#Tryanuary 2018

Let’s be honest, the battle for the craft beer revolution is being fought on the streets of sprawling, metropolitan cities – with a front line force of 20/30-something urbanites. These drinkers relish in counterculture and diversity, always pushing the envelope to find the flavour of the week, no, the flavour of the day.

The polar opposite to this way of life is the content, sleepy home-counties.  Hills of rolling greenscape as far as the eye can see are disturbed only by the macabre performances of morris men and occasional cricket pitches, used for fetes and fayres, or for conker festival and ferret races, almost always adjecent to a pub.

Hertfordshire is home for the institute that is cask ale, housing none other than CAMRA themselves and serving as the dwellings of historic family brewers such as McMullen’s.

I would never discredit cask, it is what I have grown up on, and what I crave everytime I enter a Great British boozer gilded with exposed beams and a roaring fireplace – my point is, to showcase a ‘here and now’ profile of Hertfordshire would be to look for the new, the progressive and the downright unusual.

Tryanuary is a campaign in its third year now, and as you can guess, is a campaign that encourages drinkers to TRY something new in January, one of the toughest months in the industry. Tryanuary was the brainchild of Andy Heggs, a beer blogger who started the campaign in 2015 and has now handed the reigns to Tom, from @craftbeerhour acclaim on Twitter.


Tom hosts Craft Beer Hour every Tuesday (9pm-10pm), providing a vital platform for craft beer fans across the UK. Tom has been hard at work lately laying foundations for BeerByBeer, an ambitious project to list every pub, bar, brewery and taproom in the UK, all within one sleek and accessible website, once again encouraging participation and ground roots exposure in the industry.

Master of drumming up engagement in beer, Tom posted online looking for volunteers to join the campaign this year, promoting beer in January. Knowing that I would have some downtime in January (I work in a brewery, again, the quietest month of the year), I decided to throw my hat in the ring and get involved.

After a period of recruiting, a group of 40 or more volunteers was set up, as an infrastructure for focusing efforts for 2018.

Tom had cleverly observed that with the strong and wide-reaching team of ‘Local Champions’, each volunteer could have their very own calendar day in January, allowing them to show off what there is to experience during TRYANUARY, within their locale.

It was decided, I was to represent Hertfordshire on a joint day with Chris Martin from Bedfordshire on Wednesday January 3rd – showing drinkers how much there is to offer in the first month of the year.

Crafty’s Beer Shop – at 9AM on the 3rd my alarm went off, quite unusual for a day off of work. I got dressed (making sure to sport my new ‘I love Hops’ t-shirt I was gifted from my parents at Christmas), packed a portable charger and two cans of soft drink into my car, and along with my girlfriend, set off to Letchworth. Driving at 9AM with nothing but some stuffy cables and lukewarm cans of Diet Coke doesn’t sound like the start to a promising beer experience, and in all honesty, I didn’t know if it would be either.


I have been on my local CAMRA committee for a little over a year now, and as the Mid-Chilterns branch we have ventured to many, many pubs in the area, often quintessential English pubs, often in chocolate box villages – the stuff postcards are made of! Working in a brewery and keeping up with the struggling pub industry has proved enough ale exposure than I care to admit, and have ashamedly been too busy, or too tired to visit any of the newest craft beer locations popping up over the county in the last few years.

Today was the start of a mission; a mission to set right my wrong and to pay visits to each and every one of those promising to fight the good fight in the name of good beer, all across Hertfordshire. Our first stop was the furthest out from where I live (Hemel Hempstead), Crafty’s Beer Shop in Letchworth. Letchworth, boasting England’s first ever roundabout, is a garden city and ergo extremely aesthetically pleasing.

Arriving at Crafty’s, a sizable location on a main shopping street, we are immediately hit by the spaciousness of the venue, broken up only by a couple of chairs, with fridges pressed right against the far wall and a wide bar immediately opposite. The bar was holding around 6 fully racked, tapped, spiled and jacketed casks, all on display! Along with the fridges and cask lines are multiple keg lines, serving beers as exotic as a rhubarb sour – which was bloody brilliant!

Upon approaching the bar front, takeaway beers in hand, I am greeted by a familiar face, one of the friendly team of staff members who had taken a visit to Tring Brewery (my workplace) earlier in the year – he is as kind and welcoming as ever, and I am sure even if we hadn’t been previously acquainted, this reception would have been all the same. Beer people are good people!

After leaving Crafty’s, first haul in hand, we headed back on ourselves toward Hemel, stopping in at Beer Shop Hitchin.

Beer Shop was started in 2012 by John and Ben – at the time Ben was a salesman for Tring Brewery. As the craft beer market grew and grew, so did Beer Shop, setting up Hitchin as their second venue, alongside their initial location in St.Albans. Being their second premises it seems the team wanted to go bigger and better, with what seems like triple the space of the St.Albans location, seemingly geared more toward a bar-orientated social experience. It is with no bias that I state that, in my opinion, Beer Shop holds the best selection of craft beer for takeaway in the county. The shelves hold beers from the most exclusive and well regarded breweries, with sections devoted to local brewers, US brewers, Scandinavia.. you get the gist. A picture of the taplist, as you can see, topshelf offerings all round.


Heading out from Hitchin and back into my hometown of Hemel Hempstead, I remained in discovery mode. Although I had made it into ‘my stomping ground’, I was about to visit a brewery I had never got to before, right on my doorstep.

Mad Squirrel Brewery is located on a quaint industrial unit in Potten End, where the concrete town of Hemel meets the countryside that Hertfordshire is renowned for. Upon arrival you are struck by immediately branding, the product of a reshuffle in the brewery only a few months prior, reimagining themselves from ‘Red Squirrel’ into ‘Mad Squirrel’, this branding is punchy and self-aware, you are about to enter what many would see as an Londonesque craft brewery. This is reinforced by the nifty onsite taproom, with 6 keg and 2 cask lines, available to drink in, with a walk in bottle fridge and unspoilt views of the Chilterns to look out onto.

I opted for a third of De La Bean, their new coffee milk stout, which was very nice. Mad Squirrel offer their beers along with pizza, not just in their taproom but over multiple locations in Hertfordshire, with the external bars selling guest beers in a bottleshop environment also. I explain to team member Carl that I have never been, and that I work at Tring Brewery just down the road, to which he was very welcoming and walked me through the new location, along with all that the taproom has to offer; proving that there is room in Hertfordshire for breweries of different creeds and style.


After my arrival in my hometown, the crawl could really get under way, I was freed of all driving responsibilities, and instead relied upon the fresh faced London Northwestern Railway service to facilitate my travel to ensuing spots.

From Hemel we travelled to Watford Junction, and from there to St.Albans Abbey.

St.Albans is where CAMRA HQ resides and as such is teething with quality cask outlets, pubs in St.Albans realise they are under close scrutiny and seem to step up their cellar game accordingly. In a reversal of the theme so far, our first stop in St.Albans was old, REALLY old.

‘The Oldest Pub in England’ we were told by the man behind the bar at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks – it is disputed, but holds a firm stake in the title, the building an extension of the St.Albans Cathedral which is estimated to have been established in the eighth century! You can feel the walls oozing with history when you drink in here, the ceilings are very low, and there again is the roaring fires and exposed wooden beams that you come to expect from English pubs. ‘This is a proper pub’ can speak a thousand words, resonating countless connotations in those familiar with such an establishment. Often historic venues have an ill-fate, commercialised and embellished mysticism conjured to attract footfall from ignorant tourist, this place is not of that nature and holds complete authenticity, with a vast selection of well kept and curated cask ales.


I enjoyed the atmosphere over a pint of cask, a pint of Rooster’s Citra Pale Ale, the kind of considered experience that can’t really be obtained through a third of 11% triple maple praline pancake imperial stout. If Hertfordshire has earnt the image as a bastion of the English pub, then this pub is the poster boy. Although not the place to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ of the ever rolling hype train that is modern beer, this is a place of solace, a place that guarantees good beer in a suiting environment, isn’t that what this is all about anyway?

After getting our fill of hearty cask for the night we progressed up the cobbled streets of the once capitol of England and into the Craft & Cleaver. If Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is your endearing, homely Grandad then Craft & Cleaver is your older adolescent cousin, the one that breaks all the rules with alluring firecrackers and screeching punk rock. Stripped back and simplified, yet unapologetically in face about it – Craft & Cleaver is the place you didn’t think existed in Hertfordshire – a BBQ pit and craft beer bar.

Craft & Cleaver is a BBQ restaurant with 10 keg lines and fridges full of more and more beer. A sharp, zingy starter of Mad Hatter blueberry & vinalla sour is followed up by a full on main of BBQ food, and a sharer bottle of Chorlton Dark Matter 2017.


A huge tray of burnt ends, pulled pork, rack of ribs and mac & cheese may sound like it would be a tough pairing with a dark gose fermented over cocoa beans, but really, all the work was done for me. Complexity and exploration in every bite – this was pure decadence, the kind of outlandish experience I would expect to get in a place no less than the Bermondsey beer mile.


Bloated and blown away we took a considerately slow stroll back to St.Albans Abbey, with an appropriately drawn out train back to Watford Junction and then on to Berkhamsted for the final stop of the beer crawl.

Berkhamsted is a quaint Hertfordshire town, the town centre littered with boutiques and independent retailers, awash with quirky pubs, restaurants and bars. Just a short walk along the scenic canal pathway from the train station is the Rising Sun. From the outset the Rising Sun look to be the ultimate in a British pub experience, a cutesy building with fairy lighting stood atop a old canal lock – its glowing amber hue inviting you in from the cold, dark winter. The Rising Sun has walls covered thick in memorabilia, awards, trinkets and photos, if you can see an inch of bare wall space, then you are too sober for this place.

What appears on the outside to reflect all that Hertfordshire has always been about, quaint, modest and traditional is turned on its head at the tap handles – you are now in a pub dishing up Mikkeller, Cloudwater, Odyssey and the like – with much more where that came from. Local beer is proudly served here along with a savoury staple of these fine isles – pork pie and piccalilli mustard. This is my favourite of all Hertfordshire locations, it fuses the old and the new, not into some kind of weird, displaced compromise – somehow everything here feels just right. If you haven’t visited The Rising Sun in Berkhamsted, then you haven’t visited one of, if not the best pub in Hertfordshire – a complete uniqueness, whilst being a defining example in the counties’ pub culture.


What did I already know? That a beer crawl from Letchworth to Berkhamsted with all the trimmings in between is completely impractical. If you’re in Hertfordshire try and take it a-town-at-a-time.
What did I learn? A lot more than I thought I would. I learnt that if I am prepared to travel between 10 and 30 minutes, then there are locations that could rival those to be found in London, those that are at the forefront of the craft beer scene, constantly offering new and progressive beer. I learnt that by being a drinker in Hertfordshire, you are in no way at all missing out.

Being a drinker in Hertfordshire is all about embracing what this county’s pubs are built on, fantastic and fanatically kept cask ales, in stunning pubs steeped in history – taking an occasional trip to other parts of the green coated region; encouraging growth in the independent bottle shops, bars and breweries that are doing their best to ensure you are on the cutting edge of beer and brewing, all without getting a bloody oyster card!

Side notes: I would have loved to had visited both The Craft Beer Shop in Amersham and Craft Yard in Tring, but alas there are only so many hours in the day, these will be on next year’s agenda (I have been to Craft Yard once before and can affirm that is a great craft beer location within Hertfordshire).

I topped the day off with a night cap at home from Pope’s Yard Brewery in Watford, a kriek aged over Bedfordshire cherries, if you haven’t tried these guys, then you really should, they are one of the most innovative breweries in Hertfordshire.

Other beers included: Canned Whisky Infused Ale from Leighton Buzzard Brewery and a pale ale from McMullen’s, Hertfordshire’s oldest brewery dating back to 1827.

The brewery I work at, Tring Brewery, released a celebratory Tryanuary Earl Grey Pale Ale on the day, a small-batch exclusive to celebrate our collaborative efforts with the tryanuary campaign.

I will, if afforded the opportunity, whole heartedly undertake Local Champion responsibilities in 2019, if you are interested in joining the Herts & Beds campaign next year then please visit www.tryanuary.com

I co-hosted the day with Chris Martin who represented Bedfordshire, and did a fine job of it! His blog is well worth a read if you want to find out more… https://alcoholbyvolumesite.wordpress.com



Author: onefortybeers

A new blog with irreverent beer reviews and industry observations.

2 thoughts on “#Tryanuary 2018”

  1. Great article – sounds like a good day out ! Shame you missed (and didn’t mention) the Bishops Cave down Holywell Hill on the way to the Abbey Station in St Albans. Mind you its only been open a few months. Although only offering 4 exciting drafts, their beer fridges more than give the Craft and Cleaver a run for their money. You’ll also get a great selection of cask & craft at the 3rd Stevenage Beer Festival just by the mainline station during the first weekend of February.


    1. Thanks for reading! I had only heard of Bishop’s Cave a week or so prior but not of their draught offering which sounds promising, to be honest I would not of had time in the schedule this for any more stops this year, which only speaks volumes for the amount of places there are to visit now! They will be on the (already growing) list for next year! Although it would be hard to tie in with Tryanuary I will make a concerted effort to get over to Stevenage – local beer festivals seem to be stepping up in the last couple of years so are always definitely worth the coverage! 😄🍻


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