I set off early on the Saturday morning and made my way to Greyabbey on the Ards Penninsula, an hour and a halfs drive from my house, it’s a long way but the sun was shining and the drive down the peninsula, along Strangford lough is hard to beat on a day like this.
It’s not a part of the country I know well so I was glad of the sat nav, which took me to a small bungalow with the number 34, I was looking for 34B which I then assumed must be the business address of the brewery but I couldn’t see any outbuildings. I rang Charles, the owner/head brewer, and he straight away asked “are you at a bungalow with a blue door? Well that’s not us”
He directed me back onto the road and to a little lane next door, I hadn’t even noticed the lane first time it was so hidden by the trees. It’s was long and narrow and wound threw the trees until I came out the other side and saw the house. But I still couldn’t see a building big enough to be the brewery.
Charles came out and after the formalities he showed me to his brewery, we walked through the trees along a trail that was only just visible until we rested a timber clad building that whilst of a modern design, blended into its settings beautifully.
We went through the outer door of the brewery and Charles changed into white wellyboots and handed me a pair of blue overboots, I’ve worked in food production when I was younger so I knew the drill but I’d never experienced this before on one of my brewery visits.
I’d heard rumours before about Charles’ setup here and when we entered the main brewing room they were confirmed. It was immaculate, a coated, drained floor, white plastic easy clean walls and highly polished stainless steel vessels. Charles explained that he treated beer production like the production of any other food or drink and hygiene was a massive priority.
Charles gave me the tour and explained how his layout worked. Unlike any of the other breweries I’ve visited the building of Ards brewery was build from scratch purely for the purpose of brewing beer. This means everything is in a place not because that is where it fitted but because that is where Charles, who is an architect by trade, planned for it to go. Everything is in its own separate area and it flows perfectly, with raw ingredients coming in one door and finished beer going out another.
I love the old style farm breweries I get the chance to visit, there is a natural kind of feel to them that appeals to my romantic side, but I must admit there is another side of me, an anally retentive obsessive side that found the layout of Ards brewery to be a artwork of order that I couldn’t help but admire.
We went back up to the house for coffee and a chat next.
Charles told me how he got started in brewing. He was a successful architect but like many people involved in the construction industry, myself included, the recession forced a career change. As the worked got less, he actively set out to find out what he could do next, his first idea was a bakery, as he enjoyed making bread, however baking for fun and baking for business are very different and he wasn’t keen at his stage in life of getting up for work at 4am.
A friend actually suggested brewing and despite no real experience in brewing he was interested, the same friend taught him the basics and that was it, he was hooked. Shortly after he bought the equipment and started homebrewing. From there he expanded and built the brewery he now uses.
The brewery is definitely more geared to real ale styles than any of the newer craft styles. He’s a wealth of knowledge of hop variety and seems like he wants to use them all at some point, an obsession that will keep him busy for a long time. With a core range of over 8 beers much of the time you can see his varied tastes. Unfortunately as the craft and real ale market grows here shelf space is becoming rarer and Charles now says he struggles to find anywhere that will stock his entire range.
Currently Charles is splitting his time between brewing and his architecture work and he doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. Fortunately if he does decide to push ahead more with the brewery his current setup is so well catered that he thinks he could easily triple his output without having to expand his equipment or facilities.
The beers are very much local, in fact Charles intentionally only supplies within a 10 mile radius of the brewery, so if you want to get a taste of his wares you may take a trip down the pennisula, a trip worth it for the beer alone but the scenery is a welcome bonus.
Ironically for a man who has such a modern brewery he seems almost old fashioned in other ways, he has no website for example and a very limited social media presence. After meeting Charles it’s very clear that is just his way and while it may not be the best tactic from a business growth perspective, he’s kept more than busy with his loyal local fan base. You can’t help but respect the purity of it, even though it would be nice to be able to click a button online and have the beer delivered to my door, but for the time being it looks like I’ll have to make that drive back down the Ards pennisula every time I need stocked up.
…Worth it though