It really doesn’t seem that long ago since we were driving down Rufford Road and saw a sign that said Green Duck Brewery with an arrow pointing to a little green door. My wife Deb and I thought it was pointing to the industrial estate so we drove in and saw a guy standing by some casks, which was a good sign. We were told the weekend opening hours and so decided to give it a go. On our first visit we discovered a fairly rough and ready bar separated by a glass partition from the actual brewery, and a small array of handpumps featuring beers with a duck theme to their name. For the princely sum of 10 you could get 4 pints (you got, and still do get, tokens so you don’t have to drink them all at once) and you could keep your glass for the next time you visited. I probably had Duck Blonde or Drunken Duck and remember thinking that the beer was ok but nothing special, but having a brewery within 10 minutes walking distance was a plus point.
It had been set up at the end of 2013 by Alan Preece and Paul Williams although the original impetus came from Alan who went to Grafton Brewery to learn about the brewing process, and this is where the first beers were brewed. However, he hadn’t really taken into account the logistics of travelling to Worksop so after a while began to look for something a bit closer to home which is where Paul came in. The current space was rented in summer 2013 and Alan said he always envisaged it to be a combined brewery and bar. The first brewer was freelance, ex O’Hanlons, using recipes from Alan for Blonde, Sitting, and Drunken Duck but he didn’t want to move to the Midlands which meant days would go by without the beers being checked. Scott Povey was a customer who had done some home brewing and was keen to go to the next level and Alan thought that although he seemed a bit raw there was definitely potential…and how right he was. He started in Jul ‘14 and I was lucky enough to give him a hand brewing a stout for the Black Country Beer Festival in Lye not long after that and was very impressed by his commitment to focusing on every aspect of the brewing process. As a budding home brewer I can honestly say that it was a great learning experience to be able to see how things were done “properly”. Once Scott got into the swing of things the quality improved, but maybe more importantly there was a major improvement in consistency. And then came the Heisenberg range with Alan wanting to do some beers based around the TV show Breaking Bad and using the iconic hat as the pump clip. This helped raise the brewery profile and by putting some in keg they were able to have a successful tap takeover in the Brewdog Bar in Birmingham. Admitting to a slight bias here, I have to say I thought the beers were very good, with the Walter White Sorachi IPA being a particular favourite of both Deb and myself. Around this time Alan got a new business partner, Nathan Kiszka who had an extensive naval background and came on board (sorry!) to be in charge of increasing sales for the brewery brand. He has a natural ability to, and confidence in, talking to people due to this previous career which involved a lot of moving around and meeting a new group of people every 2 years. He was always an ale drinker and remembers his first beers being McEwan Export and Courage CSB, the latter of which was brewed specifically for the Navy. His travels meant that he tried and enjoyed lots of different styles of beer and so when he finished his stint and was looking for a new challenge it was quite fortuitous that he met up with Alan whilst their respective boys played football. And so after a few conversations he became part of the company and has helped them grow in the last few months. But towards the end of 2015 with Scott increasingly needing to look after his own brewery, Fixed Wheel, a change was needed.
In February of this year Alex Hill, formerly the bar manager, took over as head brewer and in March brewed his first beer solo, Duck Under, a brew which has changed over time due to hop availability. This roughly coincided with a rebranding of the brewery and a new range of pump clips. Alex, now still only 24, studied chemistry and maths at Aston University and in his 3rd year worked away at Faccenda as a production planner which he enjoyed… but he decided he wanted to set up his own business instead of working for someone. He had always been an ale rather than lager drinker since his dad drank real ale and his first drinks were usually Wye Valley HPA or Bathams, although his what I call epiphany beers were Oakham Citra and Thornbridge Jaipur. During his final year at Aston he needed to find a job, and being a beer drinker he asked around in pubs to see if they needed staff and ended up working shifts at The Post Office Vaults and the Wellington, the latter being one of Birmingham’s premier real ale pubs with its array of handpulls. This fostered his growing interest in beer and doing 2 or 3 shifts a week gave him time to start home brewing, firstly with simple kits but by brew #5 he was using a 100L trial system. It was probably about this time that I first met Alex as he had been roped in to help out at a Green Duck beer festival, and not long after Philip Guy left to become landlord of the Red Lion in Amblecote he became bar manager. And so time passed, Alex kept brewing another 90 – 100 times making progress in his understanding of different beers and the whole brewing process. With a friend he began to plan for them to open a brewery called Glassjaw and Deb and I were just 2 of many that were able to sample some of their range of home brew which were all of a very high standard. But things didn’t quite pan out and earlier this year Alan made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, and so here we are. Alex has been giving the recipes a few tweaks, some of which are because of hop availability, a problem that seems to be affecting a lot of brewers. He says he is quite happy doing cask beer but the brewery is going to be doing more keg in the future, and judging by the Fat Neck IPA that has just been released that is something to look forward to. Alan also has his input on recipes and ideas, and I’ve heard them batting around a few so I think there is a lot to come from these guys in the coming months
Oh, and why a duck as the Marx Brothers once asked…well, in his “proper” job as a printer Alan had an outline of a duck onscreen for a job he was doing, and, having always been a fan of a shaped pump clip, he thought this would give the brewery a bit of a USP. And the green? Well, that was his son, Lewis’s favourite colour.