Hook Norton Brewery
|Location||Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, United Kingdom|
|Employees||c. 50 (as of 2014)|
Hook Norton Brewery is a regional brewery in Hook Norton, Oxfordshire, England, several miles outside of the Cotswold Hills. Founded in 1849, the brewing plant is a traditional Victorian 'tower' brewery in which all the stages of the brewing process flow logically from floor to floor; mashing at the top, boiling in the middle, fermentation and racking at the bottom. Until 2006, the brewing process was powered by steam. Beer is still delivered in the village by horse-drawn dray.
Visitors can take a tour of the brewery and visit the museum with historic brewery artifacts and local history displays.
Hook Norton Brewery uses a Buxton & Thornley steam engine that has powered most of the machinery in the brewery since 1899. It is the last commercially working open crank stationary steam engine in the UK. It is a small, simple engine consisting of a cylinder, flywheel, connecting rods and little else. The engine drives a system of shafts and belts connected to most of the machinery in the brewery; different sections of machinery can be engaged and disengaged by levers which slide drive belts on and off their wheels. Where there are gears in the lineshafting, each pair consists of one iron and one wooden wheel. Thus, if any machinery should jam, only a few wooden teeth will be damaged and can then be replaced by the brewery's mechanics instead of needing a complex iron casting.
The machinery once powered by the steam engine includes:
- Pumps, both for "liquor" (water) and wort. The pumps are located next to the engine and are original.
- The grist mill, which crushes the grains of malt by a precisely-regulated amount. This is also an original 1899 machine.
- The mashing and raking equipment in the mash tun.
- A lift for filled casks, dating from 1900.
- The sack hoist for loading malt.
The steam engine now only powers the mashing equipment, mill and sack hoist. The mashing rakes and cask lift have been removed.
It is worth noting that, though this use of traditional machinery provides a beneficial image of the brewery, it is a commercial enterprise and not a museum. The goal of the brewery is to make cask ale, not to maintain old machinery for its own sake, and a senior member of the brewery management has stated, unofficially, that if it were to become uneconomic to continue brewing by steam, the engine would be replaced with electric motors forthwith. This seems unlikely, however - with its installation costs long since paid for and minimal maintenance requirements, the steam engine and lineshafting is expected to remain cheaper than modern alternatives for the foreseeable future.
This practical attitude extends to the rest of the equipment in the brewery, as well. Original vessels and machinery are used because they work, not because they are sacred relics that can never be changed. Some modern equipment is used, too, and the brewery's mechanics are as likely to be seen welding stainless-steel ducting as carving wooden gear teeth.
Outlets for Hook Norton ales include supermarkets, off licences and free houses. The brewery also has a network of 47 tied houses spread across a region from Thame in the east to Worcester in the west and Grove in the south to Napton-on-the-Hill in the north. In total there are 23 Hook Norton pubs in Oxfordshire, nine each in Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, and three each in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire.
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