Slow Cotswolds

  • Hook Norton Brewery wins VisitEngland Hidden Gem Award

    Hook Norton Brewery (pages 106-7) has been awarded the Southeast's Hidden Gem Award in VisitEngland Visitor Attraction Accolades that recognises the quality of visitor experiences across England.

    Designed to celebrate excellence within the visitor attraction sector, VisitEngland's Accolades showcase those businesses in their quality scheme that go the extra mile to provide a high quality day out, whether through a warm welcome, an engaging story, a delicious lunch or the overall visitor experience. The award was based on the score obtained following their Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme assessment.

    Hook Norton Brewery, located in the village of the same name on the edge of the Cotswolds, has developed into a popular place to visit offering visitors brewery tours, a free village and brewery museum and the Malthouse Restaurant.

    The brewery, which has won dozens of worldwide awards for its renowned ales over the years, celebrates its 170th anniversary this year. In Slow Travel The Cotswolds, I describe it:

    "As I approach my local brewery along the narrow, twisting lane, it suddenly appears like a giant friend, the sun lightening the dark brown ironstone, the familiar black-and-white timber latticeowrk decorating the skyline.

    "How beautiful this listed industrial construction is at close quarters! I say a 'giant friend' because the building, though tucked away in the west end of this thriving north Oxfordshire village, is a landmark for locals approaching Hook Norton.

    "Inside and out, there is a buzz of activity. As I step inside, the smell of brewing hops pervades the air on the first floor, the sweetness of malted barley on the second, with a maze of staircases, huge timber barrels, giant copper cauldrons and steel tanks, old wooden floors and the sunlight throwing shafts of warmth across the cool brick floor of the racking room. And, at the very top of this traditional six-storey Victorian tower brewery is the architectural gem - some of the most spectacular views across north Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Northamptonshire.

    "To say that Hook Norton Brewery is old-fashioned would totally misrepresent its 170-year history. Forward thinking, it celebrates and embraces its tradition (it still retains its 100+-year-old steam engine to run parts of the brewery machinery).

    "The brewery's Managing Director, James Clarke, is an old primary school acquaintance of mine. In the playground the 'What do you wnat to be when you grow up?' line was never really discussed but I guess 'brewer' would have been an automatic answer. James followed his father into the family business, one that was set up by his great-great grandfather John Harris in 1849, each generation handing down the secrets to the masterful art of brewing."

    Of the recent VisitEngland award, James says, "We are absolutely delighted to receive this award. We are so lucky to have a wonderful brewery site, in a stunning location, and welcome lots of visitors throughout the year to learn about brewing and sample beers, to see the amazing Victorian engineering and, of course, our working shire horses. This award recognises all the hard work our team put in to make sure a visit here is one to remember."

    The brewery Visitors' Centre and Malthouse Restaurant is open every day of the week, with tours of the brewery by prior booking. A shop on site sells the full range of 'Hooky' ales. And, if you can't make it to the brewery (though you really should try!), you'll certainly find a pint of Hooky served in many of the wonderful Cotswold pubs.

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