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The fantastic drink producers of Berkshire

PUBLISHED: 10:32 23 August 2016

The happy crowd at West Berkshire Brewery

The happy crowd at West Berkshire Brewery

Alys Tomlinson

There's good cause to raise a glass or two of your favourite tipple this month - and we know the right places to head

Our sparkling tour deservedly starts with Alder Ridge Vineyard at Hungerford, where their very first vintage 2013 Blanc de Noirs has scooped a Silver Medal at the prestigious International Wine Challenge 2016.

Tom Newey, CEO of Cobbs Farm Co Ltd, which owns the Alder Ridge Vineyard says: “Well, this has come as a complete, but wonderful, shock to us all! To be awarded a Silver Medal when up against internationally known ‘brands’ from all over the world clearly means an awful lot to us. We see the tireless efforts put into the management of the vineyard by our team and it’s incredibly rewarding to see some recognition for all that effort.

“Having planted Alder Ridge back in 2011, there are no quick wins in this business and we’re committed to making wines of exceptional quality for many years to come. No one can dispute that English wines really are world-class and a definite part of the future.”

English wines like this really are making their mark. The vineyard nestles into the slopes of the North Wessex Downs and the terroir, with chalky substrate and flinty topsoil, has many of the key characteristics of the Champagne region, providing perfect conditions for the classic grape varieties.

The vineyard was established in 2011 with the planting of five acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes. Last year saw three acres given over to Pinot Meunier, so they now grow the three grapes of the Champagne appellation.

There’s also great news from West Berkshire Brewery, expanding alongside a crowd funding release of £3 shares. But that’s not the only news. We often hear of London enterprises moving this way, but the brewery has actually taken on Shillibeer’s, an Islington pub, where customers can now enjoy the Renegade Brewery range.

Legendary brewing veteran David Bruce, who invested in the company and joined the board as chairman three years ago, says: “We are thrilled to have secured such a fantastic site in one of London’s most exciting areas. For the first time we can proudly serve our beers directly to customers. Our pub will be full of atmosphere and showcase a stunning range of beers and ciders from all over the world, including those we make ourselves. It will really put our brewery on the map.”

Back to that West Berkshire map, and all this comes as their new £3m cutting-edge brewery is planned for a former dairy near the present site. It’s a long way from 1995 when husband-and-wife duo Dave and Helen Maggs used their life savings to launch the business, initially making beer in a converted barn behind a pub. Bruce says: “We’re just as excited to have signed an agreement for our new brewery. We have a fabulous brewing team who are full of ideas and our new equipment will enable them to let their creativity loose.”

The deal has been done with landlords Yattendon Estates and the brewery should be operation early in 2017. It will also be capable of packaging 7,000 bottles or 12,000 cans per hour so that West Berkshire can begin contract packaging for other breweries.

Our tour moves on to East Ilsley, a pretty village with St Mary’s Church dating back to at least the 12th century and a traditional pond. Among the attractions, for both locals and those enjoying the countryside, is The Crown & Horns pub right at its heart.

Run by general manager Steve Martin (wife Cathryn also works there), The Crown & Horns was renovated by current owners Redcomb Pubs and has now received a TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for very positive reviews on that site.

It’s a good spot from which to enjoy a weekend break as the pub has luxurious bedrooms: look out for deals at crownandhorns.com. You’ll find great pub grub here, including meat from Vicars Game. And leave room for ice cream as it’s made by artisan experts Gelarto, a family business based in East Ilsley. Gelarto is operated by brother and sister team Peter and Rita Lauer, originally from Hungary. They spent happy family holidays in Italy, where they fell in love with the ice creams, and are now making their own delicious desserts. One of the other pubs where you will find their treats on the menu is The Red Lion at Chievely.

But the story doesn’t stop there as the Lauers have just opened Lusso, a pizzeria and gelataria at Weavers Walk in Newbury. Up to now they’ve been a favourite stopping off point for those in the know at Northbrook Street, Newbury, where they’ve run a pretty little ice cream van where you can even collect special orders after picking favourites online.

Peter tells us: “It’s a rustic style but modern approach. During the day we will be very much an informal spot to enjoy pizza or ice cream, but at nighttime we operate more as a restaurant. We are using as many local suppliers as possible, from the milk to make the ice cream to a local coffee maker to roast the beans.” See gelartoicecream.co.uk, and be warned, the ice cream flavours include such tempters as Sicilian Bronte Pistachio or Tahitian Vanilla Bean, while some sorbets include a little Prosecco, cider, vodka or even gin and tonic. Cheers!


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