SARAH SINGLETON discovers a team effort is behind an award-winning ale

IN a proper Wiltshire collaboration, a Pewsey microbrewer joined forces with some innovative Mildenhall gardeners to create an award-winning ale called Minal Tap.

Gordon Edwards, brewer and proprietor of the Shed Alehouse, took the locally grown hops and used them to make a beer that took the crown at the Swindon CAMRA Beer Festival, at the Steam Museum recently.

Declared Beer Of The Festival, Minal Tap won a public vote at the three-day festival, which attracted 2,000 people.

The hops were grown by Mildenhall’s gardening club – whose members came up with the name, inspired by parody rock band Spinal Tap.

Brewer Gordon said: “They planted these hops, and asked, if they grew enough, if I would be interested in using them.”

Gordon is no stranger to competition triumph since starting his microbrewery. He came second at the same event two years ago, and won at the Chippenham Beer Festival in his first year.

He said the secret of his success was to make a beer that was middle of the road – not in terms of quality but in taste.

“It’s not too hoppy or too malty, so lots of people find it is drinkable,” he said.

Surprisingly perhaps, he admitted the brew was not actually to his taste.

“It’s not necessarily my cup of tea – I prefer hoppy beers,” he said.

The Mildenhall-grown hops are called Prima Donna – a variety of First Gold hop. Now the plants are established, the hops should keep growing and providing ingredients for beer making year after year.

Garden club member Milly Carmichael said: “I was chair of the gardening club when we first came up with the idea and planted our hops two years ago. Gordon Edwards at Shed Ales in Pewsey has done all the hard work though.”

Gordon, 50, who is married to Samantha, started out in a very different career. He worked as a production co-ordinator at Honda in Swindon for 19 years, and beer brewing was a hobby for his spare time. By 2013, he was ready for a change.

“It was the biggest risk I had ever taken – I had a great job, and financially this was going into the unknown. I took voluntary redundancy, with the intention of going big on the brewery,” he said.

Samantha, who works with the National Farmers’ Union in Marlborough, was supportive of this career change.

“She actually encouraged me to do it,” Gordon said.

In the end, he decided to set up a micropub and continue brewing on a small scale, in his 10ft by12ft garden shed – which is how the name Shed Ales was born.

“I carried on brewing but there are so many breweries out there, trying to sell beer,” he said, “so we opened the micropub.”

He converted a little beauty salon in Pewsey’s High Street into a small but perfectly formed alehouse, capable of seating about 20 people. It has no loud music, gaming machines or television, so it has become a popular venue for socialising, good conversation, and drinking quality beer.

Gordon serves real ales and cider from microbreweries both local and far afield, many of which have the quirky names characteristic of the genre – recent beers have included Commando Hoofing by the Cotleigh Brewery in Taunton, and Purple Pig Snout by Ramsbury Brewery.

The pub also sells Pilsner-style beer, wine, Prosecco, soft drinks and snacks.

The Shed Alehouse has been open for two and a half years now and it open evenings Wednesday to Friday, from 2pm till 10pm on Saturday, and Sunday from 1pm to 5pm. Samantha helps when she can.

“We have a broad mix of people drinking here, from all walks of life,” Gordon said.

“We get a wide range of ages too – from early 20s up to 80s. Slightly more men than women, I would think.”

He said the local Pewsey pubs had been welcoming. “They’re all pretty supportive. We frequently visit each other’s pubs,” he said.

Gordon’s own brewed beers do not hang around long.

“They tend to go fast in the pub. I only brew about four barrels at a time,” he said.

Swindon Beer Festival had one barrel of Minal Tap and the gardening club wanted a barrel.

“I had a barrel in the pub from late Friday, and it was all gone by the end of Saturday evening,” Gordon said.

This year the pub was accredited with CAMRA LocAle – a campaign to promote local beer in local pubs.

It means an accredited pub commits to serving an ale on the bar with is brewed within 30 miles of the premises. Gordon also organises trips to local breweries, and quizzes in the alehouse.

Despite winning accolades for his beer, he said he was happy to keep production at the local level.

“It’s very competitive market,” he said. And he loves running the Shed Alehouse.

“It’s brilliant – a dream come true,” he said. “It’s hard work, but it’s a labour of love.”