High House Farm brewery is in Northumberland, located a couple of miles south-east of Matfen, thirteen crow-flight miles from Newcastle-upon-Tyne. It’s a small affair, part of a larger concern that includes a working farm, visitor centre, brewery shop and a small bar. As I was passing, I decided to drop in and have a look for myself.
The brewery is very compact, and can be viewed from above from the bar, or alternatively, with 24 hours notice, you can book a 30 minute brewery tour. I hadn’t booked, so contented myself with the birds-eye view.
The brewery shop and bar are located on the first floor, above the actual brewery. The bar is small and cosy, with a good selection of the native brews on offer. Unfortunately, as I was driving, I couldn’t sample any, so instead I settled for a quartet of bottled High House beers from the brewery shop.
A few evenings later, I settled myself in my favourite armchair and gave my attention to the four bottles I had bought. The first was Auld Hemp. This is a 3.8% bitter, orangey-brown in colour, though the beer was not bottle conditioned. The taste is malty and nutty, with a tiny hint of caramel. The taste leads smoothly into a gentle, bitter finish. If this beer was on the bar, I would be more than happy to have a session on it.
Next up was Nel’s Best, made with Goldings hops. Orange in colour, this has an ABV of 4.2% and is described on the bottle as a ‘premium ale’. The taste is nicely balanced and full flavoured with a good, bitter, hoppy finish. I’m not sure what High House’s definition of a ‘premium ale’ is, I would have called this a best bitter, and it’s a good one. This beer was a finalist in the UK Champion Beer of Britain Awards in both 2003 and 2006. It was the winner of Best Bitter in the North (a SIBA award) in 2008.
The third offering from High House Farm was Matfen Magic, slightly stronger than the previous two at 4.8%. This is again described as a ‘premium ale’ on the bottle, but it’s clearly a brown ale. The colour is a dark browny orange, again slightly hazy. The flavour is smooth and rich. There is a blackberry fruitiness with an underlying chocolate smoothness. The ending is hoppy and bitter with a slight zing to it. It’s absolutely lovely, and I wasn’t at all surprised to find that this is High House’s best-selling beer.
These three are High House’s regular brews, but along with many other breweries, they also produce several seasonal, occasional and special brews. My fourth bottle was one of these, Matfen Spire.
Matfen Spire was brewed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the building of the spire on top of Matfen parish church. It’s a 4.8% light red coloured bitter made with Fuggles and Brambling Cross hops. The flavour has distinct tones of autumnal berries followed by a hoppy bitterness. There are warming malty overtones throughout the taste. This beer is not listed on the brewery’s website, so it may have been a short-term brew. Maybe it will reappear one day under a different name to celebrate another anniversary.
Currently, High House Farm ales are mostly sold fairly locally, though according to the 2012 Good Beer Guide, over 350 outlets are supplied. I have found a couple of their beers in Lancashire this year, Auld Hemp at a festival, and Lily Brewster in a pub. Hopefully the trend will continue. These beers are worth seeking out.
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