Brewer Pulling Plaudits; Durham's Sonnet 43 Brew House Only Launched 18 Months Ago, but Already the Pints and the Industry Accolades Are Mounting Up. JANE HALL Reports on a Business Whose Beer Is Poetry in a Glass

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QUITE a few pints have been raised to Sonnet 43 Brew House since the craft beer business launched in the autumn of 2012.

Indeed, an estimated 16,000 casks have rolled out of the microbrewery based at Coxhoe in County Durham in that time.

But it's likely that none of those many glasses of amber nectar will have tasted as sweet as the one the Sonnet 43 crew hope to be lifting in 10 days' time. On March 25 they will find out if they can add Best Microbrewing Pub Company to the growing number of awards that have been coming the fledgling firm's way in the past 12 months.

They're up against fierce competition in this always hotly contested Publican Awards category, aimed at companies producing less than 10,000 barrels a year and with at least one quality, beer-focused pub; Hampshire's Brewhouse and Kitchen run by a former executive at Greene King and Leeds Brewery, aptly enough founded in the Yorkshire city of the same name.

Yorkshire breweries - - of which there are a good many - - have an impressive history of taking home this prestigious national prize. Last year's winner was West Yorkshire's Ossett Brewery, a larger and longer established operation than Sonnet 43, producing around four times the amount of beer and with more than 20 pubs to its name.

But with Sonnet having already, in 2013, picked up two influential Great Taste Awards - - the equivalent of a food and drink industry Oscar - - for their Bourbon Milk Stout and American Pale Ale, as well as adding three brewery taps to the company's portfolio, founder and restaurateur Mark Hird says he will be heading to London in a positive frame of mind.

With some justification. As part of the rigorous judging process, Sonnet 43 has already had to successfully jump three major hurdles, the first being the paper application and the second a site visit when renowned beer writer, Peter Brown, explored the achievements highlighted in their entry.

This was then followed by mystery visits to Sonnet 43's brewery taps - - The Lambton Worm at Chester-le-Street, The White Lead at Hebburn and The Clarence Villa at Coxhoe, before Mark was grilled by a six-strong judging panel of experts.

And, while Mark, 41, admits Sonnet 43 is up against "two other strong contenders," he adds: "I think we've shown the judges that we're passionate about great beer and what is really different about us. All we can do now is wait with fingers crossed.

"But with Sonnet 43 still being a relatively new business it is a great achievement that we have got this far."

If the award does find itself heading up the A1 to Coxhoe then Mark, who runs the microbrewery with wife Nicola, 42, plans to toast the success with a welldeserved pint of Sonnet 43's American Pale Ale, although ironically, since launching into the world of beer, he says he has cut back on his alcohol consumption.

"It's bizarre really, isn't it? But I think I can allow myself a pint of American Pale Ale."

The ale is one of Sonnet 43's six core drinks. However, intermittently, the brewery also puts out a guest ale inspired by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnet 43, after which the brewery is named.

The 19th Century romantic poet was born and raised at Coxhoe Hall, and Sonnet 43, which begins with the immortal words "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways", is probably her most famous and evocative work.

Each beer in the range, which in a twist on the first line of Sonnet 43 is collectively called How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Beers, uses new ingredients and brewing techniques based on different aspects of Elizabeth's prose and personal experiences.

The latest - which is 12 of a planned 43 - is called Better After Death and is an unusual smoked porter. Other limited edition brews in the series have included Hope End, a rum-infused ginger pale ale inspired by the Barrett family's history of owning sugar plantations in Jamaica and named after the estate in Hertfordshire which they bought out of the proceeds. …


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