All posts by Kevin Holsapple

The author of Prime Passages is Kevin Holsapple. Currently living in northern New Mexico, Kevin has traveled extensively over the years and aspires to do alot more of that in the coming years. Now semi-retired, Kevin's working life included management of a destination tourism activity, community development work, advising and training small businesses, operating recreational tours, and even operating a beer hall.

Buxton & Macclesfield

Peak District Orientation
click on map for larger image

Buxton and Macclesfield are two towns in the southwesten Peak District region separated by a high ridge continuing from Axe Head Moor to the South.  Buxton seemed like a logical choice to base out of for some beer hikes and it didn’t disappoint.  The Monsal Trail originates nearby and turned out to be great for making brewery visits on the hike to the East to Bakewell ( read the story of the Monsal brewery hiking here ).  Buxton itself features its own brewery, and it looked on the map that there could be nice hiking between Buxton and Macclesfield — where there appeared to be multiple breweries.


Buxton is said to be the highest altitude market town in England (about 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level) and is arguably the most popular base for tourism in the Peak District.  It has a small town feel and is quite walkable (if you ignore that it might well be raining there).  The main business and shopping area is built in the bottom of the Wye River valley and the town spreads up the hillsides on either side of the river.  The river disappears underneath the city center for a while as it passes through the town.  It took me a while to figure out where it went.

Buxton - DSCF2546.jpgThis is an old spa town owing to geothermal springs (82 F/28 C) that were in use back into the days of the Romans – the baths at the old springs have been closed for some time but are part of the renovation of the historic Crescent Hotel.  A handsome opera house with adjoining enclosed conservatory garden is a central architectural feature along with the largest freestanding dome structure in Europe (now part of the University of Derby facilities), and several Victorian hotel buildings, some of which have been restored or are under renovation.  I was walking in a light rain near the Opera when I was hailed by a friendly hello from behind.  Turning around I encountered a guy by his truck who proceeded to ask me if I could give a hand unloading a door from the truck to put it into a storefront that he was working on renovating.  Well heck — it was an easy ask.

This turned out to be a fortunate encounter.  The man I was able to help, George, was a builder from Macclesfield.  After moving the door we stepped into the shop and he introduced me to his wife Julie who had been waiting out of the rain in the truck and we exchanged pleasantries and talked about what each of us were doing in Buxton.  I told them about my interest in beer and hiking and they invited me to look them up when I came to Macclesfield.

Buxton - IMG_2941.jpgI had a fun time wandering around town, window shopping and stopping in at several of the many pubs.  I was unable to visit Buxton Brewery as they told me they had some kind of renovations in progress.  I settled for a couple stops during my days there at their downtown taproom and tried  some of their beers there.  It is a nondescript but comfortable spot with 18 beers on draft, 16 from keg and 2 hand pulled cask offerings.

The best beer I had for my tastes during my stay in Buxton and probably during my entire stay in England was an unlikely one I happened across in a Buxton pub called the Cheshire Cheese.  I say unlikely because I have never been one for fruit in beer.  The barkeep sold me on trying a Titanic Brewery Plum Porter though, and I have to say I had more than one.  Titanic is a brewery in nearby Stoke-on-Trent that owns the Cheshire Cheese and several other pubs in the region.  If ever there were a good use for fruit in brewing this is it.  This is a richly, flavorful, well-balanced brew with a hint of pluminess — loved it


Macclesfield is a short country-bus ride up over a high ridgeline (crossing into Cheshire from Derbyshire).  The drive is a scenic one on Buxton Road (A537), a winding highway that is considered by some to be the most dangerous highway stretch in the UK.  I found Macclesfield itself to be a picturesque little town with a nice array of services.  The history of the place goes back to the dark ages, but it is most notable as a center of fine silk manufacturing.  There was once more than 70 silk mills operating here and there are several silk museums here including a working mill museum..  Now days, the biggest economic concern is a manufacturing facility of  the AstraZeneca pharmaceutical company.

Storm Brewing

My first brewery stop on the visit to Macclesfield was Storm Brewing.  Founded in 1998 by partners Hugh Thompson and David Stebbings, I would describe Storm as an unconventional place that celebrates the things that make them distinctive.  Hugh showed me around their brewery  which is located near the downtown in an old pub building along the River Bollin.  The river is a murky little channel that one of the guys in the brewery told me was cloudy enough that atheists would likely be able to walk on its waters.  When I entered, they first personality I met was Dexter, the brewery cat.  The front room is filled with an interesting array of bric-a-brac and repurposed artifacts.  Hugh told me that it took several years after they started to settle in on a consistent range which now includes seventeen beers.

Redwillow Brewing

Stopping by the Redwillow Brewing downtown taproom I had a chance introduction to Toby McKenzie — founder of the brewery.  Toby invited me to visit the brewing facility which is in a nearby industrial area.  When I arrived there, brewer Ian Sanderson showed me around.  The brewing facility is quite modern and Ian told me that Redwillow has been expanding, owing in part to their becoming a supplier to Virgin Trains in 2013.  Virgin features Rewillow’s Tilting Ale on its high speed west coast train route connecting London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh.  This also accounts for a substantial canning operation.  In addition to the Macclesfield taproom, Redwillow also operates a bar in Buxton.

Wincle Brewery

A short walk from the Redwillow facility brought me to George and Julie’s house.  I had told them that I had heard of the Wincle (pronounced “winkel”) Brewery but that I wouldn’t have time to make the walk so they generously volunteered to take me there and show me around the countryside a bit.   This included a stop at Sutton Hall, an old manor house that now houses a pub and fine dining restaurant.

Wincle Brewery is a country brewery that is set amongst rolling meadows about 6 miles south of Macclesfield along the River Dane.  For hikers, it can be a stop along the Gritstone Trail, a 35 mile route that runs north-south through the high ground between Cheshire and Derbyshire.  Wincle’s tagline is, “Eccentric English Ales” and an example of that is their line of 12 different all-English single hop ales.  Giles, the owner and brewer at Wincle gave us a quick look around the small, modern facility which is located in a renovated stone barn building.  They brew a core range of five cask ales along with frequent specials like the installments in their single hop series.

Here is a nice, brief virtual tour via video.

Old Macclesfield Road Hike and a Beer

click for interactive route map

George and Julie were kind to give me a lift back up over the ridge toward Buxton and drop me off near a defunct pub called The Cat and Fiddle where we said our goodbyes.  The Cat and Fiddle is the second-highest altitude pub in England and is well situated to be of service to beer hikers — hopefully for the sake of future beer hikers they will find an operator.

It was a wet day and the drizzle added to the lonely mood of the moor.  The moor lands are wide open and untended.  They are beautiful (I’d call it a bleak sort of beauty) and make for a pleasant hike.  The route proceeds up and down the hilly terrain before descending into a western suburb of Buxton and a welcome stop at a warm pub called The Duke for a refreshing pint.

Macclesfield - DSCF2617.jpg
George and Julie in front of their house in Macclesfield.
[Want to read more stories from this visit to England for beer hiking?  England beer hiking stories] Facebooktwittermail

Country Brewery Visits in Chesterfield

Peak District Orientation
click to enlarge

Chesterfield grabbed my attention because it seemed to be situated on an east-west brewery belt that stretched from Chesterfield to Macclesfield.   I envisioned hiking through the countryside to Bakewell and then on the Monsal Trail from there to Buxton (read about hiking the Monsal here), and then over Buxton Moor to Macclesfield (read about that hike here – coming soon).  I had counted nine or ten breweries that could be stops along the way.

Chesterfield - IMG_2719.jpg
Pub Breakfast

Sign for Brewery StreetBeing unfamiliar with the area, I couldn’t quite make the logistics work so I ended up making the Chesterfield area a day visit from Sheffield and basing out of Buxton for the other hikes.  I caught an early morning train down to Chesterfield and encountered a promising sign right outside the station.  I had to catch a bus though to get to my first brewery visit so I walked up a hill into the town center where the buses meet.  I had a wait that was long enough for an English breakfast at a pub near the bus stop.

Chesterfield is a handsome market town where the Rother and Hipper Rivers meet.  The terrain is rolling and climbs to the West into the highlands of the Peak District.  The history of the place goes back to it being a Roman fort in 1st century AD.  In fact, the word “Chester” is derived from an Anglo-Saxon word literally meaning “Roman fort.”  The town’s most distinctive feature is the crooked spire (more than 9 feet from true) of the beautiful Church of St Mary and All Saints which was originally constructed in the 14th century.

There were various explanations I heard for the cause of the crooked spire, but the folklore ones, although a bit scandalous toward local women were most interesting and colorful.  One story goes as follows:  “One legend says that the spire twisted on its own when a virgin was married in the church, and it will untwist if a second virgin ever does. A second version of the story combines the Devil and local ladies; according to this story the Devil was resting on the spire, and when he realized that the bride entering the church was a virgin he twisted around in surprise, pulling the spire with him.”

A more conventional explanation blames the condition on the black plague and the toll that it took on experienced spire builders in the era of the church’s construction.  Because most of the experienced artisans were killed by the plague, the spire ended up being built by inexperienced builders who didn’t know how to compensate for the green timbers used in the construction.

Twisted Spire in Chesterfield - DSCF2209.jpgTwisted Spire in Chesterfield - DSCF2205.jpg

Ashover Brewery

After that hearty breakfast I boarded a local bus to the village of Clay Cross where the main brewing operation of Ashover Brewery is located.  After a short walk from the village center, I received a friendly greeting by Ashover co-founder, Roy Shorock who showed me around the place and patiently answered my questions.  Roy also introduced me to his daughter Janine who is Ashover’s head brewer.

Ashover brews a nice core range as well as quite a few specials and seasonals.  The brewery also owns and operates a number of pubs in villages around the area where their ales are sold.  Roy took me to a pub called the Old Poets Inn in Ashover which was the original brewery location.  The original wood-clad brew kit is still in use there to produce special and small batch brews.  Driving from Clay Cross to Ashover we passed through great looking walking country.  Roy told me that they get a good number of guests at the Inn who use it as a base for walking the surrounding countryside.

I sampled one of Ashover’s special brews — a beechwood smoked beer whose recipe is styled on German rauchbier.  I found it to be a smooth, flavorful beer.

You may click on any gallery image to see it in a larger format and to open a slideshow viewer that lets you scroll through larger versions of all images.

Spire Brewing

Roy was kind to give me a lift to Spire Brewing Company — a few miles away through the rolling countryside.   Spire is housed in a metal structure on farmland in the countryside.  Owner and brewer Gareth Jones was gracious with his time and showed me around his place and sampled a number of brews.

Spire is a relatively new brewery — a restart of a brand that Gareth purchased in 2014.  Gareth explained how he has totally revamped the brewery and brewing processes.  The kit is modern and substantial.  Spire features an on-site taproom to retail their products.  It is integral to the brewery operation and we actually had to make way for a forklift coming through at one point when we were sampling the brews.  Spire also does contract brewing of Scavelli, a private label unfiltered cask ale for an Italian restaurant in the coastal town of Skegness.

I sampled some nice beers and I thought it was cool that some use classic rock inspired names like Whiter Shade (pale ale), Dark Side (ruby ale), and Jail Break (American IPA).

Brampton Brewery

Gareth was also kind to give me a lift to my last stop of the day, Brampton Brewery.  Brampton is located off of a busy street in a small industrial park.  Managing Partner and Head Brewer Chris Radford was generous with his time to show me around and tell me a bit about his operation.

Chesterfield once had two large breweries as I understand it and one of those was called Brampton Brewery.  Neither survived the various changes in market and regulation that led to consolidation of the British brewing industry and the original Brampton Brewery ceased brewing in the 1950’s after more than a century of operation.  The facility was demolished in the ’80’s.

Taking inspiration from the brewing history of the area, Chris and his partners established a new Brampton Brewery in 2007 as a craft brewery, not far from the site of the original.  The operation consists of a brewhouse and an attractive bottle shop called the Beer Cellar.  Brampton also owns and operates three pubs in the area that serve as outlets for some of their product.  When it came time for a sample, I told Chis that I like malty brews and he poured me a Brampton Jerusalem.  This is a rich, malty traditional bitter that did not disappoint.  Jerusalem was originally brewed for a St. George Day celebration — Chris said that he had this idea that instead of (maybe or in addition to) widespread St. Patrick celebrations in British pubs, there ought to be a more English celebration of St. George on April 23rd.

I told Chris about my interest in beer hiking and interestingly he said that there is a week-long walking festival each year in May.   This year, more than 60 “local-led” hikes were offered during the week on paths and routes all over the Chesterfield area.  Brampton Brewery participated in a “Three B’s” beer hike which included a bus lift to the starting point, a six mile hike back to Brampton, and a brewery visit to top it off.


Canal Walk

While looking for hikes in the Peak District of Northern England that would provide opportunities for brewery visits along the way, I happened across the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.  In the industrial times before the development of railway and truck transport, canals played a major role in moving goods to and from factory areas.  They would typically have a tow path on one edge or the other where the animals that pulled the barges along the canal would walk.  In the case of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal the towpath makes for a pleasant walking route.

click for interactive route map — “B” = brewery locations

The twenty mile Huddersfield Narrow Canal crosses the Pennine Mountain range connecting the city of Huddersfield to the canal system in Greater Manchester.  How does a canal cross a mountain range you might ask.  Well, this canal uses more than 70 locks and the longest canal tunnel in England (Standedge Tunnel) to accomplish the feat.  The canal and locks allow for boats and barges that are no more than seven feet wide and can be 70 feet long.

I started my hike by taking a bus from Huddersfield to the town of Marsden further up the Colne River valley.  Marsden is an historic textile mill town that was famous for its woolen cloth.  The huge mill now sits idle on the edge of town.  There were once many woollen, worsted, and cotton mills along the route between Marsden and Huddersfield and most of their operations are defunct although I understand there are a few artisan operations here and there.

There is a steep rise to the West of Marsden up into the moor and the canal tunnel emerges there from the side of the rise.  Completed in 1811, the narrow tunnel goes West under the mountain for more than three miles (5200 meters) before seeing daylight again.  Just thinking about it kicks in my claustrophobic tendencies.  There is no towpath in the tunnel so in the day the barges were propelled by “leggers” … guys who laid on their backs on the decks of the barges in the dark and walked on the ceiling of the tunnel to move along.

The canal fell into disuse and disrepair for many decades once rail and trucks provided better transport options but was made navigable and reopened in 2001 through the leadership of the Huddersfield Canal Society.  There is an small, interesting visitor center with  some displays about the tunnel and canal in a canal warehouse building near Marsden.

The walk passes through pretty countryside and small towns.  Being a continuous canal, there are no interruptions of the path or road crossings — the canal even bridges over the river in a viaduct at one point.  As you enter the city of Huddlesfield things get quite a bit more urban up above the towpath and you pass the remains of various industrial dreams.

Here is a gallery of images of the walk.  Click on any image to enlarge it and to open a slide show of larger images that you can scroll through.

Breweries Along the Route

Riverhead Brewery in Marsden is a small brewery located in the basement of a comfortable pub along the river.  I stopped there for an ale before setting out on the route.  This had been the ending place for another walk I had taken on the Pennine Way into Marsden from the South, so I was familiar with their range.  I particularly enjoyed their March Haigh, a nice, malty cask ale.  I learned that Riverhead is one of a group of four breweries operated by Ossett Brewery (Ossett is just East of Huddersfield).  The Rat Brewery further on down the canal is another.

Empire Brewing occupies the former boilerhouse space in an old mill building in Slaithwaite that is right on the canal.  As I approached I encountered a man loading casks into a van.  This turned out to be Russ Beverley.  Russ and his family run this brewery and produce a nice range of cask ales.  Russ had evolved from pub operator to garage brewer to his current operation.  Everyone in the place except Bonzo the dog was moving fast so I tried to not impose for very long.  There is not an onsite taproom, but their product is on tap nearby at a pub called The Commercial in Slaithwaite.  I enjoyed a Moonraker — a malty, chocolaty ale.

Up the hill from the canal in nearby Linthwaite in an establishment called the Sair Inn is a micro-brewery called Linfit Brewery.  As I understand it, this place has been brewing for more than 30 years and was one of the first places in the resurgence of craft brewing in the Huddersfield area.  Sair Inn is  a former winner of CAMRA national pub of the year recognition.  The Inn was closed when I was passing through so I wasn’t able to visit on this trip.

The Rat Brewery is in the basement of the Rat and Ratchet pub near the end of my walk where the towpath comes onto the University of Huddersfield campus.   Their Black Rat Porter turned out to be a great libation to cap off the hike.



Fall Puddles

Fall colorsHave you ever wondered whether what you see in the reflection in a puddle is more real than everything outside of its view?  The combination of fall weather, turning leaves, and recent downpours in Northern New Mexico produced perfect conditions for taking in the many “separate realities” playing out along this morning’s hike route.  For the most part, these puddles were no more than an inch deep and no bigger than a small area rug.  At other times in the year they would just look like muddy brown splotches.  But for today, the Fall colors reign supreme.

The puddles have become intriguing windows into quiet places where no ones lives or spends their time.  Before long, the moisture will evaporate away and the brilliant colors of Fall will recede.  These little worlds will be gone until another year.

Fall colors


Puddles, like miniature lakes
reflect the parted sky,
as blue struggles with full grey plumes,
like cracks in old porcelain;
and blue momentarily reinvents the eternal space,
where sun was proud to dance
but yielded to season’s embrace.

And I smile to see this iridescent blue,
halcyon thoughts of warmth endure,
linger like a daydream grin;
when warmer paths of life ensued,
when rain was wished but never due,
and energy just welled from within,
like joyous life itself.

Then as the light crept through the cracks,
and earth lit up from dull repose,
a fleeting warmth did touch my back,
and remind me of what I’m missing;
then as quick as felt, it disappeared
as darker clouds found place above,
the wrath of winter’s curse returned and made it worse.

Oh puddle you’ve turned bland it seems,
my blue is tucked in bed,
and I standing amid its heavy weighted gloom,
no other words need said;
as winter steers its dark grey sails,
to a horizon with no light,
I recede to my inside fire,
to somehow endure night.

Tony DeLorger © 2016


Leaving Mosquitoville

nasty buggerMosquitos!  I hate them and want nothing to do with them!  Living where I do in the mountains of north central New Mexico I don’t worry about them too much.  Whether it is due to the climate or the altitude I rarely encounter the dread bugs around here.  But my roadtrip this summer took me smack into a bunch of Mosquitoville’s in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario, New York, and Vermont.

High risk activities

state birdGoing for a hike, particularly in hot, humid regions of the eastern USA (and elsewhere) definitely qualifies as high risk for encountering mosquitos.   Soon after arriving in Wisconsin and being swarmed as I got out of my car for a hike, my hosts informed me that the mosquito is Wisconsin’s State bird and that I had better arm myself with repellant.  They weren’t kidding!

Other risk factors include having the wrong blood type and being a beer drinker.  Drat!  It turns out that mosquitos have a preference for type O negative blood.  One study found that in a controlled setting, mosquitos landed on people with Type O blood nearly twice as often as those with Type A. People with Type B blood fell somewhere in the middle of this itchy spectrum.

Another study found that significantly more mosquitoes landed on study participants after drinking a 12-ounce beer than before. The scientists figured that it was due to increased ethanol content in sweat and skin temperature from consuming the brew, but they were unable to find the exact correlation, just that it happened.

Keeping the pests away

On the trail in the Mosquitoville’s this summer I found myself constantly swatting away at the annoying mosquitos that came along with the humid air.  The buzzing in my face and ears, the tickling feeling of the creatures crawling on my skin, the momentary stinging bites, and the itchy bumps gave me all the motivation I needed to look into how to keep these nasty pests away.  

With all the products that line store shelves offering protection from mosquitoes, it can be hard to know if you’re choosing the right one for your needs as you head into mosquito country.   I quickly learned that ingredients can mean the difference between hundreds of bites or staying in the clear. 

Here are my helpful tips along with the help from a mosquito repellent resource to find which sprays, wipes or lotions are best for your hiking trips!

What to Look for in a Mosquito Repellent

Mosquitoes may be tiny, but they can cause quite a disruption to a peaceful hike. Aside from the itchy bites they leave behind, they can also transmit a variety of diseases to humans. What should you look for in a mosquito repellent to ensure you get a top quality product? The following factors should be taken into consideration when making your choice.

Effective Active Ingredients

Both the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency recommend only three active ingredients that are reported to effectively repel mosquitoes. These three ingredients are DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and picaridin. Many mosquito repellents use different ingredients or add in filler products that are unnecessary or could be potentially harmful. It’s ideal to stick to a product that contains one of the three recognized ingredients known to effectively repel mosquitoes.

Safe Levels of Active Ingredients

When dealing with these three effective active ingredients, you want to ensure the product you choose has enough to be effective. However, too much of these ingredients can lead to uncomfortable side effects. For example, too much DEET exposure can cause a skin rash or nausea. Products offering active ingredients ranging below 10% likely won’t serve as much protection from mosquitoes. Products offering active ingredients in the 10 to 30 percent range should offer an appropriate degree of protection without bothersome side effects.

Pleasant Fragrance and Texture

Some mosquito repellent products can smell downright nasty, many to the point of giving the user an obnoxious headache. Others have a decent aroma, but they are in a form that absorbs poorly or leaves behind a greasy film on the skin. However, there are several products have a pleasant feel and fragrance. It can also be helpful to look for a mosquito repellent that comes in an easy-to-use and easy-to-apply applicator.

What are the Differences Between DEET and Non-DEET Repellents?

DEET is one of the three main active ingredients used in many mosquito repellent products. DEET is a man-made chemical that was originally created to serve as a pesticide. After discovering that it was effective at keeping mosquitoes at bay, it was later reformulated into an insect repellent to be used by the US Army. Making its debut around the 1940’s, DEET has been around long enough to have many studies backing its safety and efficacy. This can provide a great deal of peace of mind if you happen to be hiking in areas where there are large outbreaks of mosquito borne illnesses. DEET is considered safe, but it should still be treated with respect and used in the smallest dosage that still provides an appropriate level of protection.

On the other hand, Non-DEET products are those that choose a different active ingredient other than DEET. This includes products that use Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus as their main ingredient. 

Picaridin is a synthetic chemical that is designed to closely mimic a chemical found in black pepper. Having only been in use in mosquito repellents since 2005, there are substantially fewer data available on picaridin that there is on DEET. However, it is considered safe and non-irritating as long as it is not swallowed or placed in the eyes.

Last but not least, oil of lemon eucalyptus is a natural ingredient derived from the lemon eucalyptus plant. Synthetic versions of this oil do also exist, so if it’s important to you to choose a natural product, look for a label that specifies their oil is from the actual plant. Products using oil of lemon eucalyptus are safe for children over the age of 3 and are generally very effective at deterring mosquitoes from biting you.

More Tips About Mosquito Repellents

Avoid Products with Sunscreen

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent products wear off or evaporate at very different rates. Therefore, it is not recommended that you use a mosquito repellent with a built-in sunscreen. You may end up leaving your skin unprotected because it isn’t time to apply more of the product yet. It’s ideal to purchase and use these two essential products separately.

Don’t Just Apply Once

Your mosquito repellent will need to be reapplied periodically, the same as your sunscreen. Follow the instructions on the label to ensure that you remain protected for the duration of your hike. Also, don’t forget that these products have an expiration date. If you pull out the product you purchased for your adventure hike last year and it doesn’t smell quite right, it’s probably best to toss it and buy a new replacement product.

Reputable Products Protect around the Globe

If you purchase a mosquito repellent with one of the three main recommended active ingredients, it should offer superior protection no matter where your nature hike takes you. Whether you are traversing a local trail or are hiking somewhere on the outskirts of Africa, you will be protected from the harm that mosquitoes can inflict.

Announcing your arrival
in a high-pitch buzzing-tone.
As a tactic for survival,
you’re seldom on your own.

Red lumps display where you have been.
Often felt, though rarely seen.

But if I catch a glimpse of you,
my little vampire chum,
I’ll make sure you get what you’re due,
and squash you with my thumb!

David Sollis

No matter what Mosquitoville your next adventure may lead you to, protect your skin from harmful mosquito bites as you hike, enjoy a beer, and take in that gorgeous scenery.

Thank you Jericka Lambourne for collaborating with me on this post.



A Hike and Two Breweries in the South Peak District

Peak District OrientationI am always looking for places to take a great hike that also feature a brewery visit and a good beer along the route.  The Monsal Trail in England’s Peak District National Park is such a place.  I woke up to a misty morning in Buxton, one of the larger towns in the South Peak District and said to be the highest altitude town in England, donned my rain jacket, and headed to the market square where all of the bus services converge.  The western start of the Monsal Trail is a few miles east of town near a place called Wye Dale.  I found what I thought to be the right bus and told the bus driver what I was up to. He confirmed that I was in the right place and that he would look out for dropping me off at the right spot.

Monsal Trail Route Map
Monsal Trail Route – click for interactive route map

Following a 15 minute or so bus trip, the driver let me off and pointed me in the right direction.  A short walk from the drop-off along the highway leads to the fast moving River Wye and a pleasant pathway along the river to the trailhead at Blackwell Mill.

Monsal - IMG_2986.jpg
Wye River in Wye Dale

The Monsal Trail is a “rail-trail”, meaning a section of defunct railway right-of-way that has been converted to a full-time trail for hiking, cycling, and in this case horse traffic.  The railway that used to run through here was part of a line connecting London and Manchester that was closed in 1968 and taken over by the Peak District National Park in 1980.  The route features seven major tunnels and two major viaducts that keep the grade pretty steady as you traverse hill and dale.  The track has all been lifted and is gone, replaced by a well maintained surface of crushed stone and, in places, asphalt pavement.

Monsal - DSCF2697.jpgThere are several train stations along the trail although all of them seemed to be a pretty good distance away from the villages they were there to serve.  Lateral pathways are numerous and lead to those villages and the rolling countryside.  It took years to get the tunnels re-opened after the Park assumed control but that was finally accomplished in 2011.  There is a bike rental operation at Wye that I think is coordinated with another one over closer to Bakewell (at Hassop Station I think) and I can imagine this may be a popular biking route.

Monsal - IMG_2984.jpg
The Way is well-signed.

Not on the day I was there though, as the intermittent rain had chased away pretty much any other users.  I encountered just a handful of other people along my way.  I stopped for a lunch and a pint at Great Longstone and a visit to Peak Ales brewery which was down the road in the opposite direction from Great Longstone.  I left the trail at Bakewell Station and walked into the town to look around.  Thornbridge Brewery is located in Bakewell and makes for a great visit at the end of the hike.  A bus took me back to Buxton.  Following are some images from the hike and the breweries.
Monsal - IMG_2983.jpgMonsal - IMG_2982.jpgMonsal - DSCF2698.jpgMonsal - IMG_2977.jpgJust off the trail near Blackwell is a brewery called Taddington Brewery.  They are a small operation specializing in traditional European lagers and are located in an historic brewing location at Blackwell Hall.  I learned that the owners were away on holiday so I did not try to visit, although I would have loved to give their beer a try.  They are on a side trail from Blackwell Mill.Monsal - IMG_2978.jpgMonsal - IMG_2981.jpgMonsal - IMG_2972.jpgMonsal - IMG_2971.jpgMonsal - IMG_2954.jpgMonsal - DSCF2763.jpg


As I approached Longstone Station the unmistakable aroma of grain being cooked permeated the air and cut through the drizzle.  I assumed this was coming from the small batch brewery I heard was housed at Thornbridge Hall, an 18th century country estate whose grounds stradle the Monsal Way.  The estate is owned by the owners of Thornbridge Brewery which I would visit up the trail in Bakewell.  As I understand it, this was Thornbridge’s original brewery location but now is used for test and specialty brews.  The estate is not generally accessible except during special events.

Lunch was my next priority, so I took a detour North to the village of Great Longstone.
Monsal - DSCF2764.jpg
Monsal - DSCF2761.jpgMonsal - DSCF2744.jpgThe Crispin was the first pub I came to.  The open fireplace was a welcoming place to warm up and dry out a bit.  There were no menus here — just a giant chalkboard with the variety of pub offerings.  I had a nice stew of some kind accompanied by a pint of Unicorn — a satisfying cask bitter from Robinson’s Brewery in nearby Stockport.Monsal - DSCF2742.jpgMonsal - DSCF2743.jpgMonsal - IMG_2974.jpg
Monsal - IMG_2976.jpgFollowing the lunch stop, I crossed back over the Monsal Trail at the station and headed south into the countryside to look for the Peak Ales brewery.Monsal - DSCF2765.jpgMonsal - DSCF2759.jpg

Peak Ales Brewery

Monsal - DSCF2757.jpgI found the Peak Ales brewery in an industrial strip near Ashford on the Water where they occupy several bays.  Peak runs a twenty barrel brewhouse here producing a range of traditional cask ale styles.  There is no taproom so sampling the product would wait until I made it to Bakewell.  A friendly brewer named Michael gave me the cook’s tour of the place.  He told me that Peak Ales prides themselves on being a steady and consistent brewer of quality, traditional style ales — both cask and bottled.Monsal - DSCF2755.jpgMonsal - DSCF2747.jpgMonsal - DSCF2752.jpgMonsal - DSCF2751.jpgMonsal - DSCF2754.jpgAn unusual side business that Michael said they are involved in is what they call “bespoke labeling.”  This involves custom naming and labeling of a variety of their standard range of beers.  A customer provides an image file and the name they want to label their order and Peak produces 12 bottle cases of custom-labeled beers for about £39 each.  He told me these have been a popular novelty item for weddings and other events.Monsal - DSCF2749.jpgAfter a short hike back to the Monsal Trail, I was back on route and on my way to try one of those Peak Ales at a pub in Bakewell.Monsal - DSCF2758.jpgMonsal - DSCF2745.jpgThis is limestone country and there are a variety of heritage attractions of interest in the Monsal Valley including abandoned lime kilns and historic water powered cotton mills that once supplied the lace-making industry.Monsal - DSCF2722.jpgMonsal - DSCF2734.jpgMonsal - DSCF2735.jpgMonsal - DSCF2737.jpgMonsal - DSCF2724.jpgMonsal - DSCF2730.jpgMonsal - DSCF2731.jpgMonsal - DSCF2717.jpgMonsal - DSCF2727.jpgMonsal - DSCF2708.jpgMonsal - DSCF2710.jpgMonsal - DSCF2713.jpgMonsal - DSCF2714.jpgMonsal - DSCF2715.jpgMonsal - DSCF2707.jpgMonsal - DSCF2704.jpg

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Hassop Station is now a cafe along the way

BakewellMonsal - DSCF2773.jpg

Bakewell is a small, bustling town that is about a 15 minute walk downhill from its train station on the Monsal Trail.Monsal - IMG_3002.jpgMonsal - IMG_3003.jpg

Monsal - IMG_3004.jpgI finally caught up with a Peak Ale at the Peacock in Bakewell.  Swift Nick is and excellent traditional English bitter.
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Thornbridge Brewery

Monsal - DSCF2439.jpgThornbridge Brewery is arguably what I would call the “big dog” brewery in the region.  Throughout my time in Sheffield and the southern part of the Peak District, they were typically the first brewery mentioned when I told people I was checking out hikes and beers in the area.  Thornbridge is a good sized operation and runs a string of traditional pubs throughout the area where they distribute their products.  One of these is even in Holland.  Their beers are distributed worldwide — a quick check for their flagship brew, Jaipur IPA, shows I can get it in a broad variety of locations in the eastern USA and as close as Austin in the west.

A short walk from the town center along Buxton Road brings you to an industrial park that Thornbridge occupies a big piece of.  A main building houses a taproom and the brewing and packaging operations.  A second smaller building that was part of the tour houses racks of wooden barrels aging beers.  Brewer Ben Wood took us on a tour through the impressive operation.
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Bottling lineMonsal - DSCF2468.jpgMonsal - DSCF2473.jpg

We were treated to a sample of Serpent, a bourbon barrel aged Belgian-style golden ale.  Serpent is a collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery in the USA.  The Thornbridge follks were quite excited to share it.  (video about Serpent)Monsal - DSCF2476.jpgMonsal - DSCF2477.jpgMonsal - DSCF2475.jpgThornbridge produces cask, keg, and bottled beers.  Sales manager Stacey Webster serves up beers in the tasting room.Monsal - DSCF2442.jpg

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Rails and Trails and Ales on the Backbone of England

Peak District OrientationA mountain railroad cuts through the Pennines –the high ground that forms the Peak District and what many call the “backbone of England”.  The Hope Valley Line connects the cities of Mansfield and Sheffield through the Hope Valley and a really long tunnel (Totley Tunnel is a 6,230-yard (3.5 mi; 5.7 km) ) on the Sheffield side of the range.  The tunnel is so long that it is probably the longest distance on the train between beers.  To the west of Edale, the two-mile long Cowburn Tunnel burrows through the west flank of the Pennines down toward Manchester.

WalkersI prepared for weather and headed out for an early morning train — the local trains are operated by Northern Railway and run nearly every hour on weekdays at roughly one hour intervals.  Judging from a quick scan of the other riders, there were several others who had hiking on their mind.  All manner of tweeds and gore-tex was evident.  Six or eight of us piled off the train at Edale Station and began walking toward the village.

A Dayhike on the Backbone of England

Edale ChurchEdale, in the heart of the Pennines is roughly in the middle between the two big cities.  it is a small village which I am pretty sure is mostly famous as the place where the Pennine Way begins its travel  267 miles (429 km) north into Scotland on the high ground of the backbone of England.  Edale consists on an Inn or two, a few houses, a beautiful old Church, and a visitor center for the Peak District National Park.

Click for interactive map of hike route - click for interactive map
Pennine Way loop hike

I found the trail’s beginning in the village near the Old Nags Head Inn –I would be back.  For now though, I set off up a climbing ravine that quickly broke out into open fields above the tree line below.  A flagstone pathway rose through the field and disappeared over a horizon ahead.  passing above the fields I entered into moor-ish terrain that climbs toward the Kinder Scout plateau.

Pennine Way TrailheadTrail SignPathway

This is rough country, but it affords you with huge panoramic views across the valley below.  I picked out a loop route that would give me a nice morning workout.  There isn’t alot of useful navigational signage throughout the route so I had to watch closely for my turns.  An exhilharating (and a bit wet) wind was roaring across the hillside –not unpleasant, but I was glad for my wind and rain gear.


After crossing a high ridge, I found my turn down one of the many side dales (valleys) leading into a farm lot.  From there, the trail crossed the same hillside at a lower level any connected to the pathway leading back to Edale.  A thirst was building.

Side Dale

The following gallery are images from the hike.  Click on any image to open slideshow view.

The Old Nags Head

Old Nags Head InnCompleting the loop brought me back to Edale and the Old Nags Head Inn where there was a welcoming fire, hot food, and a tasty pint or two.  This pub dates back to 1577 and I was told that it ranks on someone’s list of the 100 most notable pubs in England.  It is a relaxing place with simple but hearty food choices.  Their house ale is called 1577 and is a dark, malty brew that was much appreciated following the long walk.  The Inn also offers a couple of self-catering cottages for those who want a country stay.

Old Nags Head Inn

Old Nags Head Inn 1577
Old Nags Head Inn 1577 Ale
Black Sheep Best Bitter
Black Sheep Best Bitter

Old Nags Head Inn pea soup lunch

Old Nags Head Inn
Old Nags Head Inn open hearth

Pub Crawling by Rail

Hope Valley Line between Edale and Totley Tunnel
Hope Valley Line between Edale and Totley Tunnel

From Edale, my plan was to work my way back toward Sheffield on trains, getting off at each stop to search out a beer.  I got this idea from coming across a website that had a nice set of advice for where to stop and it makes clear that the way the train schedule is set, there is time to get off the train at each stop, have a quick pint, and get back to the station in time for the next train.

Hope Valley Line
Hope Valley Line

The website seems to be out of operation as I write this article, but the guys who ran it have a Facebook page called the Edale to Sheffield Real Ale Train Pub Crawl .   I did correspond with one of the guys, Lee Inman-Morfit who told me that he and some friends had made a hobby of “train pub crawls” and that the Trans-Pennine’s Hope Valley Line is particularly suited for this.  They have also worked on other routes elsewhere in the U.K.   From Edale going back to Sheffield, the Hope Valley Line stops at Hope, Bamford, Hathersage, and Grindleford before entering the Totley Tunnel.  There is another stop or two after the tunnel but before Sheffield, but I was in no shape to give those a try.  When trying to find their site, I did find another website that I am not sure is related, but it has a similar focus on “rail ale trails”.

Ramblers Inn
Ramblers Inn

My first stop was the other pub at Edale –a place called the Rambler Inn.  It is quite close to the Edale Station and is comfortable enough although it lacks the deep character of the Old Nags Head Inn.  The Rambler Inn offers a house beer called Rambler’s Gold which I found a bit stale.  The barkeep was quite friendly though and told me that his experience with train pub crawlers had generally been good, except when it has occasionally come in the form of a rowdy group — he specifically mentioned a group of marines who had been rude …

Ramblers Inn Gold
Ramblers Inn Gold
Beer loop from Hope Station
Beer loop from Hope Station — click for interactive map of hike route

From Edale, the next stop for me was Hope.  There is a bit of hiking required at each of the stops, but this one provided the most interesting walk for me.  In addition to a pub visit there is a country brewery called Intrepid Brewing Company that I had tried (unsuccessfully) multiple times to contact about a visit.  From Hope Station I was close enough to walk over there and see if anyone was home.  When I found it in a pleasant little hamlet called Brough,  there was no one there so I had struck out one more time.  This brewery seems to operate a bit under the radar –I inquired about them at each of the pub stops and at the Peak District National Park visitor center but found no one who was aware of them.  I did not find their beer in the local pubs.  I never heard back from them but I finally found one of their beers on tap at a pub in the southern part of the Peak District.

HopeHope Station

Intrepid Brewing Company
Intrepid Brewing Company

From Brough I found a public footpath through farm fields to the village of Hope.  The pathway was very faint, but made a high line across the high side of the pastures so the walk is quite scenic.

Public Footpath from Brough to Hope
Start of Public Footpath from Brough to Hope

Public Footpath from Brough to HopePublic Footpath from Brough to Hope

Approaching Hope there was an interesting structure that I couldn’t figure out whether it is a current day working facility or an historical artifact.  A stone-walled ring at first appeared to be a ruin, but there was a sign inside.  The function of the ring was (maybe still is) to be a place where people could drop off stray animals they may have found and for people who were missing animals to come looking for them –kind of a self-service pound.  The sign described a fairly lengthy set of rules of use.

Stray animal impound at Hope
Stray animal impound at Hope
Stray animal impound at Hope
Stray animal impound at Hope
Church at Hope
Church at Hope

The Old Hall Hotel housed a fine, old pub –muddy boots welcome!

The Old Hall
The Old Hall
The Old Hall Pub
The Old Hall Pub
The Old Hall Pub
The Old Hall Pub — pump handles for cask ales on the right and taps for pressurized keg beers to the left.
Manchester Pale Ale at the Old Hall
Manchester Pale Ale at the Old Hall

on the walk

an Intrepid Extra Pale
an Intrepid Extra Pale — although a local brewery, I didn’t find Intrepid beers at any of the local pubs I visited.
Hathersage Station
Hathersage Station


The Little John Hotel
The Little John Hotel in Hathersage


inside the train
inside the train



Farm to Cask: a hike and a farm brewery in the Peak District

Peak District OrientationI have been enjoying “Farm to Table” restaurants that have been popping up lately, so why not look for farm to cask (or keg) as a logical extension?  Maybe it would be more accurate to say “hike to farm to brewery to pubs” in this case, but farm to cask sounds kind of catchy.  I was staying in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, United Kingdom (read my story about a beery week in Sheffield here) for the annual beer week there and I noticed there was a brewery up in the foothills of the Pennine Mountains above Sheffield near the end of the bus line at a place called High Bradfield.  This area is on the eastern flank of what is known as the Peak District — peaks .. views .. farm brewery .. pubs .. beer .. my kind of adventure.

High Bradfield is one of several locales I spent time at during my Peak District explorations.  I have a bunch of writing to do about these visits and I’ll use the same map over-and-over to orient readers.

The Peak District

The Peak District is an area of highland moors (expanses of open rolling infertile land) and dales (valleys) that rise above and separate the metropolitan areas of Sheffield and Manchester to the West.  The highest ground are low mountains (less then 3000 feet) known as the Pennines which run north to south and extend much farther north than the area called the Peak District.  The Pennines are often called the backbone of England and much of the Peak District is England’s first national park.  The Pennine Way, which may be the U.K.’s most notable long-range hiking route, starts in the Peak District and travels 267 miles (429 km) into Scotland..

 The Peak is mostly in northern Derbyshire, but also includes parts of Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Staffordshire and Yorkshire. I found that this could get a bit confusing as a visitor center in one “shire” would often lack much information about the neighboring jurisdictions.
Bradfield Walk Route
click for interactive map

The countryside here offers big vistas across green fields, often dotted with sheep or other livestock.  Public footpaths cross and circle private farmlands and provide hikers with many options for taking in this wonderful landscape.  I learned that the public footpaths were usually well marked where they intersect a road, but generally not marked until you got to the next road.  There would be a beaten track to follow on the more popular routes, but the way to go wasn’t always clear on the less traveled routes.  For this day, I rode the bus to a place called Stacey Bank and a country pub along the road called the Nags Head.  I didn’t stop in at the pub because I wanted to save it for the end of the hike and lunch.   The dam for Damflask Reservoir is just North of Stacey Bank and I crossed it to find a public footpath that followed the West bank of the reservoir nearly to Low Bradfield.  Just uphill from there is the village of High Bradfield, and a beer stop.

High Bradfield

High Bradfield is a cute stop in the road with a pretty, old church, several houses, and a pub called Old Horns Inn.  I stepped in to the pub out of the rain and ordered up my first pint of beer from the Bradfield Farm Brewery.  The friendly barkeep told me a little bit about the area and gave me directions for finding the brewery.  A recent highlight for this area was hosting a stage of the Tour de France in 2014.  As you can imagine, this was a huge deal in such a rural area.  Bicycling the country roads remains a very popular pastime.

Tour de France in Upper Bradfield
image by ibd1979





Bradfield Farm Brewery

Bradfield - DSCF2139.jpgJust down the country road I found the Bradfield Brewery.  It is by itself on a hillside farm that I understand used to be a dairy operation.  Bradfield brews a variety of nice cask and bottled ales  There is a carry-away shop at the farm brewery, but no tap room.  The old barn that houses the farm brewery is jam-packed with tanks and equipment.  The friendly shop attendant told me that the owners had converted from a hundred cow milking operation to a farm brewery in about 2005.  The farm brewery now produces more than 100,000 pints of beer per week.  I have to say I like milk, but I like beer better.

Although I couldn’t get a beer at the brewery, I learned that the Nags Head Inn (where I started and would end my hike) is owned by the brewery and is their taproom.  Cool!  The hike from this point was on a countryroad and was pretty much downhill.

Nags Head Inn

Bradfield - IMG_2674.jpgThe Nags Head Inn was a friendly country pub that is clearly a place where friends meet.  The pub building and a couple of farmhouses are situated by themselves along the country road and look like they have been there for a long time.  A pleasant fire was crackling in the open fireplace and mad a nice spot to dry out a bit following what had been a damp dayhike.  The full range of Bradfield’s brews are available and I paired one up with a tasty, homemade sausage pie with a beer chutney.  The bus stop for the ride back to Sheffield is just a few steps down the road.

Click on any image in the gallery to scroll through a slideshow of larger images.


A hike and a couple beers at high altitude

Moreno Valley location in the USA
Moreno Valley location in the USA

The Moreno Valley in Northern New Mexico is as long wide bowl of grassland punctuated by a large lake.  There are unique opportunities for scenic hikes and a couple of brewery visits all at above the 8200 feet (2500 meters) altitude of Eagle Nest Lake.  High peaks up to 13,000+ feet (3960+ m) tower above the valley to the west and 10,000+ feet to the east.

location of breweries and hike
location of breweries and hike

For some reason, I got curious about what are the highest altitude breweries in New Mexico, the USA, and the world which led me to take a trip to the Moreno Valley, location of the highest breweries in NM.  Enchanted Circle Brewing Company in Angel Fire and Commanche Creek Brewing Company near Eagle Nest are both at about 8400 feet (2560 m) .  I knew I would be able to find a nice hike to work up a thirst so I packed up my tent and my bike and hit the road on a sunny June morning.

The history of the valley is rooted in old school ranching operations and as the area has become popular for tourists and vacation home properties There is relatively little public land in the Moreno Valley although there are a couple of State Parks with camp sites.  I camped near Eagle Nest Lake which meant I had a short, scenic 20 minute drive in the morning to get to the trailhead.

Clear Creek Hike route
click for interactive map of hike route

The hike I chose was on a trail up Clear Creek canyon, a side canyon of the dramatic Cimarron Canyon.  This canyon is a NM wildlife area that is part of a NM State Park.  The hike I took was about six miles (10 km) round-trip, in and out by the same route. The first half climbs reasonably gently along the stream although there are occasional short, steep stretches.  I would call it an easy-moderate hike.  The stream is crossed several times on wooden plank footbridges for most of the route although I had to wade higher up (glad I brought my water shoes).  The beauty is that you can turn around and retrace your steps whenever you want, so there is no need to worry about going beyond your abilities.  Clear Creek is a beautiful little stream that cascades over several small waterfalls along the route.  The undergrowth can be thick along the stream but thins out into nice glades of fir and aspen away from the water.  Once you turn around, it is pretty much down grade all the way back to the trailhead.  (Click on any photo in the gallery below to open a slideshow of all of the images.)

By the time I finished the hike, I was ready for a beer. Finding the closest brewery was a small adventure in of itself. Comanche Creek Brewery is embedded on a ranch north of the village of Eagle Nest. The highway turn-off is about two miles north and is well marked. You immediately are on a well-maintained gravel road heading toward the mountains to the west. Occasional rustic signs give confidence that you are going the right way. Otherwise, you would think you are in the middle of a remote ranch — and you are.

Road to Comanche Creek Brewery
Road to Comanche Creek Brewery
Approaching Comanche Creek Brewery
Approaching Comanche Creek Brewery

Approaching Coyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery Beer GardenAfter a couple of miles you pull up into the yard outside an old cabin with a rustic “Brewery” sign hanging under the eaves. A tin roof projects from the front of the cabin over a small outdoor seating area.   The beer garden consists of some handmade rustic log furniture and a couple of picnic tables.  A wooded stream flows by in the background and there are big forest and mountain views all around. Standing behind a counter in the open doorway of the small cabin is owner and brewer Kody Mutz. He gives me the rundown of the available beers and then draws me a Homestead Amber Ale, his flagship brew.

Homestead AmberThe Homestead Amber is a German-style Altbier that strikes a nice balance between malty and hops flavors.  It is a smooth beer that went down very easy.   In surroundings with such interesting character and natural beauty it makes for a pretty cool beer experience.

Coyote Creek BreweryThe brewery, a 3 BBL kit consumes all of the space within the old cabin.  Kody told me that his great-grandfather built the cabin back in the 1940’s to serve as a blacksmith shop for the 7000 acre family ranch that remains in family hands to this day.  Kody and his wife had been living in Colorado where he did a bit of home brewing and became interested in the idea of a brewery.  About seven years ago they decided to get serious but felt that the brewery scene in Colorado was a bit overheated.  The old cabin on the homestead in New Mexico came to mind and the rest is history.

Kody draws a beer
Kody draws a beer

Coyote Creek Brewery bottling machine

Coyote Creek Brewery OfferingsOther groups started showing up and I couldn’t miss the “wow” factor on many of the faces of finding a good beer in such an interesting and pretty setting.  A couple of the groups were people (adults) from the nearby Philmont Boy Scout Ranch (no merit badges relating to beer — I checked).  Apparently Philmont has a core staff of about 200 and hundreds of adult leaders come in seasonally from all over the country for various trainings and activities.  Another group was a couple of families from Texas — the kids played by the creek.  The beer garden is open year-round Wednesday through Saturday noon-6.  It is apropos to bring a snack or a picnic.  Soft drinks and a couple of NM wine choices are also available.  The venue is available for private events as well.

Coyote Creek BreweryCoyote Creek Brewery

Coyote Creek Brewery Ol' Smokey AleIt was time for another beer and this time I tried the Ol’ Smokey Ale, a brown ale brewed with a smoked malt.  This beer is quite dark in appearance, but not overly heavy to drink.  The smoke flavor is not overbearing and balanced nicely with the overall aroma and taste.  They keep five beers on tap at any given time and they also bottle the amber ale.  The taps rotate between a range of nine or ten different beers depending on what Kody has been brewing.  In addition to the brewery, he told me that they supply a couple of places in Eagle Nest.

Coyote Creek Brewery

So, is there anything tricky about being a high altitude brewery?  The impression I took away from Kody was that there are some adjustments to be considered, but he didn’t really see it as a big issue for him.

Coyote Creek Brewery - leaving the ranch

sign at the highway

Hells Bells HellesAfter a nice afternoon stretch at Commanche Creek I headed over to the resort town of Angel Fire at the south end of the valley for a beer and a bite to eat at Enchanted Circle Brewing Company.   ECBC is a brewery and pub operation tucked into a business strip along the highway that passes thru Angel Fire.  The altitude here is also listed as 8400 feet.  They list fifteen different beers in their range and I chose the Hells Bells Helles Lager to accompany my taco salad.  Nice, friendly service and a good, drinkable beer.  I did not have a chance to talk to the brewer, but I did get a peek into the brewhouse.

Enchanted Circle Brewing Company
ECBC does barrel conditioning for some beers

Enchanted Circle Brewing CompanyEnchanted Circle Brewing CompanyEnchanted Circle Brewing Company

Wheeler Peak across the valley
Wheeler Peak across the valley

Alot of people think of the Denver area as being high altitude at 5000+ feet (“mile high”) but most all of the breweries in Northern NM are mile-and-a-half high or more.  My internet search did not find any definitive list of breweries by altitude, but there were a few fun things.  The highest brewery I found in the USA was Periodic Brewing  in Leadville, Colorado at 10,100 feet ( 3075 m).  I think there are several others in Colorado above 9000 feet in places like Breckenridge, Dillon, Frisco, and Silverton.  These are downhill compared to some South American breweries in places like Cusco, Peru (11,150 feet/3400 m) and La Paz, Bolivia (11,975 feet/3650 m),

Touch Me Not Mountain across Eagle Nest Lake
Touch Me Not Mountain across Eagle Nest Lake

The question of the effects of consuming beer at high altitudes also came into the conversation, so I did a bit of research on this as well.  Interestingly, I could not find any definitive studies but I got some interesting insights that made sense to me.  Let me share a nicely written answer to this question I found on

You can think of each person’s ability to tolerate unfavorable physical conditions as a sort of “physiologic reserve” that “tanks” adverse conditions and prevents the body from tipping too far out of homeostasis too quickly and risking injury.  Alcohol requires some physiologic reserve to tolerate.  It’s a poison. A socially accepted and popular poison, yes, but a poison. If you drink too much or too fast, you’ll use up more and more of your reserve.and next thing you know you might find yourself waking up the following morning in the ER. Or a stranger’s room with a broken nose wearing a gorilla suit and wondering why you have a tattoo of a hairy tortoise on your forehead.

The thing is, altitude that you’re not accustomed to also requires some physiologic reserve too, as seen in mountain sickness in a general tourist … Altitude is pretty challenging stuff, if you’re not used to it. Your body as a whole is compensating for oxygen changes and undergoing physiologic responses to its acid-base chemistry to keep you alive and functioning. The higher you go, the more reserve you need.

So…imagine then, if you mix the two, what might occur. You have two forces competing for space in your physiologic reserve. It’s obviously going to be THAT much easier to hit the max and become hammered. It’s not just altitude’s fault, and it’s not just alcohol’s fault, but they definitely don’t make things easy for each other. If you balance carefully, you might well be just fine, with maybe even some room to spare…  …but at higher altitudes or alcohol consumption levels, it’s just so much easier to exceed the capacity of your reserves.

The key is this: note that altitude is always going to be using some physiologic reserve until you go back to sea level, meaning that you may well be drunk for a little while longer before you’re back within your physiologic reserve’s usual limits.  The extent to which alcohol will affect you at altitude depends on the following variables: 1) The size of your physiologic reserve: as you get older, the reserve available for discretionary use gets smaller, as it is increasingly used just to keep you alive despite aging. 2)  The level of altitude: 5000 feet is not going to be the same as 30,000 feet.  3)  Alcohol consumption: quantity matters.

I hope you found that as interesting as I did 🙂

Morning view across Eagle Nest Lake
Morning view across Eagle Nest Lake



Beery Days in Sheffield

Beery SheffieldEight beery days in Sheffield gave me a good tourist’s feel for why many in Britain consider this city to be one of the best beer scenes on the island.  The third annual Sheffield Beer Week provided the backdrop for a full agenda of companion events and sub-events that was impossible for me to keep up with.

Sheffield locationCity of Steel

Sheffield is located on the southwest border of the region of Britain called South Yorkshire.  The region (county/shire) of Derbyshire wraps around to the south and the west.  With a population of 570,000, Sheffield is the fourth largest city in the country — the metro area has a population of about 1.5 million.

Steel Sculpture
The Cutting Edge Steel Sculpture

Sheffield takes its name from its location on the River Sheaf which flows in from the South before joining the River Don near the city center.  There has been a settlement here going back nearly 13,000 years.  The Romans were here in their time.  Sheffield eventually became a noted center of metallurgy, steel production, and innovation.  Crucible steel and stainless steel were invented here.  The steel factories made the city a target for German bombing during World War 2 that resulted in widespread destruction.  Large scale manufacturing scaled back during the past fifty years and is a shell of its former self.  An impressive tribute to the steel history is “The Cutting Edge”, a huge sculpture made from Sheffield steel that is prominently displayed in front of the rail station.

Sheffield seemed more of a university town to me.  There are two universities: the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam University. The two combined enroll about 60,000 students and give the population a youthful bent.  Built on seven hills, more than half of the land in the city is parks, forests, and green belts.  I was proudly told that Sheffield has the highest ratio of trees to people of any city in Europe.  A third of Sheffield is situated within the Peak District National Park which covers much of the Pennine Mountains that begin just to the west of the city.  There is a good deal of public art scattered about — both formal and informal.  I enjoyed walking in the city, even with the formidable hills, and the bus and tram systems made it easy to get around

Kelham Island Beer Walking

Kelham Island Museum
Kelham Island Museum

The beer culture and history of the city is told at a small museum that is part of the Kelham Island Museum.  The major focus of the museum is the steel industry, but when left to my own devices I found the back corner that is devoted to beer.  Imagine the 1800’s and a time when people worked hard in the steel factories all day

Early Sheffield Brewers
Early Sheffield Brewers

only to come home to what might be a small, dark, chilly abode.  Public Houses — pubs for short — became the warm parlors where a person could relax after work, catch up with friends, and (oh yeah) enjoy a beer or two.

Beer became popular as a healthy alternative to gin and contaminated water that was supported by tax and regulatory policies of the government.  The Beerhouse Act of 1830 made beer cheaper and allowed any householder to get into the brewing business in their home.  Many, if not most of the brewers in those days were women.

It turns out that Kelham Island is a great place for a beer walk and the Museum was a fine starting place.  Kelham is a man-made island dating back hundreds of years to channel the River Don’s water into mill races.  The neighborhood has been converting from worn out factory buildings into a gentrifying area with condos and factory conversions.  It hasn’t gone so far that there isn’t alot of remaining character, and the neighborhood is home to multiple breweries and interesting pubs.  I only made it to a few.  I often heard Kelham Island Brewery mentioned as the place that kicked off the current independent brewery renaissance in the area back in the 1990’s.  The Fat Cat pub (next to the brewery) is their face to the world and is also frequently the first pub that would come up when people were giving me suggestions about where to go.  Their flagship cask ale has the cool name, Pale Rider, and is a nice pour.

My favorite stop on Kelham Island had to be the Sheffield Brewery Co.  They are housed in a vintage industrial building that once served as a factory for polishes and pastes.  The names of many of their beers are taken from those products and their marketing speaks of “finely polished beers.”  Although they host monthly and special events at the brewery, they aren’t set up for drop-by tours so I was grateful to be welcomed and shown around by Nick Law.  They feature a range of six mainstays from blonde to porter and Nick told me that the flagship is Seven Hills, a dry, hoppy pale ale.

Sex and Drugs and Bacon RollsThe Riverside, a comfortable pub on the River Don was a fine lunch stop.  They are owned by True North Brew Co. and serve the True North range as well as many other casks.  Tunes by Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple were playing in the beer garden that overlooks the river.

Shakespeares is a pub that has alot of character that I stopped in on while walking back to the city center.  You are greeted by a sign the says, “Tasteless, Fizz Free Zone” which speaks to the pub’s commitment to real ales.  The friendly bar keep took me through a variety of interesting cask ales.

Kelham Island Neighborhood
Kelham Island Neighborhood – There were several other possible stops in the Kelham Island vicinity but I decided they would have to wait for another day.

Sheffield Beer Culture

Pumping a cask ale
Pumping a cask ale

There was a lot to learn about the beer culture in the city and country during the week.  Much of it was brand new to me.  Some highlights:  Although kegged ales and beers are certainly popular, I found myself attracted to the huge variety of cask ales found everywhere.   A ‘cask ale’ is different from kegged beer in that it is conditioned in the cask or firkin it is served from and is not served under pressure (no CO2 … only natural fermentation).  The beer is pumped from the cask by pulling a pump handle multiple times per pour.    Where in the U.S. the attention is on “craft” breweries and beers, in Britain it is on what are called “real ales” which include cask ales and bottle conditioned ales.  As you might imagine, serving cask ales can be a bit tricky given their shorter shelf life so there are a whole set of standards for pubs to follow to ensure the quality of the beer for the customer.

My guess is that more than 90% of the beers I drank while in Sheffield (and in Britain for that matter) were cask ales and I rarely drank the same beer twice.  Not that I couldn’t if I wanted to, but I was drawn to the opportunity to try alot of different beers and it took no effort to do that.  I guess I became part of a subculture known as “beer tickers” although not in any disciplined sense.  A beer ticker is someone whose hobby is to try as many different beers as possible.  As a Sheffield Beer Week event, I went to a screening of a movie called Beer Tickers: Beyond the Ale and learned that there are beer tickers who have individually ticked off tens of thousands of different beers.  I had the good fortune to sit and share a beer with Andy Morton, a top ten beer ticker who appears in the movie.  He likened the practice of beer ticking to “trainspotting for beer nerds” which is a great description as long as you know what trainspotting is.  The heyday of this hobby sounds like it was in the mid-nineties although I got the sense that plenty of people are still at it.

Multiple events during Sheffield Beer Week
Multiple events during Sheffield Beer Week

There are a couple of organizations I encountered that are important in the Real Ale world.  The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) is a big consumer membership group that very successfully pushed back on the trend toward mass produced beers beginning back in the 1970’s.  CAMRA was often cited to me as a primary driver of the re-emergence of small, independent brewers in the U.K.  They are also big into supporting traditional pubs that serve real ales and have an excellent online catalog of pubs throughout the country.  Another organization I encountered was the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) which is the trade association for small, independent brewers.  SIBA was holding two events in Sheffield during the week that I was able to attend — BeerX (a big trade show and conference) and BeerAlive (a large beer festival and award ceremony featuring real ales from throughout the U.K.)  More about that later.

More Pubs and Breweries

Sheffield - IMG_2828.jpg
Pie and Porter

Sheffield has a load of pubs (more than 200) spread out through every part of the city. West Street is a main route running from the West End district to the city center and is home to many pubs and bars.  I tried to check out as many as I could — Fagans, the Grapes, Dog and Partridge, the Red Deer, the Bath Hotel, the Three Tuns, the Devonshire Cat, the Red Lion, the Greystones, Brew Dog, the Broadfield, the Banner Cross, Portland House, the Beer House, the Prince of Wales, the Lescar Hotel, the Beehive, and Porter Brook were all places I managed to stumble across and stumble into in addition the the places mentioned earlier and I still felt I was just scratching the surface.  There were also interesting beer shops like Hop Hideout and Turner’s.

Hop Hideout is the business of Jules Gray, a key organizer of Sheffield Beer Week, and her partner Will.  They have hundreds of bottled beers available, five taps in their tasting room, and hold many beer launch and meet the brewer events.

True North BreweryIn addition, my visits with other breweries and brewers in Sheffield included True North Brewing, Sheffield Tap, and Sentinel Brewing.  True North was particularly interesting and welcoming.  The brewery is in vintage, garage-like space in the heart of the city.  I poked my head into the big garage door to see if I might pay a visit and I was welcomed in by head brewer Dean Hollingsworth, who was busy filling and sealing casks.  Dean told me that True North operates ten pubs and that their beer production is pretty much earmarked to supplying their needs.  They also distill Sheffield Gin and make a number of infusions as well as roast their own coffees for the pubs.  Dean was gracious to show me each of these operations.  After tasting a couple of infusions I have decided to pay more attention to gin in the future — really interesting. True North has a half dozen beers in their core range including an excellent pale ale.