Nature is key to local brewery’s winning formula

Market Weston, Suffolk. Alan Thomson of Old Chimneys Brewery
Market Weston, Suffolk. Alan Thomson of Old Chimneys Brewery

They are known for having quirky names, such as Ridgeway’s Seriously Bad Elf, and Woodforde’s Norfolk Nog.

But one north Suffolk brewer has eschewed the trend for playful monikers by naming his award-winning beers after species of plants and animals found locally.

Continuing an ongoing local breweries series, I met with Alan Thomson, who started Old Chimneys Brewery in Market Weston in 1995.

In the beer industry since graduating in biochemistry in 1977, Mr Thomson’s brewing interest was sparked by his grandfather, who was a brewer. Before starting Old Chimneys, Mr Thomson worked for firms including Greene King.

These days, with help from Mr Thomson’s wife and daughter, Old Chimneys makes up to 500 pints of beer per week.

It brews 14 beers in all: including a wheat beer, ales, and a bitter, plus a cider and barley wine. The brewery’s India pale ale, Parnassus, is named after a type of grass found in Market Weston Fen. The lemon and ginger ale, Hairy Canary, is named after a species of fly.

Bar the hops, local ingredients are used to hand-make the beers. “This helps give them their flavour, along with the fact there is no ne of the mechanisation or automation you get with mass production,” Mr Thomson said. “Such attention to detail is vital.”

When he began Old Chimneys - naming it after the house his family lived in - after growing tired of life at a big firm, Mr Thomson said there were ten micro-breweries in the area. Now, there are about 30 in Norfolk and 20 in Suffolk.

He said: “People are much more interested in flavour and quality now , and micro-breweries have popped up everywhere in response to that.”

Mr Thomson has been labelled a British food and drink “hero” in a Rick Stein book, and counts an ex-Norwich City hall-of-famer among his customers, as well as a Lord.

He said he has made a conscious effort to keep the brewery as low-key as he can, as he is happy with its current size.

Mr Thomson’s work has not gone unrecognised, though - he has been judged overall champion twice at the Norwich and Cambridge beer festivals, and Good King Henry Special Reserve featured in brewery bible Rate Beer’s top 50 best beers in the world list.

Of his job, he said: “It is very X-Factor, but you could say that I am living the dream.”

The brewery’s shop, which is on site in Church Road, is open 2pm-7pm on Fridays, and 11am-2pm on Saturdays.

You can find Old Chimneys beer on tap at The Mill Inn, in Market Weston, and The White Horse, in Thelnetham.

A new blond beer, Goldcrest, comes out at Easter. I tried some, and thought it was exquisite. Webwatch: www.oldchimneysbrewery.com