How a barn sat among the ruins of a Norfolk priory will be transformed into a brewery
PUBLISHED: 08:43 09 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:49 09 October 2017
A farmhouse barn nestled in the ruins of a 900-year-old Norfolk priory is to be transformed into a brewery its owners hope will become a pull for beer-lovers around the world.
Having had the nod from planners, Derek Bates and Miranda Hudson are starting work to turn the stone barn at Abbey Farm, in West Acre, near Swaffham, into Duration Brewing.
The husband and wife team, who split their time between Norfolk and London with their daughter, plan to pour the flora and fauna of west Norfolk into their beer, including local grains, yeast and River Nar water, to create a product bound to its surroundings.
They hope, one day, it will see the site, the remains of West Acre priory, become a destination brewery for the growing armies of beer-lovers around the world.
But for a couple who have spent much of their lives living in London, a move to Norfolk, with its rural landscape, might seem, at first glance, unusual.
But American brewer and chef Mr Bates said coming to Norfolk felt more like being at home than expected.
“We settled on Norfolk for the idyllic rural setting, beautiful farmland and expanse of space and isolation,” he said. “I’m from the foothills of the Appalachians - a tiny town in South Carolina where people are connected to their land more than anything else.
“Norfolk is the only place I’ve found in the UK that has that same sense of belonging that I have to my home.”
Complexities around the history of the grade II* listed barn - which is on a working farm - and the boxes that need to be ticked before any work can begin has meant months of anxious waiting.
But with relevant bodies satisfied, the vision was given the green light at the end of September, subject to a series of conditions to make sure the plans don’t affect those living nearby.
The pair said they were delighted to receive the news good - and thanked those who had helped.
“The warm and near fervently positive welcome we have got both from West Acre and wider Norfolk has been overwhelming,” Mr Bates said. “We were expecting a bit of backlash from die hard cask lovers or price focused retailers, but it seems there is a strong and fast growing scene of experimental beer lovers who are crying out for more independent and craft breweries.”
He said they had been met with an “eagerness and anticipation” to see more craft beer in Norfolk.
“It was pretty special and a relief too - no one wants to be the outsider and the new kid on the block,” he added.
It was within the last year that Mr Bates - formerly head brewer at Brew By Numbers and head of food at Brewdog’s UK bars - decided it was the right time to go solo.
“We want a business we can fully steer, and get to control our own destiny making our own watermark on the worldwide brewing scene,” he said.
Now approved, plans for the site - billed as a farmhouse family brewery - include a taproom and visitor centre, with a far-off vision of launching a bar in Norwich.
Until their opening date - next summer - they’ll be releasing beers in collaboration with other brewers, with the first already launched in Norwich.
For now, though, there’s plenty to be getting on with behind the scenes.
What will the beer be like?
Mr Bates said the rise of websites and apps dedicated to dissecting beer had created something of an “arms race” for brewers to add odd ingredients, high percentages and more - and more - hops.
“We have lost our way a bit in seeing that beer often brings people together more than any drink in the world.”
So while the core range will include a pale ale, a crowd-pleasing juicy IPA and a hoppy option, he hopes to instead focus on slow beers - aged and “created with a sense of place and time”, making the most of the natural environment.
“Our slower beers will be our mixed fermentation and blended range of spontaneous
beer that uses grains, fauna and the natural flora found on the farm,” he said.
Another focus will be on so-called clean beers - balanced, and easy to drink.
“I want our clean beers to be so consistent, balanced and well made so they just amplify the setting upon which you are enjoying them,” he said.
“When realising you’ve finished it you might think to yourself ‘my god that was an incredible beer - I want another’.”