South Yorkshire’s food heroes: Wentworth Brewery, Rotherham

With the pub industry in drastic decline and breweries shutting up shop on a monthly basis (according to specialist website, 304 breweries have closed in the last decade, an average of between two and three a month), investing into a micro-brewery may seem like commercial suicide.

But for a group of ale enthusiasts from Rotherham, the quest for the perfect beer knew no boundaries, and having failed to find an ale that ticked all the boxes, the five men; Paul Menzies, landlord of Chapeltown’s Commercial Inn; John Moorhouse, Alasdair Twist, Gary Sheriff and Peter Claughton decided to take matters into their own hands and brew their own.

So, in 1999 the five men established their own micro-brewery on the Wentworth estate in Rotherham and set about creating the finest brew with the help from Brian Hendry from the finest ingredients, using only spring water, malt and hops and Yeast.

One  year  ago, head brewer Richard Hancock joined the Wentworth team, and since then has spent around ten hours a day, sometimes seven days a week, in search of the perfect brew.  A lifelong ale enthusiast and passionate advocate of traditional brewing techniques, Richard has taken Wentworth to award winning levels with his ales.  And despite the long hours and commitment, Richard wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Every day I brew beer from start to finish in the traditional way, with no extracts, filters, or concentrates,” he explains.  “It’s all just pure malt.  There are a large variety of different malts available, each with a different colour and different flavour, and by adding different hops we can further change the flavour and characteristics.  At the moment we’re making 24 different beers, but there are an infinite number of possibilities.”

Richard’s passion for ale sees him spend most of his waking hours single-handedly ensuring that the ales produced by Wentworth Brewery are the very best they can be.  Arriving at between six and seven every morning, Richard’s routine has him cleaning, brewing and testing, and, given his perfectionism, only the very highest standards will do.

“There’s always something to be done – it’s a constant cycle,” says Richard, “If I’ve set the water to heat to the right temperature – and it has to be exactly spot on – while I’m waiting I’m preparing for the next stages.  Then the water’s added to the malt and left while the sugars are extracted, and while I’m waiting for that I’m cleaning the equipment for the next stage.  It has to be pristine – I actually get inside the tanks to make sure every last inch is spotless!   When the sugary liquid is ready it goes into the copper, and we boil it – which is what gives that great smell.

“We’re working in volumes of around 1000 gallons for each batch, so it’s a significant task!  Then we’re adding the whole leaf hops to give different aromas and tastes, whether it’s a lemony aroma, or pine.  Some hops are grown for aroma and some for taste. Some beers have a couple of kilos of hops but some have up to 20 kilos, depending on how bitter the beer needs to be.  At that stage we check the gravity (strength), and then it’s transferred to fermentation vessels.  The longer it’s left the left the stronger it is, and we usually ferment for between three and seven days.  We have been known to leave a beer fermenting for up to four weeks though.”

Mechanicals of producing the perfect pint aside, the one essential ingredient in the process is, according to Richard, passion.

“You just can’t treat this as a job,” says Richard.  “It’s a way of life.  I had an apprentice in the past, and am looking for another at the moment, but people find it hard comprehend there are no fixed hours.  You come, you brew and you go home when it’s finished.  That could take ten hours or it could take 16 hours – I’ve been known to start at six in the morning and not leave until well past ten at night.

“Doing a job like this has to be an extension of a passion.  I’ve been brewing at home for years, and if you haven’t got the passion you can’t do this job.  You just can’t treat it as a job, it’s as simple as that.  You need to have that passion to be the best you can be at brewing beer, or you might as well give up.  As soon as you lose your drive, that’s it.   I’m looking for another apprentice, but this time I’m going to look around at beer festivals as it has to be someone who wants to do the job for the love of it, not for the money.  Obviously there is a wage, but it shouldn’t be about that.”

And it’s Richard’s passion and incredibly high standards that have made Wentworth Brewery the success that it is today, as well as ensuring its future.  The directors have recognised a true master brewer in Richard, and have backed him emotionally and financially. As a result, the Wentworth name has become synonymous with quality beer brewed with a passion for perfection, and Richard’s brews have earned the brewery national awards.

With production currently standing at 35,000 pints a week, Wentworth Brewery is working to capacity.  With new enquiries from around the UK and beyond coming every week, the potential to expand Wentworth is huge.  But despite the interest, Richard and the team are keen to make sure that the quality of Wentworth beer isn’t compromised.

“We could hire another brewer and buy more fomenters, but it wouldn’t be the same” says Richard, without a hint of arrogance.  “What we would like to do is find another apprentice so we can work double shifts and increase capacity that way, but we won’t expand if it means compromising on quality.”

And for Richard, the quest for the most quaffable beer will never end.  “Brewing beer isn’t like making a cake where you use the same ingredients each time,” he says.  “There are always adjustments to be made, and I try and tweak them all the time.  We’re also coming up with lots of different beers, month specials and the like.  I’ll never stop loving what I do and as long as there are people out there who enjoy drinking my beers, I’ll be here making them.”