Robinsons Brewery’s new visitor centre in Stockport gives a true insight into the making of a pint of ale

Visitor Centre old copper

Visitor Centre old copper - Credit: not Archant

Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson is a fan of Robinsons beers and the Stockport brewery’s new visitor centre ensures that their popularity just keeps on growing

It’s been a key part of Stockport’s history for 175 years – beer. And the latest local brew, in demand around the globe, suggests a rosy future for the firm at the heart of it all.

Now the story of the Robinson family, Stockport’s brewing dynasty, is told in a series of fascinating displays at their landmark Unicorn Brewery’s new £2m Visitor Centre. It is part of a major investment that has included £5m on a state-of-the-art brew house with all the latest high-tech, computerised equipment from Germany that will ensure consistency of quality that beer enthusiasts demand.

The development has also paved the way for the introduction of expertly-guided brewery tours which enable visitors to compare the new, energy efficient and ultra-modern stainless steel plant with the traditional copper and wood brewing equipment from the 1920s and 1930s it replaced, much of which has been left in situ for that very reason.

It all began when, after 12 years as the landlord of Unicorn Inn in the town’s historic Lower Hillgate, William Robinson purchased the pub in September 1838 and his eldest son George started to brew the first Robinsons ale there. William’s younger son Frederic took the helm from George in 1859 and bought a warehouse to the rear of the Unicorn inn. As a result, during the 1860s Robinsons ale was available at many pubs in and around Stockport. To control the quality of conditions in which the ales were sold by independent publicans, Frederic decided to buy a number of public houses and between 1878 and his death in 1890 established 12 exclusive outlets for Robinsons ale - beginning what eventually became an estate of more than 360 pubs across the north west and Wales.

But with the family firm now run by the Robinsons’ sixth generation, little could the founders have imagined the phenomenal impact that the latest ale is having in 2013. Trooper beer, made in collaboration with the superstar heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden, was officially launched in May with a reception at the Visitor Centre’s smart new conference facility.

The unprecedented upfront demand for the beer meant Robinsons had to brew three times a day, six days a week for the first time ever in the Brewery’s long history to cope with orders in excess of 300,000 pints. There were enquiries from a staggering 184 countries and its introduction went “viral” on Facebook, receiving 42,000 “hits” within days.

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Iron Maiden’s frontman, Bruce Dickinson pulled the first-ever pint of Trooper from the cask in the brewery bar at the Visitor Centre and was presented with a specially engraved hand pump in recognition of Trooper being the Fastest Ever Selling New Robinsons Beer in the firm’s history. Trooper is now available to order online throughout most of the EU, and Robinsons are working flat-out to ensure it will be available to the rest of the world as soon as possible.

Oliver Robinson, managing director of the independent brewing and pub company’s beer division believes the investment in the Visitor Centre and conference suite, where training sessions for pub professionals ranging from cellar workers to bar staff and chefs are staged, will help their business to reap the rewards of last year’s £5m spend on a modern brew house.

With a capacity of some 90,000 barrels-per-year, most volume growth expected to be achieved through exports and sales to customers outside of Robinsons’ 360-strong tenanted pub estate; the astounding success of Trooper and of other seasonal and specialist ales like Dizzy Blonde and Old Tom are good omens.

He added: ‘2013 marks the 175th anniversary of the company, so it seems a fitting year to launch our visitor centre and conferencing facilities.

‘Robinsons is part of the rich history of Stockport. It is very well-known within the local business community and centrally located. With so few other town centre facilities we hope that our new visitors centre will prove popular with companies and organisations looking for a unique venue to hold events.”

The brewery tour begins at the entrance in Apsley Street and is dominated by an old ‘copper’ as well as a pictorial display of Robinsons’ history down the decades. After a film about the company’s brewing heritage, visitors are led to the brew house and are able to follow each step of the process to learn how beer is made. The largest “Hopnik” in the world – like a giant tea strainer – and other cutting edge equipment rests alongside vintage mash tuns showing just how much has changed in 175 years.

One of the most popular elements of the tour is visiting Regent and Royale in their stables. They are the latest in a long line of shire horses which have served Robinsons for 100 years. When they aren’t exercising or making guest appearances at a range of events like anniversaries, pub openings and notable celebrations, they can be seen at shows, carnivals and country fairs.

At the end of the 45-60 minute tour, visitors are invited to sample three of Robinsons’ cask beers. Those who linger longer can browse the gift shop, settle down with Wi-Fi and enjoy traditional favourite dishes with a modern twist, light lunches, snacks, speciality teas, coffees and of course a full range of award winning ales in the Unicorn Room & Bar.

• The Visitor Centre is open Tue-Sat 10.30am–6pm and noon-4pm on Sundays and Bank Holidays.

• Tours are conducted Tue-Sat at 11.30 am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm and on Sunday and Bank Holidays at 12.30pm. Tickets are £8.95 adults, £7.50 students and seniors and £5 children under 17. Under fives go free.

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