Bedrock – Stone – Part 4
Stone is the last in a four-part series about the bedrock upon which Duration is built. Elements of Water, Wood, Metal and Stone reveal the pioneering technology built into our foundations to be true to our ethos of ‘beers that belong’.
Stone, ties together the renovation of our home – a place where our heart beats strongest – an ancient barn, steeped in history, encased in a stunning natural landscape.
Making our brewery home in the literal wilderness has been an act of courage, of patience and of daring greatly and whole-heartedly. A journey that has taken 3 years from concept to finished article, to put us merely at our starting point.
With Water, we became fluid and adaptive to reach sustainability that flows in and out of our brewery.
With Metal, we became far-reaching scientists as precision engineers deploying pioneering technology that benefits each brew.
With Wood, we found malleability in traditional techniques to slowly express new characterful flavour in our slow beers.
With Stone, we found an unshakable grit borne of seeking to fit in something bigger than you, and in doing so find your place.
Somewhat ironically our name Duration was chosen for pertaining to ‘Elon Vital’ a philosophy by Henri Bergson that addresses the question of self-organisation and spontaneous morphogenesis of things in an increasingly complex manner.
I, Miranda – take Duration to mean ‘every creative living thing strives to evolve and reinvents itself in order to remain relevant’.
Into The Monastery
This fourth and final post in our bedrock series – Stone, looks at our protected stone barn built in the 16th century from the remains of a repurposed 11th-century priory with a new lease of life.
Brewers likely resided here before King Henry VIII’s abolition of the monasteries.
The site, surrounded by woodland and farmland is deemed a scheduled monument in an area of special scientific interest and is now part of the beginning of a united, ambitious rewilding project.
Rewilding seeks to redress our post-war industrialisation of the land to stimulate a resurgence of diversity in the ecosystem.
Placing our brewery in the remote wilds of West Norfolk posed several challenges, many short-term hurdles and by far, the most complex was how to sympathetically renovate our stone barn.
Heavily protected, a shell of crumbling structures and dislocated from any mains services, the site was in a very run-down state back in 2017.
Piecing the plan together needed a sympathetic approach for the grade II* buildings. The site is sanctioned as being of national historic importance both above and below ground.
The priory site at West Acre is one of 134 sites deemed a ‘scheduled monument’ by Historic England.
Bats, archaeology and the night skies were all as important considerations as functionality, budget and timeline.
Why there? Why take the risk?
It was a huge risk, a step into the unknown. But we knew our head brewer and team around him had talent, vision and strong complementary skills.
To join a progressively minded farm, where people had lived off the land for generations, that wealth of knowledge and agricultural understanding for our farmhouse brewery, was too compelling to turn away from.
The barns rich history only added to its locational appeal. We could tap into real biodiversity with swaying barley fields, a gentle river, woodland glades and crops of fruits and botanicals. Our wild beers would also benefit from local microbial cultures.
If the local community accepted us, a deep connection to our sense of place could flourish with the brewery becoming a nexus for the rich traditions around us.
The site was stunning and ideal for where we next wanted to take beer on its journey. It offered true belonging. In taking a huge step out of the city into the wilderness it gave us the chance to have a real purpose, true connection and point of difference.
Beer could evolve here into something bigger, more meaningful. We could showcase how harmoniously brewing and agriculture can exist in tandem. Reconnecting beer to its land, its origins in grain, water, local yeast and agriculture.
Walkers and cyclists amble through our woodland glades and riverside paths past cattle and sweeping barley fields.
Our patch is home to the usual rural suspects, farmers, shepherds, gamekeepers, foresters and gardeners.
West Acre seemingly invites creativity and has, in recent years, added a theatre, an art gallery, a forest campsite, a garden nursery, artist studios and now a brewer to their fold.
Despite looking at many other locations West Acre was always ‘the one’. If our what is ‘fresh beers and wild ales’, our how is ‘from nature with purpose’ our why is to make ‘beers that belong’ and West Acre where we felt we right.
Stone is our ‘grand design’ part of the project. Getting our 16th-century barn fit for purpose took a skilled team of designers, builders, archaeologists and engineers.
We needed to respect the strong sense of tradition in our site. We were also joining a community that has lived here for generations – working the land and enjoying the peace of their rural landscape. We needed to be mindful of it all.
It took us 18 months to deliver the design phase and 12 months to deliver the build and install phase.
Any new pipe laid would need an archaeologist present in case priory remains or burial mounds were disturbed. Any building works scheduled could not happen if bats or owls were hibernating or roosting without first building new habitats for them.
So let’s meet Ruth, our architect:
“I agreed that a conversion to a brewery would be an ideal use – the site was once a priory; beer would have been brewed by the monks, historical use continues! The stainless steel plant and pipework is a wonderful contrast to the ancient stones and timbers of the building. I wanted all the surfaces to be expressed, to be honest, and functional, and to complement the simple but powerful architecture.”
Stone at the Heart
Our stone barn has changed very little over the decades; it has stood resolute, weathering time and history, through new owners and inhabitants, seeing communities, religions, and industries come and go. Wildlife has flourished around it and now with a new lease of life, Duration is in residence.
Like the flint and white stone fabric of the building, we needed to take a very firm stance and remain persistent to reach this, our entry point. Accepting the heavy constraints and staying undeterred hasn’t been easy.
Reaching this point we feel proud and enthused by the level of support received, locally and nationally from our brewing community.
It’s been great having you along for the ride, past the planning applications, the grant approvals and the many other hurdles this adventure brought. You have been there with us. It means the world.
We live to share our destination with you. Come and visit when you can as you can only really feel the magical connection on your own Duration adventure.
Photo credits – Mark Newton | Theresa Undine | Tom Stapley | Nicci Peet | Chris Coulsdon | Lily Waite | Simon James.