From Home Brew to High Street...
New Village Bar The Reading Rooms
It was a big bold step for the guys at Farr Brew and its already a great addition to village life for the people of Wheathampstead. Since its opening a few months ago, we’ve been along to the Reading Rooms a number of times... its friendly, very local and with Prosecco by the glass what’s not to like!
We spoke to April who told us that the place has really taken of and is popular just about all of the time. There’s even a special offer for coffee and cake between 12 – 5 everyday too, with free WiFi as well as a place to eat your takeaway with your pint.
It all started more than 10 years ago when Nick Farr got his first home brewing kit and started to brew beer in his kitchen. Nick’s parents had always been adventurous, using various fruits from their garden to make any number of different wines and infused spirits. Nick recalls that, as a boy, their abilities to brew and make really good tasting drinks all seemed ‘vaguely magical' and clearly their passion rubbed off on him.
Nick attended university to study business and went on to train and become a quantity surveyor but continued to make wines and brew beer from home as a hobby, always getting great reviews from friends and family when they tried it.
Later, Nick moved to a property of his own which had various fruit bushes in its garden, most notably there were several large White Currant bushes and he saw an opportunity to make some White Currant wine. Although the first batch was excellent due to varying weather and the impact on crops, it was very difficult to replicate.
Then, about 4 years ago, he stepped up beer production and got the qualifications and licenses necessary to make and sell beer. He bought a bigger home brew kit, a lot more bottles and invited his long term friend, Matt Elvidge, to get involved and they began to sell their beer at various events and festivals.
Hatfield House Frost Fair was the first on the list. They planned to spread the word about their beer and to make a successful day, gave themselves a target to sell 100 bottles. The day was a great success; many people tried and clearly enjoyed the beer as over 1000 bottles were sold, exceeding their modest target many times over.
At this point the friends knew that they were on to a good thing and did more and more fairs like the Herts County Show and St Albans Food Festival. Although he still had his full time job, Nick continued to brew beer 3 – 4 nights per week in his home kitchen, but soon realised that brewing had virtually taken over his life and things would have to change.
Nick said, “The real ‘trigger’ was winning a Beer of the Year Award at St Albans Food Festival with our cask beer. Pubs and bars just started knocking on our door wanting us to supply them, it was fantastic.”.
Nick and Matt found a suitable premises up in Samuels Farm, Coleman Green in the form of an old cattle shed and spent 3 months refurbishing it, setting things up to ensure that Farr Brew would be operated on green principles as far as possible. By the end of 2016, both Nick and Mark had become full time at Farr Brew. One of their first customers back then was the Fighting Cocks in St Albans, who are still their biggest customer today. Farr Brew supply the local pubs and clubs in Wheathampstead Village as well as more than 120 drinking establishments and the tap room at the brewery is open every Saturday.
Nick realised that to really spread the word about Farr Brew beer, the business would need to expand and open a pub or bar and they set about looking around for the right venue.
Their plan was to open a Micro Pub which, according to the Micro Pub Association, is essentially ‘a small free house which listens to its customers, mainly serves cask ales, promotes conversation, shuns all forms of electronic entertainment and dabbles in traditional pub snacks.’
Eventually they found the ideal venue in Wheathampstead and refurbishment began to transform the Village High Street shop, a former florists, into a bar and they gained a license to sell alcohol. When researching the history on the old shop, they discovered that the village postman lived and worked on the premises in around 1890, which was known back then as the Reading Rooms.
Nick said, “With our plans for a real community feel, lots of conversation as well as places to sit and read, the name seemed ideal, so we’ve decided to keep it.”
The Reading Rooms now opens Everyday 12pm to 10pm with last order at 9.30 and serves two Farr Brew Beers along with a guest beer and Saxby’s Cider. There’s gin and vodka from local distiller, Black Bridge, Prosecco by the glass and tea and coffee too.
The main bar is a real social hub; there’s also a smaller room which offers books and papers to read as well as a further seating area upstairs and small amounts of food and nibbles will be available, The new bar manager for The Reading Rooms is Ellis Tofalli, who has gained her bar experience at the Fighting Cox. Two other local people have been employed to assist her in the job and a third member of the Farr Brew team has recently been recruited who is local man Rob Tilson who now helps with brewing.