The Big Hop Newcastle - Prelude

So, no sooner had we completed our little trip to Wales, it was time to take a couple of days off and head up to Newcastle for our second 'Big Hop'. 

Now had time allowed, we'd have cycled up there and back, as well as between the breweries whilst we were there but there are bills to pay and day jobs to earn the money! So as it was, we drove up after work on a Wednesday evening with the bikes and gear in the car. We'd looked at trains as an alternative, but they were a) eye-wateringly expensive and b) chronically timed, so we had to resort to the motor.

We'd sorted accommodation out in Jesmond (very poor for decent ale by the way, but that's another story) for the few days we were going to be up here, so as soon as we'd found the hotel, secured the bikes in the conference room and dumped the bags, we went in search of suitable ride fuel for the following morning. As it was well past 10.30 on a Wednesday night, pickings were slim. But as is often the way, you can always rely on being able to get a curry. Nick has some sort of built in radar for them, I swear.

Anyway, with full bellies and slightly weary heads we headed back to the hotel for some shut eye ahead of hitting our first visit on Thursday morning.

This time we had four breweries lined up - Cullercoats Brewery, Tyne Bank Brewery, Anarchy Brewing and Out There Brewing, but this had increased to five on the journey up there due a conversation via Twitter with Marc of the newly set up Almasty Brewing. This meant two breweries on Thursday and three on Friday - but we were confident we'd manage them all.

We'd saved Saturday for a guided beer tour around Newcastle with some brewers and Twitterfolk - more on that at the other end of these visits!

So first up later this week will be Cullercoats Brewery. Watch this space!

Yes, that's a Ford Fusion. Bikes and rack worth more than car. As it should be.

Yes, that's a Ford Fusion. Bikes and rack worth more than car. As it should be.

Sage advice courtesy of The Free Trade Inn's legendary toilets.

Sage advice courtesy of The Free Trade Inn's legendary toilets.

We won't divulge the location, but this is untrue.

We won't divulge the location, but this is untrue.

Sampling ahoy! (Less than a pint in total mind you)

Sampling ahoy! (Less than a pint in total mind you)



The Big Hop - Part 4 - Cwrw Ial Community Brewing

Here we are at our last stop on our first Big Hop, finishing up in the village of Llanarmon yn Ial at Cwrw Ial Community Brewing Company, and our first experience of a social enterprise brewery.

Let us tell you, there's a few hills between Wrexham and there. Due to a slight error on our directions (I'd programmed in our hotel postcode thinking it was right next door to the brewery), we managed to go up and down a few of them more than once, as well as end up some places we hadn't intended to!

Once we'd managed to get something like close to the right location, we plumbed in the postcode for the brewery and dutifully followed the last few turns and directions - to a field at some crossroads. Nothing we could see remotely resembled a brewery.


"Let's ring them" I said. No signal.

"Let's pedal up this hill to get a signal" I said. Still no signal.

"You're an idiot" said Nick. 

Right. This was awkward. Middle of nowhere, no technology to assist, late to see a brewer who was in the middle of casking. "Let's pedal down to that farm down there and ask if they know where it is" I said. Freewheeling down the hill looking for signs of life (there was none) I happened to spot the now familiar giveaway of some casks stacked outside a giant barn building, and then, just faintly, the familiar whiff of hops. It really is becoming a good way of discovering these places when you don't know exactly where they are!

So a little late, but very pleased to have finally found it, we arrived at Cwrw Ial and met head of the set up Doug and colleague Dave, who were indeed right in the middle of casking up the latest brew. Doug handed us some of his favourite 'Limestone Cowboy' to try, whilst we chatted about the brewery and set-up. We made some effort towards helping put a few of the casks in the store before getting some brewery activity on film, after which Doug led us to our stay for the night (The Raven Inn, also a community-run enterprise of which Doug is cellarman) via one of his locals - The Rose and Crown for a swift pint and the location for our interview.


Doug saw us to the door of The Raven, before bidding us goodbye. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there - it's a fantastic pub run by local volunteers. It's what rural pubs should be, independent, full of character(s) and with good beer and hearty food on offer. We couldn't have been made to feel any more welcome! Several pints were consumed including Cwrw Ial's very own 'Volunteer' - a superb light, copper coloured session ale, along with Big Hand Brewing's 'Zeta 2' and Heavy Industry Brewing's 'Nelson's Eye' - clearly The Raven definitely supports the local brewing scene!

Over to Doug now, to give you his take on our questions...

Interview starts at 1.48, and Ride GPX (Wrexham to Llanarmon yn Ial in a roundabout fashion) is available here.

Music is Axiom 'Fusiform'.


The Big Hop - Part 3 - Axiom Brewing

Quite literally round the corner from Big Hand, James has set up Axiom Brewing. No need for a map to get here as the brewer himself guided us on the short spin round to the brewery. Yep, that's him up front in the video.

James is justifiably proud of his self-build 4BBL kit. Financed solely by his full time job, no credit, loans or the like - just a lot of effort, time and attention to detail. We were privileged enough to try a sample of his first 'proper' brew on the kit -  a golden pale named 'New Dawn', fresh from the fermenter. Even at this stage in the process, it's clear that all James's preparation and planning is going to pay off - it tasted fantastic, a great hoppy and (once conditioned of course) golden ale. Wrexham and beyond is in for a treat!

Over to James now to give you the low down on Axiom, and his views on all things beer...

The ride GPX is part of the day's riding available here.

Music is Anitek (of course) and believe it or not this one is called 'Axiom'!

The Big Hop - Part 2 - Big Hand Brewing

So, onto part two of our little beer odyssey… Big Hand Brewing, based on the outskirts of Wrexham. A relatively short spin from our first stop of Frodsham Brewery, at a little over 20 miles away.

We can safely say there's lovely cycling to be had around these parts as the majority of the next 10 miles or so was up and down (vertically speaking, not emotionally) some great countryside which joins this part of Cheshire with North Wales. 

With the sun putting in a stirling appearance, we made good time - good enough to stop in Tarvin for a bit of ride fuel, before cracking on the last push into Wrexham.

Big Hand Brewing is based on Redwither Business Park, and is family owned and run by uncle and nephew team David Shaw and Andy Benson. In sole charge of the 10bbl set-up in David's absence was Andy, who showed us round the brewery before we set up ready for the interview. Joining him to greet us was James from Axiom - there to guide us to his brewery afterwards (or maybe to hear our questions so he was ready for them when his turn came!)  We were treated to samples (between us!) of a few of their fine beers - Epsilon,  Zeta, King's Bane and 11 Knights amongst others, before it was down to the task of putting our questions to Andy.

On a side note, Big Hand have recently started opening up the brewery running monthly 'Weekend Wind Down' events where several of their beers are on tap - check their Facebook page for updates as to when these are. Additionally, they are also taking part in the upcoming Wrexham Ale Trail, which looks like a great event - 13 pub stops (one of which is the brewery), and all by bus!

David at the bar (image courtesy of Big Hand Brewing)

David at the bar (image courtesy of Big Hand Brewing)

David and Andy (image courtesy of Big Hand Brewing)

David and Andy (image courtesy of Big Hand Brewing)

Time to hand over to Andy to tell you more about the brewery. For those less interested in footage of us trundling around the countryside, the interview starts at 2.00.

GPX file - which covers the route to Frodsham through to Wrexham is available here.

Soundtrack - Anitek 'The 3rd'

Next up - Axiom Brewing, Wrexham