Here you will find out about the rich history of the brewery and brewing here at Hook Norton.
In 1849, John Harris moved into Hook Norton purchasing a farm of 52 acres that included a Malthouse. He took over the existing trade as a maltster, expanded the business by becoming a dealer in hops and so began the seeds of the Brewery. It is thought that commercial brewing started in 1856. This is supported by the brewing books which keep a record of every brew. The first book begins with brew No.1 on November 24th, 1856 which is described as ‘Mild XXX’.
1859 saw the beginning of the brewery’s tied estate with the purchase of a beer house at Down End. 10 years later the Pear Tree Inn at the end of Brewery Lane was purchased. By 1907 the tied estate consisted of over 14 tied houses and four beerhouses. Today, the Hook Norton Brewery estate consists of 37 tied houses.
The 1880’s were a key period for the brewery. Although this was a time of depression in many rural areas, Hook Norton was thriving. The extension of the Chipping Norton railway line into Hook Norton not only meant a captive audience for the brewery’s beer (in the form of the navvies who were building the line), but also had a longer term benefit in maintaining the prosperity of the village and providing a vital means of transport for raw materials, equipment and casks of beer to and from the brewery.
After the death of John Harris in 1887, the day to day running of the brewery was taken on by one of his nephews, Alban Clarke. During this era, the brewery underwent an enthusiastic building programme, doubling the size. Alban began with a bottling room, store and wash shed in 1890. Then 4 years later there followed a stable block. The next project was to construct new offices and the final stage was the construction of the new six-storey brewery on the site of the existing building.
On the ground floor of the new brewery, a 25 horsepower steam engine was installed supplying, through a series of belts, cogs and shafts, most of the motive power the brewery needed to pump water from the well below. In fact, our engine is believed to be one of the last steam engines in the country still in use for its original purpose.
One of the most exciting developments in the brewery’s transport system in the early twentieth century was the purchase of a steam powered wagon for use on the road. Alban Clarke was keen to keep up with other breweries who were investing in the latest technology and so he ordered a steam wagon which would be able to move large loads from Hook Norton to Banbury. Clarke also had boards for the wagon sign written to provide ‘an excellent advertisement on the roads’.
With the introduction of tarmac to many country roads, Hook Norton purchased its first motor lorry at the end of 1928. It was a 30cwt Morris and cost just over £331 plus a further £25 for the road fund licence! Now, the horses were used alongside the lorries, for local deliveries.
The shire horse drawn dray at Hook Norton ceased deliveries in 1950, but was revitalised in 1985. These days the horses deliver locally within 5 miles of the brewery and attend many public functions such as fetes, open days and pub openings. Out of all of the breweries that own horse drawn drays, only a few still actually deliver their products by dray and shire horse.
In 1971 the Campaign For Real Ale was launched with the aim of reviving interest in real ale. During the 60s, sales of draught beer had suffered under pressure from big nationals producing bottled lager and keg beer. CAMRA’s campaign was not only successful at boosting sales of draught beer, it also helped to create an unprecedented level of interest in the traditional brewing process and in regional breweries.
Such was the level of interest in visiting the brewery to see the buildings and how the beer was brewed, that in 1999, the brewery opened its Visitor Centre to the public. Located in the old Malt House, the Visitor Centre was officially opened by HRH The Princess Royal who enjoyed a grand tour of the buildings before unveiling a plaque to officially open the building.
The beginning of the 21st century has seen many changes affecting the real ale market. Although economic pressures have played their part in overall beer consumption with many pub closures adding to the pressure, the cask ale market and regional brewers in particular have, to a certain extent, been able to buck the overall trend. New drinkers have been coming into the market and for traditional real ale drinkers, local sourcing and provenance are becoming increasingly important in their choice of pint. For 2012, Hook Norton has restructured its portfolio and developed a brand new identity – recognising the need to appeal to the drinkers of today.
In 2013 we introduced new beer, Lion: pride of the Cotswolds. This wonderful bronze beer has been created with today’s cask ale drinker in mind. Moreish, well-balanced and medium strength at 4%ABV this new brand is a beer with attitude! Roger Protz, leading beer writer says: “A perfectly balanced bronze beer, full of fruit flavours and aromas. Complex yet refreshing, Lion has a long, bittersweet finish”
In April 2014, the Brewery was awarded £90,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to conserve & repair one of the Grade II listed chimneys attached to the main brewery building. The project, Hooked on Tradition: Accessing Hook Norton’s Brewery Heritage, also included a programme of activities and events to make improvements to the Museum and raise awareness of the Brewery heritage.