All sorts of people populate the craft beer movement.
It’s not just trendy dudes with insanely long beards.
There are also experienced, professional brewers with a few more grey hairs who have been able to start their own brewery after many years in the industry.
For many, this lifelong dream was partly made possible with changes to beer duty, which allowed smaller producers to operate.
Windsor & Eton is one such brewery, co-founded by a team of industry veterans in 2010.
The tour at the brewery, which is nestled snugly at the end of a residential street in Windsor, Berkshire, is a great way to learn more about the brewery, and indeed, beer itself.
This is especially true if you are able to visit when the tour is conducted by co-founder & Chief Brewer Paddy Johnson.
Entering the brewing industry in 1979, Johnson has worked for many large multi-national breweries, and is an engaging and knowledgeable guide.
The tour included getting hands on with the ingredients of beer, with an excellent explanation of the different malts used, and how they affect the flavour of the final beer.
Johnson went on to demonstrate the unique properties of hops, from the pungent aromas to the bitterness released during the brewing process.
To do so, the group had to get green-fingered.
Handfuls of hops were crushed hard into the palms of hands, resulting in oils, which could be tasted.
Yum. Or not. Our group quickly decided to stick to the beer.
The beer tasting itself begun as soon as the tour started, and continued as Paddy discussed the brewery and how the beer is made.
Knight of the Garter and Guardsman were light, traditional, easy-drinking cask beers. While both of these were good session-strength ales, I preferred the Amarillo-hopped Knight of the Garter out of the two, which was the perfect beer to begin the tasting.
Next up was Conqueror, an award-winning black IPA.
With 5 specialty malts, there was a smoked character, which brought an additional dimension to this well-hopped dark beer. Fantastic.
Could it be? Have I found a black IPA I actually like?
Interest piqued, after the tour I picked up a 2015-vintage bottle of the Conqueror 1075. A stronger version of Conqueror, this bottle-conditioned beer is designed to be aged for up to 8 years, so check back here in 2023 and you may find my review.
But it’s not just cask beers like Conqueror, which have won plaudits for the brewery.
The kegged Republika is another of Windsor & Eton’s acclaimed beers, and we could tell that PAddy was particularly proud of this one, having spent much of his career brewing more mainstream lagers over just 9 days.
This 4.8% Czech-style pilsner has an extensive three-week fermentation and a whole 6 weeks of lagering time.
After painstaking research and enlisting help from Czech natives to get it right, the team follow a specially adapted brewing process to create this Saaz-hopped lager.
Uprising beers sit alongside Windsor & Eton brews in the brewery bar.
With the advent of hop-forward beers inspired by the US, a young upstart was created from within the ranks.
Uprising, a subsidiary of Windsor & Eton was set up by Paddy’s son Kieran to explore these more aggressively hopped styles.
The first beer of note produced was Treason, an excellent West Coast IPA.
The tour was already very good value, at just £10 per person. However, as a bonus the group were treated to a tasting of Scumbag Maggot, a whisky barrel-aged imperial stout.
Unusually, juniper berries are added, which give a pine character, followed by intense fruitcake flavours.
Whilst tasting this seasonal beer, we were treated to ‘Fairytale of New York’ by the Pogues in the taproom.
You may be able to work out why if you know the lyrics and spot those barrel names in the picture above. Great stuff!
One of the things Johnson was adamant about is that good beer should never be drunk straight out of the bottle.
Although I do agree with this statement, I must also apologise for drinking one bottle of Republika this way after a spot of gardening.
Sorry Paddy! If it’s any consolation, it was still, very good.
Overall – a thorough and fascinating brewery tour with plenty of beers. Excellent value for money (although like me you may find it difficult to resist getting the credit card out to take a few home with you) and recommended if you are in the area, or on a day trip from London.