Published on February 7, 2018 | by Alastair Gilmour


The bear necessities of life

A tiny Northumberland brewery impresses London-based beer tutor, writer and master trainer Christine Cryne

Berwick upon Tweed is one of Cheers’ favourite destinations – pubs aplenty, local beers and home-made pies galore might be the main attraction, but next time you’re around North Northumberland, take a look at Spittal on the other side of the Tweed.

A short walk from the promenade – and one of the county’s finest beaches – you’ll find Bear Claw Brewery tucked away down a back street with a stained glass maker and coffee roaster for company.

The tiny, 1.5-barrel brew plant is the baby of Rikki Graham, who set it up in 2014; an interesting choice of career for someone who’d studied instrument-making in Glasgow. However, the practical bent has clearly been a benefit when you see what he done with the small space available to him. The mash tun doubles as the copper and the heat exchanger would fit in a large coat pocket. But there are advantages in this small brewhouse, if a little gory.

Rikki says: “The unit used to be a slaughterhouse so the floors and drainage were OK.”

Brewing takes place about once or twice a week depending on demand with a mix of bottles and cask produced.

“I hand-bottle and package the beer, which takes a lot of my week but I hope eventually to be able to afford a bottler,” says Rikki. “The local market is still cask dominated so I will do both.”

Don’t expect to see him doing the usual 6am mash; 5pm is more likely with an early morning finish – 2am is not unknown. His partner works at Kielder Observatory in the heart of Northumberland International Dark Sky Park so he has adjusted his working day to suit.

As happens in a lot of breweries, the spent malt goes for animal feed and Bear Claw’s goes to the Clydesdales at the Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre on the Ford & Etal Estate a short haul away.

Expansion has been steady – Bear Claw’s philosophy is to plough back surplus profits into the brewery, such as the cask washer bought as a result of a successful weekend at Berwick Food and Drink Show last September.

Although still small, the brewery is twice the size it was two years ago when it moved into a second unit. Upstairs is the ingredients store and the extra space freed up downstairs has allowed more experimentation into beer styles – plus a bit more elbow room that all brewers need.

Look over the various bits of equipment and you’ll spy two large wooden barrels (ex-Thistly Cross Cider) formerly used for whisky cider. They contain two completely different beers which have been maturating for months.

Lambic, Saison, Heather Ale, Imperial Stout – worked on with local resident Dr Mall who used to brew for Courage and work for Simpsons Malt – Belgian Blonde and Red Ale all feature in Bear Claw’s repertoire.

Beer Claw Brewery opens its doors on the first Wednesday of most months (noon-11pm) but seek out their beers in Curfew, Berwick’s award-winning micropub, or the Brown Bear on the town’s Hide Hill.

For tasting notes and more photos visit: http://cryneinyourbeer.sitelio.me

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Alastair Gilmour

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