We were invited to come down and visit Marston’s Brewery, which got us uber excited as the brewery is over 180 years old and has a rich historical past as well as a very forward thinking team today. Started in 1834 by John Marston, the brewery is based in Burton-on-Trent, which is described as the beer mecca of the UK. Why? The Water!.. Burton is built on rocks that contain the mineral Gypsum. Then water trickles through this it creates “Burtonisation”. The result, beer with depth of flavour, character and a crisp refreshing bitterness that you will not find anywhere else! But it’s not just the water used that makes this brewery so unique, it’s also the only brewery in the UK that still uses the renowned Burton Union System.
While walking towards the brewery, we could see the original Maston’s building on the horizon, with its funnel smoking it looked like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Surrounded by canals, you can see the other hidden beauty of this location, this is where all of the canals in the UK meet, providing links to all major cities, something that was vital for transporting beer, especially during the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.
We were greeted by Brand Manager, Elliot, in their EPIC new nano-brewery DE14, which is hidden amongst the huge brewing buildings and outhouses. This is where the crazy stuff goes on. The kit can brew 600 pints per week and these small batches are sent to festivals, events and a few lucky pubs. Marston’s let their trainee brewers loose on this and they can be as creative and mad as they want! It also keeps them in tow with their master brewers course requirements but more importantly if something turns out to be a REAL cracker it could be moved onto the bigger kit!
Elliot then took me up to the original part of the brewery that is still used today, it was a pretty long climb up to the top, you wouldn’t fancy doing this everyday! We passed the original government’s duty office, which back in the day was where a government’s duty representative would sit, while beer was being brewed. Apparently it was a pretty sweet job though as it just consisted of sitting, twiddling your thumbs and drinking beer!
Inside there was the Porteus Malt Mill which unfortunately was a bit too successful for the company that made this as they rarely break! All of Maston’s grain is British-grown and once it is spent, it is sent to farms for animal feed. There was also the old copper tank which genuinely looked like something out of Doctor Who and three old-school mash-tuns that haven’t been used since the 90’s… The sparge-arms still rotate though!
We then went down into the main part of the brewery where there were three newer coppers gleaming, the thing that seems a lot different here to the smaller breweries that we are used to visiting is that everything is run by computer, even with the older kit. There’s also row upon row of knobs and buttons that you daren’t touch or go near!
Elliot then led me to the bit that we had been waiting for, the Burton Union Room. This is by far a national brewing treasure as Marston’s are now one of few, if not the only brewery in the UK that still brew in this way. The Burton Union System is a recirculation fermentation method that has been used since the beginning of the 19th century and consists of a row of casks connected to a trough above via a series of pipes. This allows excess yeast to be removed from the casks without leaving excessive amounts of head space, while allowing any expelled beer from the yeast to flow back into the casks and continue to ferment. They use this method for Pedigree and apparently when Firestone Walker came to visit from the US, they were so impressed that they have attempted to make their own version! Scattered around the sides of this whopping brewhouse were also tanks containing Hobgoblin (which smelt fantastic) and various other brews.
We then entered the packaging room which was a totally different beast in itself, plenty of bustling and so much beer being packaged, not just of their own but other breweries too. Next door was the keg/ bottle room, filled with shelves of all of the beers that they have ever bottled lined up, some even from the 70’s! They also keep kegs of their recent brews to taste and check in case a customer reports a problem (which is very rare). While we were in there we also bumped into head brewer Patrick McGinty, who it was a pleasure to meet. Unfortunately the bottling line wasn’t in motion when we had a look but you could imagine how amazing it would be, from the sheer size of the thing!
Finally we hit the Marston’s bar for some tasters and got to meet Marketing Manager Jo, who it was also great to meet. The bar area is fantastic and this mixed with some cracking brews really topped off a great experience! So if you fancy a fantastic day out then we would definitely recommend giving this tour a go!
Big thank you to the Marston’s team for having us!