Tucked away on a back street of Cheltenham is a micro brewery, Battledown. The unassuming building it is housed resembles more of a shed than a brewery and is home to some of the loveliest local ales on offer.
It sells itself as Cheltenham’s oldest working brewery, but by the fact it only started brewing in 2004, and is now one of many in the area, this is more of a remark on the sudden rise of micro breweries in the UK and the newly saturated market than a comment on the age of Battledown itself.
The brewery itself is open to the public for sales and tours and its produce can be bought in bottles (500ml), mini-casks (5 litre), polypins (around 4.5 gallons) and firkins (9 gallons). Once bought, customers are advised to let the ale rest for 24 hours before drinking. Apparently this allows the yeast to sediment on the bottom leaving a clear beer.
There are only two main rooms in the brewery, so don’t expect the tour to take very long. But our guide was informative, helpful and answered all our questions. He talked us through the process which starts with water, through to the barley malts (grist) which is crushed by the mill, put into the mush tun, when where it is doughed-in with hot liquor…the process continues with more sitting, steeping, sparging and heating before it is put in the fermenter where the yeast is pitched. At this point, the ale is left for about a week before it is bottled, casked or barrelled.
Our guide also told us of the health benefits of drinking traditionally made ale. For one, it has a lower calorie content than most wines and spirits. It is also a good source of B vitamins and can even lower cholesterol levels. This is obviously only a benefit when drunk in moderation…which we were unable to do that evening.
At the end of the tour, our guide unveiled a table with one of the nicest Ploughman’s I have ever eaten. There were a variety of local breads, cheeses and homemade pickles, and enough for everyone to enjoy second and third helpings. Alongside the gorging that ensued on the fantastic cheese, we were let loose on the pumps at the bar in which we could enjoy the ales until our heart was content.
It is well worth signing up for this tour and I’m astonished it only cost me £12. I would spend that amount on the food alone!