I hear a rumour that there are 28 breweries in Cumbria. Certainly, I ran out of fingers AND toes listing the ones that come readily to mind! I tried to come up with a Top Ten from that fabulous long list, but I'm afraid it just wouldn't get shorter than fourteen. So, in no particular order, enjoy!
1. Keswick Brewery
Thanks to the Keswick Brewery, Brewery Lane is once more alive with the sounds and smells of a proper craft brewery. Established in 2006, the Keswick Brewery is located on the site of the town's Victorian brew house, producing a number of popular beers all named 'Thirst – something' : Thirst Run (4.2% ABV), a golden pale ale; Thirst Fall (4.8% ABV), a chocolatey, malty bitter; Thirst Noel (6% ABV), a dark, rich, malty ale and Thirst Rescue (3.7% ABV ), a citrussy, golden bitter that makes a donation to the Mountain Rescue.
There are brewery tours all year round with a charitable donation from each tour divided equally between the Climate Contribution Fund and Red Squirrel Conservation. The Keswick Brewery's beers are available from the on-site shop and many pubs in northern Cumbria.
2. The Strands Brewery
The Strands Brewery is based at the Strands Hotel public house in Nether Wasdale. They brew only for their own use, producing a number of beers which are nonetheless favourites with the CAMRA crew. The pub was runner-up in West Cumbria CAMRA's Pub of the Year competition in 2009.
Their most famous beer is 'Errrrrrm' (apologies if the incorrect number of 'r's are quoted!), a name developed as an apparent absence of creativity inspired a very unusual moniker! Errrrrrm (3.8% ABV) is a light, hoppy, amber bitter. Still lacking name inspiration when they brewed a delicious dark, smooth, porter-style ale, the pub's regulars submitted suggestions and T'Errrrrminator (5% ABV) was born.
3. Hardknott Brewery
Until recently, Hardknott's brewer was the landlord of the Woolpack Inn at Boot in Eskdale, where he brewed a few interesting numbers from a tiny set-up behind the pub. The Hardknott Brewery seceded from the pub earlier this year, setting up new premises in Millom. The Woolpack still stocks their brews, though (phew!). News is still thin on the ground since the relocation, but Millom seems to have been very good for their creativity. Try their Continuum (4.0% ABV) 'there is always time and space for good beer' and Dark Energy (4.9% ABV) 'without it, the cosmos would be inexplicable'. So there.
4. Coniston Brewery
Home to the very popular Bluebird Bitter, the Coniston Brewery is based at back of the Black Bull pub in Coniston. They've won a lot of awards, and reckon that Bluebird is the bestselling bottled beer at a certain regional supermarket! They supply a lot of pubs, including The Manor Arms at Broughton-in-Furness and the Kirkstile Inn at Loweswater.
Bluebird Bitter (3.6% ABV), named after Donald Campbell's ill-fated boat, is a very pale ale with a hint of orangeyness. Old Man Ale (4.2% ABV) is something a bit different; complex, chocolatey, fruity and bitter. At this time of year, perhaps we should try Winter Warmer Blacksmith's Ale (5.0% ABV), a rich, strong ale very reminiscent of Christmas pudding.
5. Jennings Brewery
Founded in Cockermouth in 1828, Jennings is by far the largest brewery in Cumbria. Aficionados were shocked when the brewery was taken over by Wolverhampton & Dudley in 2005, later migrating to Marston's. But the consensus is that Jennings remains Jennings, continuing to brew all the old favourites on site right here in Cockermouth. They also gained brownie points by collecting 10p in the pound for every pint sold in the aftermath of last year's cataclysmic floods, raising a tremendous £178k. They too were flooded, but brewing again by spring of this year.
Favourites are Jennings Bitter, Cumberland Ale, Cocker Hoop and Snecklifter with seasonal specials including Yan T'yan Tethera, Tom Fool, Cross Buttock, Crag Rat and World's Biggest Liar (Jennings sponsor the annual competition, based in the Santon Bridge Inn in Wasdale). Their beers are widely available in pubs and by the bottle.
There are brewery tours throughout the year, with sampling. There is a bar and tea room on site.
6. Stringers Beer
This micro-brewery in Ulverston on the west Cumbrian coast makes lovely beer, but that isn't all there is to get excited about. They're powered by Cumbrian nature – wind, wave, hydro and solar energy.
Popular brews include their Champion Stout (4% ABV), jet-black and, for a stout, very quaffable. Their West Coast Blond (4.4% ABV) is a flavoursome, floral ale made with blond hops on the west coast of Cumbria – no Californians here! They make a number of specials from time to time, including this summer's Sunbird, a curiously tangerine-y number; we look forward to their Christmas brew.
7. Barngates Brewery
Based at the Drunken Duck between Ambleside and Coniston, Barngates is lucky to have its own water supply, which adds its distinctive flavour to their brews. All their beers are named after various pub pets, so it's a good job for all of us that there have been quite a few!
Try Cracker Ale (3.9% ABV), a clean, smooth ale, named after the pub's favourite Jack Russell, Cracker. Aaah! Chester's Strong &Ugly (5.2% ABV) is popular with CAMRA and at the local beer festivals.
Red Bull Terrier(4.8% ABV), named after a dog called Brutus, is a proper winter ale; tangy, spicy and malty. It won three awards at the latest SIBA North Beer Competition.
8. Hesket Newmarket
If you're scrabbling around in your brain thinking, 'I've heard that name somewhere... something to do with Prince Charles', then you're spot-on. It doesn't really have any royal connections other than the fact that Prince Charles is very happy to support this community-owned co-operative, and often pops in when he's in the Lakes.
The brewery is based at the back of the Old Crown pub in Hesket Newmarket, near Caldbeck, and with one noble (and delicious) exception, names its beers after fells. Try Doris' 90th Birthday (4.3% ABV), a fruity number with butterscotch and bitter flavours; Catbells Pale Ale (5% ABV), an easy-drinking pale ale; Great Cockup Porter (3.0% ABV), dark and chocolatey, and Old Carrock Strong Ale (6.0% ABV), with a rich, Christmassy flavour.
Evening tours of the brewery, with a curry at the pub next door, are available all year round.
9. Ennerdale Brewery
Those feeling the loss of the old Whitehaven Brewing Company will be happy to hear that it has been re-born as the Ennerdale Brewery, based on a farm near Cleator. Using skills gained as a head brewer for Jennings, the Ennerdale Brewery has launched a number of beers all with 'Ennerdale' in the name: Darkest Ennerdale Best Bitter (4.2% ABV), Ennerdale Copper (3.8% ABV), Ennerdale Blonde Golden Ale (3.8% ABV), Ennerdale Breeze Mild (3.9% ABV) and Ennerdale Spice (4.2% ABV). It's early days yet for the Ennerdale Brewery – hence no website - but it's looking promising!
10. Yates Brewery
Following the buyout of Jennings, Yates's became the oldest independent brewery in Cumbria. Based at Westnewton in northern Cumbria, Yates' beers are widely stocked in pubs throughout the county and in bottles at Booths' supermarkets. They also have an on-line shop.
Try Yates' Bitter (3.7% ABV), a golden, complex bitter, or their Solway Sunset (4.3% ABV), a golden beer designed to bring to mind an evening at the west coast seaside town, Allonby. Their Christmas number, Yates' Best Cellar (4.6% ABV) became so popular that this old-fashioned, flavoursome beer is now available all year round in the bottle.
11. Bitter End Brewing Co.
Since Jennings was bought out, Bitter End takes great pride in calling itself the largest independent brewery in Cockermouth. They brew six regular beers and a number of specials throughout the year.
Try their Lakeland Bitter (3.8% ABV), a light copper bitter with a sweet, biscuity character, or Lakeland Amber (4.0% ABV), a pale, refreshing beer. Their Lakeland Honey Beer (5.0% ABV) is popular amongst beer-lovers, with a pale golden colour, floral hops and – you guessed it – a hint of honey flavour.
12. Cumbrian Legendary Ales
This Hawkshead-based brewery gained its name producing beers named after legendary Cumbrian characters – Wicked Jimmy, Buttermere Beauty, King Dunmail and Croglin Vampire – but since its takeover by Loweswater Brewery last year has concentrated on producing equally top quality, but more normally named, beers.
Try Loweswater Gold (4.3%), recently voted Best Gold Ale in Cumbria; Langdale (4.0% ABV), a bitter with strong orangey notes, or Melbreak (3.7% ABV), a quaffable bitter with lots of body. Rannerdale Robin (4.0% ABV), a rich, malty Christmas beer, is due out in December.
13. Ulverston Brewing Company
Fed up of brewing in their garage after Ulverston's only native brewery, Hartley's, had closed, the owners of Ulverston Brewing Co. finally launched earlier this year. Many of their beer's names pay tribute to Stan Laurel, who was born in the town.
Try Another Fine Mess (4.0% ABV), a pale, hoppy, citrussy beer, or Lonesome Pine, another pale beer with sweet, honey notes. Fra Diavolo (4.3% ABV) is a fiendish little number with a dark, rich flavour with the bitterness of chocolate and express. Yum!
The Brewery accepts visitors at most times, and can also arrange more formal tours.
14. Beckstones Brewery
Based at The Green between Millom and Broughton-in-Furness, Beckstones makes characterful beers that are worth hunting out at nearby pubs including the Punchbowl at The Green and the King's Head at Broughton.
Their Leat (3.6% ABV) – Cumbrian dialect for 'light' - is a thirst-quenching fruity number. Black Dog Freddy (3.9% ABV) – another beer named after a dog! – is a mild which won a couple of awards when it was launched in 2008. And we all know when it's Beer O'Clock (3.9%) – the perfect time for a pale golden beer with lots of hops.
Talking of which... I think it might indeed be Beer O'Clock. I'll have a pint, please!
Find Lake District cottages near a brewery!!