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.
Being 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.
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.
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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).
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.