Brightwater Brewery, Platform 3, The Parade, Claygate, Surrey, KT10 0PN
The upside: Lovingly crafted small batch beer available to drink in or take-away!
The downside: This pub is really small with short opening hours
The flipside: This really is the smallest pub in Britain selling a range of their own unique beers
If you turn into the parade towards Claygate Station in Surrey you’ll get a welcome surprise. As you venture forward independent retailers are on either side with traditional butchers, a fruit and veg shop, a top end traditional fishmongers, wine shop, deli, bakery and café. To top it all, right at the end next to the station is a tiny pub. Platform 3 has just enough standing room inside for two people, so when it is open guests rely on some outdoor tables with umbrellas to protect against the elements. This doesn’t stop the constant flow of customers coming to take a pint to drink straight away or take out for later. Everyone who comes in seems to know the owners and a strong sense of community is evident.
Alex started making beer with his dad when he was a teenager. Not, he says emphatically, with kits but from scratch with proper ingredients. He carried this on as a serious hobby during his IT career. When he was made redundant is 2012 he took six months off to recharge his batteries assuming he would just find another similar role to the one he had left. Economic turndown and age he suspected were not on his side. After six months he felt ready to attach himself to the world of work again and this time it was to start his own business. It seemed natural to him that a serious hobby that he had lots of expertise in and loved could become a full time job.
First he set about equipping his brewery a huge research project but worth it to get it just right. This is housed in his garage at home with stainless steel professional equipment and is an official bonded warehouse. This is a government requirement for anybody who produces alcoholic drinks where duty is payable. Alex makes five beers on rotation from different recipes that produce golden, amber or dark ales. He lists availability on his website and these are available to drink in or take away. He reckons his beers are at their best at 3-4 weeks old and will only sell when they are in peak condition. To maintain this he brews batches to meet demand and as I discovered is a stickler for maintaining the drinking quality.
Alex is the perfect landlord, chatty a beer aficionado plus he is extremely personable. In fact it would seem that this is the perfect career for him. He runs the business with his partner Sue (a business buff) so it’s a symbiotic combination of creativity and business acumen here too. The fact that all the beer he sells in the pub is his own brew is a real pull. Not just for the pints he serves but because he wouldn’t serve anyone a duff pint and he knows the stuff he sells from hops upwards. Whilst I was in the pub there was an endless stream of customers buying a pint to drink outside or to take away a firkin to share with friends later. Everyone is on first name terms and there is a sense of excitement that they are buying into something really unique.
Each of the beers on the menu currently in production have been through diligent recipe testing from the ambient temperature at which they are made to the type of hops and the ferment period. Beer, Alex confides is temperamental and there are many competing factors in getting each batch right such as your local water supply. No two batches will taste exactly the same because this is craft beer made by hand and each brew varies slightly with time of year and the affects of temperature, the raw ingredients and natural yeasts. This is part of the fun and like wine some brews are better than others but probably more so (I suspect) to an expert palate. Alex says that managing beer production is like bringing up a ‘petulant child’.
Of the beers Alex makes, ‘Daisy Gold’ is the best seller (he named it after his dog who is apparently as ‘good as gold’). This light golden flavour packed beer is like others on his menu at around 4% volume. Alex specializes in what he calls session beer. It’s healthier and means you can enjoy a few pints in an evening and still walk home! This is particularly good for older drinkers and in line with current drinking advice from health professionals. In addition these beers are worthy of a more considered drinking session and deserve as such to be slowly imbibed.
Although golden ales are the most popular Alex also produces ‘Top Notch’ an amber ale which he makes with 2 different malts and another variety of hops. Citra is Brightwaters other golden ale, which gets its name from the hops used to make it. Known for its fresh lemony finish to beers ‘Citra’ has a zingier finish to ‘Daisy Gold’. This brewery also produces a rather unusual dark stout type beer called ‘Wild Orchid’. The use of black malt gives this its dark colour but by putting Madagascan Vanilla pods in each cask its also has a subtle hint of vanilla which doesn’t dominate but adds a lovely finish to the overall taste.
If you are a fan of craft beers I highly recommend a visit to Platform 3 it’s in a class of its own. With guest beers also on offer and other drinks for non-beer fans it’s a great afternoon out. Take-out, delivery for parties and ready bottled beer for gifts are also available. Go for the beer but also for the novelty value because this is the smallest pub in Britain!
Tel: 01372 462 334
Mob: 07802 316 389
This review was originally published in Essence Magazine in February 2016