Beer Of The Week: Little Valley’s Tod's Blonde - A Homage To Todmorden
Our beer of the week is Tod’s Blonde, one of the best bottle-conditioned craft beers around. Not only is it both vegan-friendly and organic, but has the distinct merit of being highly affordable and commonly available, locally, in supermarkets like Morrison’s, the Co-op and Booth’s and, indeed, it is often to be found at Waitrose.
Held up to the light it is golden in appearance, and it pours pale amber with a decent creamy head, giving off a pleasant malty caramel aroma. The Good Beer guide likens it to a Belgian Blonde and it is easy to see why with its teasing complexity of the floral and the fruity, lemon overlaying malty hops and spices, and its satisfyingly well-balanced bitter-sweet finish.
It is an eminently smooth drink for all the year round, particularly nice on a warm summer’s day. Its ABV of five per cent makes it a drink for those serious drinkers who will not touch anything less potent, but not too strong for the session drinker.
It is brewed by Little Valley Brewery, on a ten-barrel kit, in Cragg Vale, high on the Pennine moors above the Calder Valley town of Hebden Bridge. It is jointly owned by Wim van der Spek and his partner, Sue Cooper. He moved to England in 2000, and five years later set up Little Valley Brewery with, Sue, a community development practitioner, whom he met in Nepal.
Nothing daunted by the current difficulties, Sue speaks enthusiastically of their plans to expand, naturally and progressively when the time is right. ‘We are looking in the near future,’ she says, ‘to innovate new beers, put a Little Valley slant on some newer styles of beer.’ She adds, ‘We feel we could easily double our output without further capital investment’.
I quickly point out that they already have a most diverse range of excellent beers, reeling off some of the ones I know, like their prize-winning Hebden’s Wheat, the Stoodley Stout, the Radical Roots, ginger in flavour, and, not least, the delightful Cherry Saison. ‘We feel with Wim’s experience and background we can bring out some really special beers for the home market,’ she says, ‘that will add to our profile, and extend our range of customers.’
It seems that Wim, the son of a dairy farmer in the Rotterdam region, might always have been destined to become a master brewer. He discovered a passion for ale at an early age and while still at high school founded a beer club - which still meets to this day!
After graduating from Wageningen University in Food Science, he eventually moved to Germany to study at the prestigious Doemens World Brew Academy, in Munich, to become a qualified master brewer. Not many of the brewers who started up in the Craft Ale boom can boast such a qualification on their curriculum vitae which attests a deep theoretical and practical knowledge of the brewing processes.
Wim modestly waves away the compliment. ‘When starting Little Valley Brewery, doing our homework was extremely important,’ he says. ‘We had to be critical of our business plan, be realistic and understand the level of investment that had to be made and gain a complete understanding of the market.’ He goes on to explain that hard as it is to run a brewing business in a crowded market, it is ultimately hugely rewarding. ‘Seeing my beer on tap in a pub or on a shop shelf, knowing that I have put so much effort into it, is incredibly gratifying.’
Understandably, he is proud of the extensive range of beers he has crafted in many different styles, IPA, porter, wheat beer and bitters. ‘Everything has been tried and tested - and tasted - to produce great beers that are also vegan-friendly and all but a few, certified organic.' Sue adds, speaking of the ingredients:“It’s good that we can trace everything back from where it’s grown, how it’s grown, all the way through to beyond our use. So we even know where the spent grains go once the farmers take it away for their cattle.’
Finally, I ask about the name Tod’s Blonde. ‘It’s our homage to Todmorden,’ she says brightly. ‘Up here at about a thousand feet we overlook many little valleys, hence our name. We thought it would be nice to make an affectionate reference to the largest town in the area, Todmorden, which pretty much straddles the Yorkshire-Lancashire border and which we could say stands in the middle of our heartland.’
A nice touch from two lovely people who make wonderful beer. Todmorden is a grand old place.
Tod’s Blonde and several of their other ales may be found in many independent stores and selected supermarkets, including Morrison’s in Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Co-op stores, selected Booth’s stores across the North and selected Waitrose stores in Yorkshire and Manchester. To place a direct order go their website: https://littlevalleybrewery.co.uk/shop/