THIS year we are toasting the 150th anniversary of The Bolton News — and we are inviting everyone to raise a glass filled with a beer brewed to celebrate the landmark year.

Scoop Ale will be launched at the Bolton Food and Drink Festival and is currently in its fermentation stage at the award-winning Bank Top Brewery in Astley Bridge.

And given it’s not every day an ale is created in honour of the town’s newspaper, we went behind the scenes to find out exactly what goes into creating a new beer — and whether it could even ‘scoop’ an award.

In the second of a special series we spend a day at the brewery following the process to create the perfect pint.

BANK Top Brewery prides itself on sourcing the best ingredients and using traditional brewing methods.

It might not be the cheapest way of doing things, but as brewery finance director Jennifer Burrows says, 'It has always been about the beer.'

And that starts from sourcing the grain — the malt. The company prefers to use raw hops rather than the cheaper alternative of oils and pellets that are now available.

The malt, the basis of any beer, is sourced from Warminster Maltings Ltd, Britain's oldest working maltings.

The firm, which dates back to 1855, is still made the traditional way, by hand, on floors almost totally unchanged from the day the maltings was originally commissioned. The brewing process starts with grains, which are harvested and processed through heating, drying out and cracking.

And 154.5 kilos of malt and grains were weighed out the day before and placed in the grist chest ready for brewing day.

Jennifer said: "Warminster malt is very reliable and very consistent. We have used others in the past and it has never been quite the same but we don’t know if that is because we are biased. It is by no means the cheapest, but is not just about the ingredients it is about the company – it's about the whole service."

Bank Top was opened by John Feeney and is now run by Dave Sweeney.

Jennifer added: "You can get hop oils and hop pellets. You need very few of those to get a desired flavour because they are a lot more concentrated. But our way is the most traditional. It’s the way we have always done it, the way John always did it, the way John taught Dave to do it and the way taught Neil taught me.

“Even though we have expanded and have new bits of equipment it is the way we have always brewed."

The brew day is about nine hours long. The brewer usually starts at around 8am and begins with the mashing in — mixing the malt and the water. The hops, that gives the beverage its unique taste, go in approximately five hours later.

On the day Scoop Ale was being brewed, the firm was making two others, meaning those producing it were in at 5am. In the run-up to Christmas, brewers can be in from as early as 3.30am.

The process takes place in the custom-built 11 barrel brew plant from which on average 22,000 pints per week are brewed.

Explaining the process, Neil Turner, one of the sales managers, said: "What we have literally done at the moment is called mashing in and once we've saturated all the grain with roughly half of the water we are going to use, it will sit there for an hour-and-a-half.

"It's all fits and starts brewing, there will be work done in the meantime but it won't be to do with the actual brew process.

"From there we will start what is called the sparge and that's a way of introducing the remaining water very slowly.

"We have an arm that goes around in a circle, which basically rains the remaining water through the grain, washing everything we need out of it, which is mainly the colour and more importantly the starch. That's what we are after that will turn into alcohol."

From there it is transferred to the copper kettle.

The grain left behind is given to a local farmer for feed who in return provides eggs and milk.

Temperatures in the copper kettle can reach in excess of 100 degrees. The wort — the liquid extracted from the mashing process — is left to boil for an hour-and-half. The hops, which are measured and placed into buckets are poured in a staggered process over about an hour. Three lots go in with the very last ones mixed not long before the liquid is transferred into one of the barrels to ferment.

It is there the yeast is added and alcohol starts to form as it reacts with the starch. It is left to ferment for a number of days before it is decanted or racking as it is known in the trade. It is kept in cold storage for around five days which acts as a second fermenting stage and conditioning, before being delivered to the pubs where the barrels should settle again for 48 hours to condition before the perfect pint can be pulled.

Neil said: "For every brewer it is a responsibility to make sure that every beer is done the same every time, whether I brew or someone else tomorrow, you want those beers to be exactly the same.

"This part of the process is essential, when you are actually weighing out a recipe you make sure you get is spot on."

Neil and Phil Toth, a trainee brewer, were in charge of brewing our Scoop Ale. It was the second Phil had produced.

Phil, from Horwich, said: "It was through luck I got into the industry and I love it.

"We do our own deliveries, – we pretty much do everything."

Brewery creates special beer 'Scoop' for Bolton News' 150th anniversary

Neil said: "We brew well over a million pints every year, keeping quite a few people happy, it's something like 1.4 million pints we brew.

"We do quite a bit locally and go up as far as the South Lakes, we do a lot in Blackpool, Southport areas, all throughout Lancashire, from Chorley across to Colne, and a little bit in Manchester city centre.

"I think the success is the beer and the consistency of the beer. Like any product, if it is consistent it is reliable and people will come back and use it again."

Thanks to people like the brewers at Bank Top, beer has become an 'adventure'.

Neil said: "You used to get your beer locally until the big multi-nationals came and bought everyone up and now it's going the other way again because everybody became fed up with the same tasting beer and wanted different tasting beer and that came from your local breweries.

"Multinationals restricted the market that much that people got fed up, it didn't matter what pub you went in every pub was selling the same stuff.

"Whereas now you go into lots of pubs selling different beers — it has become an adventure again drinking beer. "

The day ends with the cleaning of the pipes and equipment ready for the next day's brew.