ale; Lucky Crown Bitter and Angry Baby IPA, all with references to The Three Horseshoes bar-room banter often referred to as the five o’clock club; rich in humour, insight and depth of character.

“We made a Black IPA which was amazing and went so well you’d think it had evaporated,” says Matthew. “But we’re still trying to find the right balance. People are so much more interested in where their beer is coming from, where it’s made and what’s in it.

“We also try and keep prices down, particularly for micropubs. People have put so much effort into them – it’s someone’s dream.”

Matthew uses a large kitchen ladle instead of a conventional sparging arm to spray hot liquor onto the top of the grains to flush out the last of the fermentables. It does the job admirably, but there’s reasoning behind it.

He says: “I really love doing that part of the job, it’s a good way to spend ten minutes thinking about what you want to do with your life.”

About the Author

Alastair Gilmour

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