Visit to Holden’s Brewery
Eighteen members enjoyed a visit to Holden’s brewery located in George Street, Woodsetton, Dudley.
Our tour Guide Debbie Woodward who was an 'Ex Victorian landlady' at the Bottle & Glass Pub, at the Black Country Museum, and in that role she was definitely a very awe-inspiring woman. She was extremely informative on the process of the secret recipe (and kept secret) of a long list of Holden’s beers together with great Black Country Humor, of which she gave our Vice Chairman Mike Perkins a good old Black Country Landlady’s response to his 'half cut' joke.
As we had over twelve people interested in the tour, we had to carry out two separate tours. The day started prior to the tours with most of us meeting in the conservatory at the Holden’s pub the Park Inn where landlady Mandy served us with tea/ coffee and biscuits. The first group went on the first tour at 11.30am, on their return they all looked extremely happy about the experience.
So myself and seven others including Mr. Perkins went on the second tour. Firstly entering the board room, Debbie gave us the history of the building and the Holden family, starting with the first generation, Edwin Alfred Holden, originally a shoe maker born in Netherton in 1875, through to the present day. After WW1 he met Lucy, the Landlords daughter of the Trust and Providence Pub in Netherton. When married they went into the licensing trade, they had one son Edwin “Teddy” Holden and he married a Coseley girl, Clara Perry-Hammond. They ran the Painters Arms in Coseley and moved to the Park Inn during WW2 where Teddy spent most of the war brewing for the RAF. Teddy’s only son, also named Edwin, joined his father in the brewery in 1965 becoming the third generation of Holden’s in the trade. Edwin married Tessa, Edwin tragically died in 2002 leaving a son, Jonathon, who took charge of the brewing and has been managing director for thirteen years, and daughters Lucy and Abi, who are both directors, and who continue the present fourth generation of Holden’s.
The business now owns twenty Holden’s houses, including The Park Inn, where it all started, which is adjacent to the Brewery. Added by Edwin” Teddy” Holden in 1943, a bottling plant bottles a wide range of Holden's beers, plus a range of products from other outside sources, and which celebrated it’s 70th anniversary in 2013. They also have a shop on site, which sells a wide range of bottled beers, clothing, merchandise and homemade produce - this is well worth a visit.
Holden’s have been brewing at the legendary ‘Hopden Brewery’ in Woodsetton Dudley (HOP DEN being a play on words HOP, used primarily as a flavoring and stability agent in beer, and DEN the end of the name Holden) for 100 years, or, to be exact, from the date of the purchase of The Park Inn on 13th August 1915. It’s history and heritage are steeped firmly in the Black Country. Over the years the Brewery has extended and brewing capacity has increased to where we find it today, brewing more than 2 million pints per year of Award Winning Black Country Ales.
Debbie explained that years ago brewing was a cottage industry, and women were the main brewers, known as 'Brewster’s', this was to supplement the men’s wages. Signs were placed outside the houses, for example sprigs of Holly to depict the later sign of the popular name the Holly Bush. The earliest signs being from the Romans, who placed a wreath of Vine leaves on a pole outside a hostelry. Because vine leaves were not native to Britain they were replaced by trees, evergreens and shrubs representing, for example, The Oak or The Yew tree. There were no glasses in those day’s, and to have a jug of ale pewter mugs were used, for the very reason is that you could not see what was in the brew !!.
We moved on from the boardroom to the area where the barley grains are left to germinate and become malted and Debbie put out some Barley grain samples to taste. In one sample you could recognize a definite beer taste, and in another, darker in color, had a taste not unlike chocolate.
The Malted Barley is put into a vessel called a Mash tun where it is agitated with hot water to get the sugar out producing a sweet liquid called a wort, it then goes through a process called sparging, a process where hot water is run through the grain bed to extract the last of the sugar. Once all the sugar has been extracted, the spent Barley is sold for cattle feed.
The next process moved the wort from the Mash tun was to the Copper, where Hops and sugar are added. Looking at the sacks of Hops in the storage room we saw that the Hops were from Devon, and a very relieved Herefordshire man, Brian Draper, was pleased to see that there were also hops from Herefordshire. Brian shared some of his local Herefordshire knowledge with Debbie and our group, telling us that Hop binds grow the same way up the strings, and the opposite way to runner beans, adding that there are 1,000 hop binds to the acre.
The Hops and sugar are boiled for 90 minutes in the Copper, the Copper at Holden’s was a particularly old and very much loved piece of equipment. As the Copper was empty at this time, one of our group, namely Kathleen Grainger, thought it great fun to shout through the empty vessel, as it made a fantastic echo chamber (perhaps she thought her ghostly voice could wake Jim up, oops sorry Kath couldn’t resist that one.)
The hot wort is then cooled by being passed through a heat exchanger, the wort is cooled down to the ideal fermentation temperature and the hops and any other residue are removed. The spent hops are collected by Dudley Council who recycle them onto compost for our gardens. Someone quipped “I suppose our lawns will come up half cut”, well, that really went down well with the group and especially with our guide Debbie, who said she will remember that one for future tours.
Before we entered the Fermentation room we were told of the deadly dangers of Carbon Dioxide, but Debbie reassured us that we were all safe from being poisoned or asphyxiated. We entered the room with the giant fermentation tanks and were allowed to look into the tanks with the aid of steps. To our joy one of the tanks was overflowing with froth, and very reluctantly we all had to be dragged out (no, we walked out, honest - Ed.). Holden's have been using the same, unique, strain of yeast for the last 30 years, the yeast breaking down the suger to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.
Conditioning: The beer is left to mature and mellow in specific serving tanks to achieve optimum taste and ideal level of carbonation. This process allows the beer to develop and mature and become the beer you are drinking today. During this time, the yeast becomes dormant and settles out of the beer collecting at the bottom of the tank. This process can take from 1 to 6 weeks depending on the beer that is being brewed. Finally the beer is run into casks, a process called racking & tapping. Holden’s use casks only to store their ale mainly a 4.5 Gallon pin cask = 36pints. Casks were traditionally made from European oak or more commonly nowadays from stainless steel or aluminium. They have an opening at the front for attachment of a tap or keystone and a second opening (shive hole) at the top through which the beer is racked into the cask.
Debbie explained that traditional cask sizes are derived from the 36-gallon barrel. They are as follows
A Pin holds 4.5 gallons = 36 pints
A Firkin holds 9 gallons = 72 pints
A Kilderkin holds 18 gallons = 144 pints
A Barrel holds 36 gallons = 288 pints
A Hogshead holds 54 gallons = 432 pints
So after taking in all those mathematics of imperial units of volume or capacity - phew! we were all in need of some liquid sustenance. What will it be, a pint of Black Country Mild, Golden Glow, Dragons Blood, Special, Mild, Bitter, Old Ale or Summat Else, just a few of Holden’s Ales and Beers to choose from.
Most of the group stopped for some good old Black Country fare in The Park Inn, adjacent to the brewery, where our host Mandy and her staff looked after us all very well – thank you.
We were all getting concerned as to where our promised centenary tankards were, I went to the shop to receive these from Mrs. Tess Holden, and what a lovely shop it was, thoroughly recommend if you are an ale and beer connoisseur. All ales and beers stocked, with special annual Holden’s Glasses’ and other merchandise and local produce. I think most of us purchased something to remember our day at Holden’s Brewery. And there was Debbie, “bless her”, drinking her much deserved cup of “tay”. This she was looking forward to throughout our tour.
We all eventually went home with our Holden’s centenary glass and what a beautifully designed glass it is.
“Cheers” to all at Holden’s and here’s to another 100 hundred years and thank you for a memorable visit by Amblecote History Society.
Water, Malted Barley, Hops & Yeast --- hmm I wonder what the secret is?
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