“Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy,” said Benjamin Franklin. Tony Davis is spreading the joy. Joan Stephens reports
You could describe the Grainstore as the partner in a happy marriage. There’s a brewery upstairs, a bar-cum- restaurant on the ground floor. And some of the 10 beers brewed up above grace the dishes on offer downstairs – Rutland Panther goes into beef, mild and mushroom pie and into chilli con carne, pork sausages have Ten Fifty ale and the Brewhouse ham is boiled in sweet wort from the mash tun, then baked in Rutland Bitter.
Given this satisfactory juxtaposition, it comes as no surprise to learn that the Grainstore, which opened its doors in 1994, is the brainchild of Tony Davis, brewer, bio-chemist and one of Britain’s select band of beer. Tony is the sort of genial, welcoming host you like to find behind the bar in your favourite pub. He has been in the brewing industry since he left Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh with a degree in bio-chemistry and brewing.
Perhaps it was growing up in Kent, among the hop gardens there, that prompted him to go into brewing. His first job was as junior brewer with the Charles Wells Brewery, in Bedford. When the head brewer left and a new one arrived, he pointed out that Tony was the only person on site with a degree and promptly moved him to focus on quality control, where his bio-chemistry knowledge was most useful.
Tony, however, wanted to get back to brewing. As Charles Wells canned Ruddle’s beer, back in the late 1970s, he knew of the Rutland company, so when they offered him a job as their second brewer, in 1978, he took it and moved into Rutland. Within two years he had been promoted to head brewer and at 28 was the youngest in the country to hold the title.
Fast forward a few years and Tony and an engineer friend, Mike Davies, had the idea of launching their own brewery. As a rail user, Tony had been past the derelict former Victorian grain warehouse next to Oakham station.
“I liked the thought of brewing beer the Victorian way, and with three floors, this place is ideal. We got the keys to the building in January, 1994, and opened the bar following August Bank Holiday. Initially, we sold Mansfield beers, then in the November, by which time the two of us had equipped the two upper floors as a brewery, we were able to put our own first two beers on sale – Cooking and Ten Fifty, named after the specific gravity of the beer that made Rutland famous. Both were instantly popular.
“We are a brewing company, and the pub is our shop window. We supply beers within a 50-mile radius, but we sell via wholesalers, too, so our ales are available over a wider area – for example, Witherspoons is one of our best customers.’’
The Grainstore was recently named Own Brew Pub of the Year by the 2014 Good Pub Guide – the third time it has gained that accolade and, in 2005, won the silver award in the Beer of Britain Championships with Rutland Pamper, which the brewer describes as an old- fashioned mild. The brewery now produces 10 beers, including Rutland Beast, Grainstore Nip and Red Star. Seasonal beers include Three Kings at Christmas, Springtime for March and April, while Gold is a summer beer.
“We are always experimenting with new brews,” says Tony. “Our beers particularly appeal to real-ale enthusiasts, and we would like to encourage younger beer drinkers, who have tended to go for lighter ales and lagers, to try our beers, as we can offer them plenty of variety to choose from.’’
Apparently, both the Duke ofand his eldest son are real-ale drinkers. Prince Charles is also interested in renovated buildings, so was interested to visit the pub and brewery in 2003 – “he insisted on going behind the bar and pulling a pint, too,” Tony recalls.
Descriptions of Grainstore brews read like those you find in a wine list – “sweetness and a fruity hoppy aroma’’, “floral flavour and aroma’’, “a long bitter finish’’. And why not, asks Tony.
“We are trying to promote the idea that it is good to match food and beer in the same way as food and wine. If you think about it, beer and wine have a lot in common. But wine is basically just grapes, water and yeast, while beer has more components, therefore more variety, so has more going for it.
“One of the problems is that people tend to think of beer in terms of pint glasses – but why not drink it in smaller glasses (eg 330 ml)? – Share a bottle while eating and try matching it to the food. For instance some of the Belgian fruit beers which we sell are great with chocolate desserts, so is our own Panther, which has chocolate and fruity flavours, too. Stronger draft ales such as Ten Fifty are good with roasts.
“Then again, in most curry restaurants, you will only find lagers, which are what people tend to drink with curry, but Panther, which is a dark, mild ale, is ideal with spicy flavours.’’
Tony has already run beer and food courses at the Olive Branch, in Clipsham, and would like to do more, as well as courses on cooking with beer – cuisine a la biere – “which can be more adventurous than things like a steak and ale pie.’’