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Pope's Yard

Julia Haycocks

Posted on November 04 2020

Pope's Yard

Arriving at this brewery in Hemel Hempstead is a completely unique experience, and different to any other breweries you may have visited. The wonderful duo that own and run Pope’s Yard, Geoff and Barbara, are on a mission to combine history and science to brew the best beers, and the history element is as much reflected in their brewery's location as it is their beer! The brewery is part of Frogmore Paper Mill, the oldest mechanical paper mill in the world.

It all began in their kitchen with some home-brews. Before long they were renting a 600sq. ft. industrial unit in Watford down Riverside Road. Until 2.5 years ago, when they relocated on a snowy, dark day to their current brewery in part of the Frogmore Paper Mill that sits on an island in the River Gade. You may, in fact, have seen it on TV. Regularly used for ghost hunting shows and (even more sinister) used in hostage and torture scenes in many shows … including Eastenders! It’s even been the Bat Cave in the Justice League.

Popes Yard brewery

During their move, Geoff identified that this meant a change in water source. Wanting their beer to remain consistent with the brews from their old premises, he found a way to change the recipes to balance with the new water. Geoff discovered a 60-meter-deep borehole on the site of the paper mill, which produced a new project for him. He’s managed to fix the pressure vessel and this could be the future source of water for Pope’s Yard. When we joined them in the brewery recently, he showed us the fixed vessel and how it works – a near drowning for the team at Brew Republic! Just kidding, but the power of the water was quite incredible and rather unexpected.

Popes Yard Water Pressure Vessel

Not only were Geoff and Barbara so welcoming but they’re undoubtedly fascinated by beer and are determined to learn everything about it, travelling the world in search of new brewing techniques, ingredients and the history of each country’s brewing pasts.

Barbara is from Germany, and her ‘local’ was a macrobrewery which mass-produced a single lager. She experienced a real culture shock when she first came to the UK to find so much choice of beer! No wonder the pair travel so much to learn even more.

Geoff and Barbara have visited many countries to understand their different brewing methods, including Cambodia, Laos. Madagascar and the Ukraine (including Chernobyl!).

They've also travelled to the Tibetan plateau (Western China) and the Golden Triangle, where they spent time with Burmese tribal women to understand their brewing methods and were pleasantly surprised to find that in the tribal villages they’re sticking to the traditional ways of females being the brewers. There, they discovered that the bottles were being opened by a small wooden contraption, different to the bar blades and small bottle openers we all have in our kitchens. A clever design, as they don’t dent the cap. Something Geoff loved and brought back to the UK for use in their brewery. We were rather jealous … now we want one, too!

Popes Yard Beers

All their global learnings have continuously allowed them to enhance their range back in the UK. They started with brewing barley wine and imperial stout simply because they couldn’t get their hand on them anywhere locally. They now brew beers that sit in four categories - Experimental, Untamed, Traditional and Amplified. A good representation of the beer can be found from the graphic on their labels, all designed by Barbara, who just happens to be a graphic designer – very handy! All the colours and shapes are specifically chosen to illustrate each beer.

Balance is extremely important to both Geoff and Barbara. They think long and hard about what to brew, which method to use and whether to barrel-age (they have quite an impressive haul of barrels for a two-person brewery). They were even on the brink of a collab with a Lithuanian brewery but had to put it on hold due to the pandemic, with a plan to continue as soon as it’s safe to do so.

Geoff is so fascinated by the history of beer that his research and findings are shared with the Watford museum and even brewed a recreation of an old Egyptian beer with West Herts College. The recipe included barley, honey, pomegranate and rose water, then served with mint! Fermented for just 2 days, it was a beer unlike anything they’d brewed before. Geoff’s scientific and historic knowledge of beer is really something to behold.

Popes Yard Brewery

Pope’s Yard may not have a tap room, but many local theatre groups and museum visitors enjoy a couple of the beers after tours. Before lockdown they were running very popular pop-up shops but had to stop due to the pandemic. They must be as careful as ever as there’s just the two of them – no back up should they have to isolate. Rest assured; they have a plan to do more in the future. Actually, they’ve got their eye on an old station house – full of character, just like Pope’s Yard itself – which locals may get to enjoy as a tap room one day soon.

They brew what they want to drink – something they’ve done from the very beginning. Don’t worry, Geoff and Barbara are still producing their original beers as they are so brilliant!

With such an interesting brewery, history, stories and beers, we were so excited to get involved with Geoff and Barbara to brew an exclusive Pope’s Yard and Brew Republic collaboration. Q Division is the perfect winter warmer to enjoy in front of the fire this winter. 

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Winter Warmer Brewing

You can enjoy watching Geoff and Barbara telling us all about their brewery and their plans in our interview, here: 

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