It’s a sad tale, the closing of the venerable Brakspear brewery in Henley-on-Thames, where the most famous and surely the best Bitter in England has been made for centuries. The brewery, in operation since 1779, was sold off in 2002 in parts to make room for an upscale hotel, and everyone who worked there was let go, without so much as a by-your-leave. But for beer lovers, the closing was not a complete disaster. Thankfully, the master brewer at Brakspear, Peter Scholey, determined to strike out on his own. Peter has set up shop as Ridgeway Brewing, not so far from Henley, and already he’s putting out beers so good they could almost make you forget Brakspear altogether.
The Ridgeway Brewery is named for the ancient road – passable now only on foot – that meanders along a low escarpment across the high, rolling pastoral plain that is the southwest of England. The now patchy stone surface of the Ridgeway was laid by Britain’s oldest inhabitants – Druids and the like – thousands of years before the Romans turned up to build their own roadways. It is the oldest road in the British Isles and Europe, running nearly 100 miles, past that other ancient landmark, Stonehenge, as well as Peter Scholey’s relatively modern home, along the way.