Five Minutes with Faram – James Clarke, Hook Norton

What’s your favourite hop?
My favourite hop is probably Challenger. Always been a user of Challenger in our core beers. Having done some single hop brews, and included Challenger in some of our newer beers, it really has an understated and underrated quality.
What’s your favourite beer?
My favourite beer is usually answered with “the one in my hand right now”. Old Hooky is certainly up there, but Young’s Bitter when brewed in Wandsworth, Batham’s Bitter, and of the newer genre Oakham Citra.
Favourite food & beer pairing?
My first and favourite beer and food pairing is a pint of Old Hooky with rack of lamb. Slightly sweeter beer, sweeter meat, a match made in heaven.
Favourite beer destination?
Probably the Czech Republic – not just for the beer, but for the whole culture, and the way they celebrate their beers, that are such an integral part of the lifestyle.
What’s your favourite pub in the UK?
Favourite pub is a tough one – I love The Peyton Arms at Stoke Lyne, a one room pub where beer is drawn straight from the cask.
 The White Bear in Masham always has the warmest welcome.
The Fountain in Mevagissey is a real gem.
There are so many other great pubs, it is unfair to ask for a favourite!
What’s the one item in the brewery you couldn’t live without?
I couldn’t live without the Mash Tun. OK so it is pretty important in the brewing process, but mashing in early in the morning is always a magical experience – whether in deepest darkest winter and the warmth of the brewery is so welcoming, or watching the sunrise while you mash in in the summertime. A peaceful place, the start of the process, and you know those lovely enzymes are going to work so hard.
Favourite music to play during a brew day?

Music choices vary – probably more classical in the early morning, but once cask washing starts, we need some tunes with a beat – our supervisor is a Shania Twain fan, and she is growing on me.

If you weren’t in the brewing industry, what would you be doing?
I may well have joined the Fire Service. I was lucky enough to be an on call firefighter for 14 years, as were both my father and grandfather before me. This enabled me to see life from another perspective, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and hopefully helped a few people along the way.
What got you into brewing?
I am in a very lucky position in that it was my Great Great Grandfather who founded the brewery, and I am therefore the fifth generation to work here, and the sixth generation are now on the team – George on the brewing and engineering side, and Ed on brewing and packaging.
What’s your favourite beer festival?
I prefer a beer festival where there is not just lovely beer, but entertainment and great food.  A bit like I much prefer drinking beer in the pub than at home, the beer is obviously important, but so is the ambience and the company.
What’s your favourite hobby outside of brewing?
Outside of brewing, I did get into running, and did the London Marathon twice.  I thought running was beneficial to me, until an injury was diagnosed as needing a new hip…….My other interest is volunteering as a Community First Responder for the Ambulance Service and start basic treatment before an Ambulance arrives. I have been doing this for 7 years, and it is very rewarding.
Who is your biggest inspiration in brewing?
My biggest inspiration would be my father. He was a very patient man, a traditionalist, and always said there is no bad beer, just some beers are better than others. If a mistake was made at the brewery, and I made a few along the way, he would offer words such as “well you won’t make that mistake again”. My most memorable one was him asking me to place the yeast trolley under the parachute ready for skimming. This I did, but under the wrong FV, so he skimmed a yeast crop which ended up on the floor. I don’t think I made that mistake again.

What’s next for Hook Norton or what can we look forward to from you in the future?

As the market has changed so much over the last 30 years, but particularly during the last 10, we are seeing increased competition in the beer market, so have diversified the brewery site. We have always done brewery tours, but now we have a restaurant, plus function and conference facilities on-site. We will be further developing these with an on site bakery, coffee roastery, and maybe a smokery. It is all about the consumer having a great all round experience that is beer centric, but also of broad appeal. Our online business has developed hugely – much as a result of C19 and all its impact. We sold more beer online in April than the whole of last year, and this helped us keep brewing and keep our yeast happy during lockdown. We have a pilot brewery, nano brewery, and entered the keg market about three years ago, plus we have added a lager to the portfolio. So, definitely more beer innovation as well!