Dipton Mill Inn and the Hexhamshire Brewery

26 Sep

A couple of miles south of Hexham, in an achingly lovely spot, sits the Dipton Mill Inn. The Inn is an old farmhouse dating to the 17th century. The Mill (actually two mills) of the name, dating to the 1300s, burned down in 1783, though the mill-race still circles the grounds of the current inn.

This little gem of an inn is also home to the Hexhamshire brewery, founded in 1993 and currently operating from Ordley, less than two miles away up Dipton Mill Road. There are plans to move the brewery to the Inn itself in the near future.

The first impression of the inn is of a picturesque, almost chocolate-boxy looking pub, quintessentially English. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take a useable photograph when I was there, but see their website (address below). Inside, the pub is snug. Low-beamed ceilings, panelled walls and half flagged/half carpeted floor all add to a sense of cosiness. There are only a few tables, and the bar is compact but bristling with handpumps, most dispensing the Hexhamshire beers.

The atmosphere is friendly inside, each time a local walks in, cries of greeting hail them. I was standing at the bar, ordering a couple of sample jars and the landlord, Geoff Brooker, was standing next to me. He spends as much time leaning on the punters’ side of the bar as he does behind it. “So,” I started, “you brew this beer then?”

He shook his head emphatically. “No, no, no!” He pointed at a chap sitting at a table behind us. “He does it.” The chap looked up from his beer. “No, no, no I don’t!” he said. Puzzling. “Unless you like it,” he added. Ah.

As it happens, the gentleman pointed to was actually the brewer, John Henderson. After a couple of pints he came over and sat with Lady Alebagger and myself in the way that friendly locals do in these places. Warms your cockles, so it does. John does the actual brewing, following recipes devised by Geoff. The beers have been very successful, with Hexhamshire Lightside winning an award at the Newcastle Beer Festival in 2010.The brewery’s stout, Blackhall English Stout, goes down so well that Geoff has taken Guinness off the bar (this momentous event has also taken place in my regular watering hole, where Titanic Stout (from a keg, no less) has replaced Guinness).

We chatted for some time with John, who seemed only too pleased to talk about his brewing. His own favourite is Whapweasel, which is the only Hexhamshire beer I had tasted before. The brewery mainly supplies to local outlets, but with some leakage into Yorkshire and Lancashire, where my local got some in March 2011.

John Henderson

So, what of the beers themselves? I’ll start with the Hexhamshire Whapweasel, a 4.8% brew described as a bitter by the brewer, but I would class as a best. It’s a mid orange colour, just about right for type. The first flavour is fairly sweet, redolent of caramel. A nice overlying hoppiness grows throughout the taste to finish with a satisfying bitterness. I’d be happy to drink this any day of the week.

Hexhamshire Shire Bitter is a 3.6% bitter (no argument over this one). It’s a pale orange, again, just right for the type. The beer is clear and bright and packs a good deal of refreshment. Having said that, all the flavours in this beer are very slight, and I had to concentrate a bit to discern what they are. Caramel is in there, as in Whapweasel, but much fainter, as is the bitter hops. This is a very popular brew and is the pub’s regular bitter.

The next brew I tried was Hexhamshire Devil’s Elbow, slightly stronger than the Shire Bitter at 3.8%, but what a difference! The mouthfeel is really smooth. The flavour is rich and full-bodied, with toffee dominating, and just a hint of bittering hoppiness at the end. Given the choice, I’d have this over the regular bitter any time.

I then moved on to the famous stout, Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout. 4% and a deep black, it looked very inviting. I took a small sip. John looked at me closely. “What do you think?” he asked. I sat still, letting the beer give me its full complement of flavours. “It’s exceptional,” I said, and I wasn’t exaggerating. During my trip to the North East, I spent over two weeks sampling beers from pubs in Northumberland, County Durham and Yorkshire, and out of all of them, this was to be the best. It’s simply gorgeous. Velvety smooth with flavours of coffee, cream, almond and a hint of smoke at the back of the mouth.

Hexhamshire Blackhall English Stout

I returned from the bar with a Hexhamshire Devil’s Water, a 4.1% ale with an orangey red colour. “Now I don’t like that one,” confessed John. Neither did I. It was vinegar. However, Geoff was good enough to take the trip down to the cellar to connect up a fresh barrel for me. I’m afraid I still didn’t like it. It tasted quite harsh and not very pleasant. Ah well, can’t win ’em all.

I was persuaded (quite easily, now I think of it) to have a jar of Hexhamshire Old Humbug, a dark orange, slightly hazy beer, weighing in at a very respectable 5.5% and named after the landlord. “Do you know a beer called ‘Old Peculier’?” asked John. Do I! “Well this is better!” he declared. Throwing down a challenge to my favourite beer? Bring it on! Old Humbug is sweet and malty with distinct spirituous overtones and a thick mouthfeel. Almost a meal in a glass. It is very, very good, but better than OP? Weeell…

I must also mention the food at the Dipton Mill, prepared and served by Geoff’s wife Janet. I had minced beef with dumplings and vegetables, whilst Lady A had haddock with tomato and basil. Both were utterly superb.

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Posted by on 26 September, 2012 in Breweries, Cask Ale, Pubs


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8 responses to “Dipton Mill Inn and the Hexhamshire Brewery

  1. tavastlandbrewing

    27 September, 2012 at 09:03

    This was one of the best beery blog write-ups that I have seen in a long time and it has made me very thirsty.

    • Alebagger

      27 September, 2012 at 10:16

      Thanks very much, I appreciate the comment.

  2. musicrab

    27 September, 2012 at 13:44

    Ahh the pub by Devil’s Water (with beers to match the name). A couple of miles from where I lived for 18years, this brewpub (am I allowed to call it that?) always felt stuck in a 1970s time-warp. This was never a bad thing as its always a great place to reminisce about times past…

    But back to beer. Sometimes a little odd but that is not untypical of this type of establishment. Great to see a stout on the menu. You never know we might see a double-hopped IPA next ! (only kidding).

    But the strangest thing of all is Titanic Stout being served as a keg beer. This is a great beer by cask (and the bottle is not half bad either) but keg? Is this something Titanic provides? I guess it is useful is areas where demand is not that great. How’s it compare with cask? Is it very fizzy and/or cold? Questions, questions… but I guess I’d better come and try it. I assume this is a pub in Hexham? Lets guess the Tap and Spile? Cheers.

    • Alebagger

      27 September, 2012 at 15:44

      Hi Ian, thanks for your comment. The Titanic Stout comes from the brewer in the keg. Believe it or not, it’s actually very good. It still tastes like the cask version (more or less). It’s a vast improvement on Guinness and sells better, too. The pub is not in Hexham at all, it’s the Crown at Worthington in Standish, near Wigan (2013 Good Beer Guide p335).

  3. Nick Henderson (@that_nick)

    4 October, 2012 at 08:44

    Great pub, even greater beer. The Whapweasel is my favourite. If you ever visit the Dipton, ask for the secret story behind the brewery logo.

    The comments above are in no way influenced by the fact that ‘The Brewer’ is my dad!

    Excellent write-up, Alebagger!

    • Alebagger

      8 October, 2012 at 12:26

      Hi Nick, I enjoyed my evening in the Dipton Mill and I enjoyed meeting your father. I am aware of the story behind the brewery’s logo. It is an 18th century woodcut by Thomas Bewick depicting two men carrying a barrel which is hanging from a beam between their shoulders. It’s a great image, but it was discovered after its adoption by the brewery that the barrel is not full of beer, but full of urine for the tanning industry. I can imagine that was the source of a few raw jokes when it was discovered!

  4. Richard McCann

    4 October, 2012 at 10:37

    A finely crafted piece of writing; enjoyable!

    • Alebagger

      8 October, 2012 at 12:27

      Thank you, Richard, I’m glad you enjoyed it.


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