“ Address: Unit 6a / Bowburn North Ind Est / Bowburn / Durham DH6 5PF / Co Durham „
Himself and I are very much do-ers than have-ers so birthdays for us are more about going to do something or experience something than about a physical gift. When I received a Living Social email promoting tours of the Durham Brewery, I signed up on the spot; I was able to get a slightly cheaper price doing it this way but you can book places on the tour through the Durham Brewery website. We are both fans of real ales and enjoy visiting microbreweries but I didn't think we'd had any of the offering from the Durham Brewery, in spite of having seen them in shops and pubs, so this tour would give us the chance to try some new beers if nothing else.
The Durham Brewery is located over several neighbouring units of a light industrial estate in Bowburn, a village to the south of Durham City. There is car-parking available but as you will be getting to taste some beer you may wish to come by public transport in which case you can catch a bus from Durham city centre which will put you off at the end of the road into the industrial estate; it's a pleasant fifteen minute ride to Bowburn.
The building which houses reception and the office doubles as the shop and bar. If you just wanted a beer, you can just turn up during conventional office hours and order at the bar; in fact, there were several people there when we arrived for our tour, who had come just for a drink. Another customer was buying kegs and the only staff member we could see was attending to him. She did say hello and take our vouchers but then she asked us to wait while she attended to this customer; as this took quite a while it would really have been better for her to have poured drinks for us so we could have sat down instead of hanging around like a couple of spare parts.
Once a sizeable number of people had gathered for the tour (there were some latecomers and the staff seemed to have no idea of how many were expected) we were asked to all sit around the main table to hear a bit about the Durham Brewery and its origins. The Brewery is owned by Steve and Christine Gibbs. Steve has long been interested in brewing beer and was an enthusiastic home brewer when the couple were both made redundant from their jobs as music teachers; having been encouraged by friends who said he should try selling the beers he made, they invested a sizeable sum of money in commercial brewing equipment and opened the Durham Brewery. I was a little worried at first at how the tour might pan out because although they've been doing tours for a while, the beginning was very haphazard with seemingly no structure. Fortunately Christine spotted this and suggested to Steve that rather than us all listen to him talk about how difficult it is to run a business, we should taste some beer.
Other brewery tours we've done included a couple of halves (at Stiegl Brauwelt in Salzburg we got three beers but that was in comparison quite expensive) but here we got three very small samples of beer. Before we tasted each beer bowls of hops and different malts were passed around so we could understand the effect that changing these ingredients has on the end result. Steve explained this part really well, I thought, especially when explaining how he had come upon the idea for the brewery's excellent 'white stout'; I learned a lot about why different types of beer have certain names and it's actually not as obvious as you might think. The Durham Brewery is noted for its "white collection" which explores the use of all kinds of hop varieties, but always using a pale malt base. I really love how they are so innovative in creating new beers, yet use such traditional imagery in the beer labels and beer names.
After some tasting we went over to the main brewing room where Steve explained what happens after the ingredients have been selected. I had initially been a bit unsure about where this tour was going but it all fell into place (more by providence than design I would say) once we saw the 'nerve centre' of operations. The Durham Brewery doesn't pasteurise its beers so it was very interesting to see how the beers are bottled and learn that actually infection is incredibly rare.
The main aim of these tours is to make money, not just from the tour but the associated sales and everyone dutifully returned to the shop to purchase some bottles (you can also buy kegs) to take home. There are also t-shirts and other souvenirs, but not so many that you might think they've lost sight of being a brewery. Now that the ice was well and truly broken, most people stayed for another beer or two and a chat; the tours attract a mixed crowd but obviously they do have a love of beer in common. Some people knew more than others about beer making but I got the impression that there wasn't anyone there that didn't learn something new.
Durham Brewery beers have won several prestigious awards and frequently appear in beer festivals around the country. I can highly recommend the ones I tried. I loved the "Magus" which at 3.8 % is their 'session beer'; it's described as a modern bitter or pale ale and it's light and hoppy but with a pleasing and distinctive citrussy flavour. The 'Evensong" is a ruby coloured premium bitter in which there's a blend of five malts; this isn't the sort of beer I'd usually go for but I really liked the caramel tones to it. There are IPAs (India Pale Ale), bitters and Belgian style tripel among the other beers available.
If you see one, I would strongly recommend you give it a try, and if you happen to be in the north east, book yourself a place on a tour.
Tours are held at 2.00pm on Saturdays and are priced at £8.50 per person. For private group tours the price is £13.50 per person and includes beers. (Minimum 10 persons, maximum 20). Tours last approximately two hours